CAMBRIDGE, Mass.— Last year’s regular season champion, Binghamton University, barely edged out the defending tournament champion, Stony Brook University, to claim the top spot in the 2009 America East Baseball Preseason Coaches’ Poll. The Bearcats received four of a possible six votes and garnered 34 points, while the Seawolves claimed the remaining three votes and finished with 33 points. Head coaches were not permitted to vote for their own teams.
University of Maine (24 points), University of Vermont (22) and University at Albany (12) followed, while University of Hartford and UMBC each finished with 11 points to round out the seven-team poll.
The top four teams in the conference will advance to the America East Championship, held at the highest seed that has a field with lights, on May 21-23. The winner of the double-elimination tournament receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Championship.
Binghamton (29-27 overall record, 15-8 America East record in 2008) has won the last two regular season crowns, but has not been able to get over the hump come tournament time, falling in the finals at each of last two Championships. The Bearcats have a strong nucleus of veteran infielders that will hope to change that, including senior shortstop Kyle Klee (Rochester, N.Y./McQuaid Jesuit) and senior first baseman Ryan Holley (Frankfort, Ill./Oakton CC), who were both honored on the all-conference teams last season. Despite losing its number one starting pitcher, Binghamton’s pitching staff is still a strength for Head Coach Tim Sinicki. Senior lefty Jeff Dennis (North Syracuse, N.Y./Liverpool HS) was drafted by the Oakland Athletics in the MLB Amateur Draft, but decided to return and should be the team’s top starter with a 3.97 earned run average and .223 opponent batting average last season. Junior right-hander Greg Lane (Binghamton, N.Y./Hofstra), widely regarded as the league’s top reliever, finished the 2008 season with an America East-best 11 saves and a 1.97 ERA in 32 innings pitched. Reigning America East Rookie of the Year, Peter Bregartner (East Islip, N.Y./East Islip) brings speed to both the outfield and the basepaths, and fills the lead-off role in the batting line-up.
Stony Brook (34-26, 14-10), who has qualified for the championship in all but one season since joining America East in 2002, defeated the Bearcats twice at the Championship last year to earn its way to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in five seasons. Senior outfielder Steve Mazzurco (Selden, N.Y./Newfield), the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, hit .368 for the season to lead the team and rank third in the conference. Mazzurco also led the Seawolves in hits (70) and doubles (18). Joining Mazzurco in the outfield is fellow senior Brian Witkowski (Lindenhurst, N.Y./Lindenhurst), a first-team all-conference selection last season, who uses his speed to leg out triples and extend his range in center field. Adding power to the Seawolves’ lineup is junior Michael Stephan (Patchogue, N.Y./Patchogue-Medford), who was named to the Brooks Wallace Player of the Year preseason watch list. Another player to watch is versatile junior Jeremy Nowak (Cheektowaga, N.Y./Cheekotwaga Central), who recorded seven wins, seven saves, 44 starts in the outfield, and a .287 average at the plate.
Maine (20-28-1, 8-15) returns most of its offense and its pitching staff, which is why the Black Bears are expected to finish higher than their seventh-place performance in 2008. The 2008 Player of the Year, Curt Smith, has moved on, but seven of the next top batters return, including preseason all-American catcher Myckie Lugbauer (Mahopac, N.Y./Mahopac), who led the team in doubles (19) and RBI (43) last year as a sophomore and batted .343. Lugbauer catches for a trio of talented young pitchers, including sophomore left-handed hurler Kevin Scanlan (Sudbury, Mass./Lincoln Sudbury Reg.) who led the team with a 3.74 ERA, 67.1 innings pitched and 72 strikeouts as a rookie. Junior Joe Miller (Valley Stream, N.Y./Valley Stream Central) threw three complete games in nine appearances with a 3.93 ERA, while sophomore Matt Jebb (Toronto, Ontario/St. Machael’s School) struck out 64 batters in 14 appearances with an ERA of 4.57.
Vermont (27-24, 12-11) boasts two Brooks Wallace Award candidates in senior lefty Joe Serafin (Tariffville, Conn./Simsbury), the 2008 Pitcher of the Year, and junior outfielder Justin Milo (Edina, Minn./Edina/Cornell), who will join the Catamounts after his season with the UVM ice hockey team comes to a close. Joining Serafin at the top of a strong UVM rotation is senior LHP Justin Albert (Hull, Mass./Hull) who has ranked among the conference leaders in ERA each of the last two seasons including seventh (3.65 ERA) last year. A pair of up-and-coming sophomores who earned All-Rookie accolades last season, shortstop Matt Duffy (Milton, Mass./St. Sebastian’s) and outfielder Mark Micowski (Haddam, Conn./Xavier), are expected to help the Vermont offense again this year after hitting .308 and .285, respectively, and driving in a combined 52 runs last season as freshmen.
A homegrown product, outfielder Brendan Rowland (Albany, N.Y./Colonie) returns as Albany’s (17-37-1, 10-14) only first-team all-conference honoree last year. The 6-3 junior led the league in hits (74) and was among America East leaders in most other offensive categories. Rowland and senior catcher Ryan Gugel (Batavia/Genesee CC), a second-team all-conference pick, remember the feeling of winning the conference title when the Great Danes took home the trophy in 2007, and will be hoping to pick up another title in 2009.
Hartford (18-31, 10-13) has a pair of solid infielders up the middle in senior Ben Sobocinski (Waldorf, Md./McDonough) and sophomore Simon Kudernatsch (Czech Republic/Prague West), as well as one of the league’s most underrated pitchers in junior righty Chris Greiner (Elkridge, Md./Mt. St. Joseph), who finished fourth in the conference with a 3.65 ERA. Greiner held opposing batters to a .245 average and was among league leaders with six wins.
UMBC (21-29, 13-11) was the three seed for the America East Championship last year, making its first appearance in the tournament since joining the league, and earning Head Coach John Jancuska the 2008 Coach of the Year. The Retrievers topped many of the America East offensive categories, including average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage, and will need its 12 newcomers to step up to continue that trend for the upcoming season.
2009 America East Baseball Preseason Poll
Rank Team (1st-place votes) Total
1. Binghamton (4) 34
2. Stony Brook (3) 33
3. Maine 24
4. Vermont 22
5. Albany 12
6t. Hartford 11
6t. UMBC 11