BOSTON— University of Maine, the two-time defending America East Champion, is the preseason favorite to repeat as the conference champs this year, according to a vote of the league’s head coaches. The Black Bears received all seven possible first-place votes for 49 points overall. Binghamton University was picked to finish second, garnering 39 points.
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University of Vermont came in at third for the second-straight year with 30 points as University at Albany followed with 26 points and Stony Brook University just one point behind with 25 points. University of Hartford (14) and University of Maryland Baltimore County (13) 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 24-26. The winner of the double-elimination tournament receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Championship.
Maine (35-22 overall, 13-9 America East in 2005) won its second-straight America East Championship and third in five years by plating all five of its runs in top of the ninth inning in a dramatic 5-3 come-from-behind victory over Stony Brook. The Black Bears continued on to the NCAA Regionals where they were defeated by North Carolina 15-7 and UNC-Wilmington 21-19. Second-year head coach Steve Trimper returns America East Rookie of the Year Kevin McAvoy (Brewer, Maine/Brewer), who batted .369 with a league-best 64 runs batted in on 23 extra-base hits, including 10 home runs, and was a first-team selection at third base. He’s joined by seniors Joel Barrett (Brewer, Maine/Brewer) and Matt McGraw (Burlington, Ontario/Nelson), who were both second-team selections last year, and Curt Smith (Willemstad, Curacao/Peter Stuyvesant), who was recently named to the 2007 Wallace Watch list after hitting a league-leading .386 with 86 hits in 2006. Last season, Maine had the top offense with a .324 batting average and 458 runs scored.
Binghamton (27-23, 12-11) is one of the best teams on paper heading into this season as it returns a league-best three first-team all conference selections from a year ago. Headlining the trio is America East Pitcher of the Year Zach Groh (Reading, Pa./The Perkiomen School), who was 5-3 with a 1.85 ERA in 11 starts. In addition to Groh, senior first baseman Brendon Hitchcock (Laceyville, Pa./Wyalusing Valley) tallied 11 home runs and 52 RBIs and shortstop Justin Smucker (Bird-in-Hand, Pa./Lancaster Mennonite), who batted .352 with 62 hits. Last year, the Bearcats just missed out on postseason play going 12-11 through the regular season. Binghamton’s pitching was second-best in the league with an ERA of 4.78 as it allowed an America East low 208 earned runs.
Vermont (19-34, 16-8) made a memorable run in the middle of last season as it entered conference play just 2-22 on April 13 and went on to win 16 of 24 in league play to capture the regular-season title and top seed. Despite an opening-round win, the Catamounts dropped back-to-back games to No. 3 Maine (5-2) and No. 2 Stony Brook (2-1) in last year’s America East Championship. Reigning America East Coach of the Year Bill Currier returns for his 20th season and will bring back first-team all-conference hurler Joe Serafin (Tariffville, Conn./Simsbury), who led America East last season with 84 strikeouts, went 5-0 with a 2.47 ERA against conference foes last season. Other notable top returning players for Vermont are Bryan Rembisz (Clinton,Conn./Westbrook) and Jim Chapman (Bourne, Mass./Kents Hill). Rembisz, who also will be the Catamount closer on the mound, hit .282 with 4 homers and 27 RBI. An America East All-Academic Team selection, Chapman hit .309 with 15 doubles, 1 homer and 27 RBI.
Albany (20-32, 12-10) head coach Jon Mueller led the Great Danes to its fifth-straight 20-win season last spring. Under Mueller, the Great Danes advanced to the America East Championship after posting a 12-10 mark in league play. He returns four all-conference selections including first-team catcher Tom Hill. Hill batted .372 with 11 home runs and a slugging percentage of .639 and was recently named to the 2007 Wallace Watch list. Joining Hill will be sophomore hurler Sean Gregory (West Islip, N.Y./West Islip), who was a second- and all-rookie team selection, second-team shortstop sophomore Sean Donovan (Pleasant Valley, N.Y./Arlington) and senior third baseman Steve Wyland (Stratford, N.J./Sterling).
Stony Brook (25-29, 13-8) head coach Matt Senk and the Seawolves try to bounce back from last year’s heart-wrenched 5-3 loss to Maine in last year’s America East Championship title game. The Seawolves posted a 13-8 conference record and went 17-5 at home last year. They return a pair of all-conference selections from a year ago including first-team relief pitcher Gary Novakowski (Prospect, Conn./Holy Cross), who appeared in 21 games in relief finishing out 14 games with three saves. The Seawolves will also return the services on junior hurler Tom Koehler (New Rochelle, N.Y./New Rochelle), who was 4-5 with just 41 runs allowed in 71.1 innings pitched. In 2006, Stony Brook owned the league’s top pitching staff with a 4.22 ERA and a league-best 369 strikeouts in 445 innings.
Hartford (11-38, 8-16) looks to continues its rebuilding as they made vast improves from 2005 under third-year head coach Jeff Calcaterra. The Hawks more than double their league wins from three in 2005 to eight last season. The Hawks return a pair of all-rookie team selections pitcher Weston Szymanski (Mt. Airy, Md./South Carroll) and infielder Brady Stouffer (Gaithersburg, Md./Northwest). As a team, Hartford had a .255 batting average and scored 201 runs. This fall Hartford completed construction of the brand new Campus Field, marking the first on campus facility since the 1985 season.
UMBC (18-34, 5-17) is still in search of its first-ever trip to the America East Championship. The Retrievers return first-team all-conference outfielder Joe Fowler (Wilmington, DE/St. Marks), who batted .345 with 69 hits and a league-best 26 doubles. Another top returner will be all-rookie hurler Ed Bach (Columbia, MD/Atholton), who went 3-5 with a 4.89 ERA. The Retrievers owned the league’s best fielding percentage at .959, counting just 79 errors in 52 games.