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NEC Preseason Favorite Monmouth eyes fourth- ever league crown

NEC Preseason Favorite Monmouth eyes fourth- ever league crown

FROM CBB NEWS SOURCE

Somerset, NJ — Monmouth won five first-place votes to find itself in its familiar position atop the Northeast Conference baseball preseason poll. The Hawks have earned the moniker of NEC preseason favorite in three of the past four years. Central Connecticut State collected two first-place nods to finish second in the vote by the conference’s eight head coaches followed by Wagner which garnered the remaining first-place vote in third. The league office released the annual rankings on Thursday as a prelude to its 23rd season of Division I baseball.

2009 Northeast Conference
Baseball Preseason
Coaches Poll

1. Monmouth (5)
2. Central Conn. St. (2)
3. Wagner (1)
4. Mount St. Mary’s
5. Quinnipiac
6. Long Island
7. Sacred Heart
8. Fairleigh Dickinson

First place votes in parentheses ( ).
Defending NEC champion Mount St. Mary’s earned the fourth slot followed by Quinnipiac in fifth and Long Island in sixth. Sacred Heart and Fairleigh Dickinson respectively round out the poll results.

“It is an honor to be selected first by the NEC coaches,” commented Ehehalt upon learning of Monmouth’s No. 1 ranking. “The competition and quality of play in the NEC continues to get better every year. There are a number of deserving teams and an abundance of fine players.”

The reigning NEC Coach of the Year recognizes that first place in the preseason poll doesn’t mean anything in May when only four of the league’s eight teams will advance onto the 2009 Northeast Conference Baseball Tournament, which is set for New Britain, CT from May 21-23.

“I am certain that the 2009 NEC baseball season will be highly competitive and of course, first place will be decided on the field,” Ehehalt said.

Each of the past four preseason favorites has come away from the NEC Tournament empty-handed. The 2004 Blue Devils were the last team to translate its preseason favorite status into a conference crown.

The Hawks lived up to their preseason billing last year by claiming first place in the 2008 regular season standings, but fell to the Mount twice on the final day of the NEC Tournament. Mount’s victory meant that the team chosen fourth in each of the past two preseason polls wound up celebrating the NEC title at season’s end. Ironically, the 2007 Monmouth Hawks were slotted fourth in the preseason rankings, but managed to win their third tournament title.

Ehehalt does not sound like a man who is taking anything for granted.

“I really think that there are some clubs that will be significantly better this season and the quality of pitching continues be strong.”

Monmouth (37-16, 20-5 NEC) returns half of its weekend rotation from a staff that ranked second in the NEC (3.99 ERA) and won 20 league games. Juniors Ryan Buch (Yardley, PA/Conwell Egan Catholic) and Brett Brach (Freehold, NJ/Freehold Twp.) each made nine starts last season, combining for 10 wins. Buch (6-1, 3.66 ERA) claimed second team all-NEC honors after producing the league’s fourth-highest strikeout total (66) over 51.2 innings. Brach (4-3, 4.76 ERA) struck out more than twice as many batters as he walked and allowed only three homers in 51.0 innings of work. Fellow junior Kyle Breese (Monmouth Jct., NJ/South Brunswick) is an experienced lefty that logged a 6-2 record over 17 appearances (seven starts) and struck out 43 compared to 13 walks.

If their pitching should falter, the Hawks usually have enough offensive potency to carry the club. No need to look any further than Day Two of the NEC Tournament for evidence as Monmouth stormed back from an early 9-2 deficit to knock off second-seeded Central Connecticut, 10-9, in a 10-inning thriller. Unfortunately for the Hawks, the man who produced the winning hit (1B Andy Meyers, 200-hit club member) and the teammate (SS Kyle Higgins, NEC Player of the Year) his hit scored are both gone, meaning Ehehalt must find new leadoff and No. 3 hitters. The good news for Monmouth is that third baseman Ryan Terry (Levittown, PA/Truman) and designated hitter Nick Pulsonetti (Old Tappan, NJ/Northern Valley Regional) are back as sophomores after both ranking amongst the NEC’s top-10 hitters. Terry (.328 BA), the reigning NEC Rookie of the Year, cracked 24 extra-base hits and Pulsonetti (.326 BA), a first team all-NEC selection, hit the second-most home runs (11) in the NEC. The duo was a big reason why the Hawks led the NEC in runs scored (373).

Central Connecticut State (25-24, 18-9 NEC) finished three games behind Monmouth last season and the four-time NEC regular season champions, under veteran head coach Charlie Hickey, will likely challenge for the crown again. Senior outfielders Casey Walko (Freehold, NJ/Red Bank Catholic) and Richie Tri (Everett, WA/Barnstable) will make the loss of right fielder Jak Kidd (50 hits, 35 RBI) less noticeable. Tri returns after missing last season with an injury while Walko hit .291 and drove in 29 runs to collect second team all-league honors. Fellow all-NEC second teamer Pat Epps was a Rookie of the Year candidate last season after he batted .319 over 47 games, mostly in the DH spot. Along with Epps, junior corner infielders Sean Allaire (Bristol, CT/Bristol Eastern) and Tommy Meade (Pearl River, NY/Pearl River) hit over .300 last season. While their top four hitters (in terms of average) return, one can not say the same for their pitching staff which lost starters John Tesseyman and Matt Gianini who combined for a 15-6 record last season and held the top two ERA’s on the club. Senior right-hander Taylor Kosakowski (Berlin, CT/Berlin) may win a weekend spot after producing a 4.34 ERA over 12 appearances, including five starts. Senior southpaw Derek Roberts (New Britain, CT/New Britain) is a hometown favorite that pitched to a 4.86 ERA over 50.0 frames and struck out 34 batters.

Wagner (27-28, 17-11 NEC), slotted third in the poll this season’s, defied last season’s preseason selection of sixth when they claimed the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament. With 2008 NEC Pitcher of the Year Joe Testa’s moving onto the Florida State League with the Minnesota Twins affiliate, opens a hole at the top of the rotation, but a lack of pitching depth is not a problem for Wagner. Head coach Joe Litterio returns his next four starters from the NEC’s top-ranked staff (3.85 ERA). Junior righty Kyle Morrison (Middlesex, NJ/Immaculata) was the third-ranked prospect in the ACBL last summer after pitching to a 3.99 ERA over 67.2 innings for the Seahawks and fanning 57. Senior right-handed starter Andy Wells (Staten Island, NY/St. Peter’s HS), who saw his workload increase as the season progressed, struck out 40 batters over 50.0 innings in his first season after transferring from Siena. Sophomore Jack Rice (Middlesex, NJ/Immaculata) is a crafty lefty starter that posted a 5-3 record and 3.00 ERA. Three-time second team all-NEC catcher Chris Drechsel (Cranford, NJ/Cranford) makes the staff even stronger with his return and is as durable as they come having started in all 55 games. Juniors first baseman Vin Avella (Matawan, NJ/CBA) and outfielder Damian Csakai (Freehold, NJ/Freehold Twp.) were both second team all-NEC selections last year, too. Avella, who was recently named to the 2009 Brooks Wallace Watch list, batted .316 and drove in a team-high 35 runs. Csakai, who hit .291, is nearly impossible to throw out on the base paths as evidenced by his NEC-best 33 steals in 35 attempts. Any late-game lead the offense can muster is usually safe with senior closer Andrew Huebner (Hatfield, PA/North Penn), who saved a program-record 11 games last year.

Mount St. Mary’s (21-33, 13-11 NEC) poll position matches last year’s regular-season finish. Head coach Scott Thomson’s club finished fourth before enjoying a remarkable post-season run thanks to the hitting of tournament MVP Josh Vittek. The Mount’s all-time home run king has moved onto the Burlington Royals of the Appalachian League for whom he hit .297 in 155 at-bats, but Thomson’s top three hurlers are back to defend the crown. Junior right-handers Brett Moore (Clifton, VA/Paul VI) and Max Brittenham (Stamford, CT/St. Luke’s) logged 12 starts apiece and posted identical 4.75 ERA’s. Junior righty reliever Mike Matta (Woodbridge, VA/Potomac) posted a 5-4 record with four saves over 24 appearances on his way to ranking sixth (3.71) amongst the NEC’s ERA leaders. Sophomore first baseman/catcher Kyle Kane (Boonsboro, MD/Boonsboro) owned the NEC’s sixth-highest average (.331) last season. Sophomore backstop Alex Andrews (Vienna, VA/James Madison), who earned the majority of starts behind the plate as a freshman, adds more continuity to an experienced battery, but the Mount will likely have to rely on newcomers in the middle infield which featured a pair of all-NEC performers last season.

Quinnipiac (16-36, 9-19 NEC) found itself in an unfamiliar spot last season when it missed out on the NEC Tournament for the first time in five years, but any team with Dan Gooley at the helm can be expected to battle back. Gooley has the luxury of an experienced rotation that returns three of its four starters. Righty Andy Mayer leads the senior triumvirate after posting a 3-3 record over 10 starts. Senior righty Joe Duffy (Commack, NY/Commack) and his lefty classmate Chris Gloor (Bay Shore, NY/Bay Shore) combined to log nearly 120 innings in their starting roles. An imposing 6-foot-6 southpaw, Gloor struck out 55 batters over 59.1 frames and, as was the case with Mayer, pitched to a lower ERA in NEC play. The Bobcats return a solid 1-2 punch to leadoff their lineup in outfielder Ben Farina (Waterford, CT/Waterford) second baseman Mickey Amanti (Waterford, CT/Waterford), a pair of sophomores who have been teaming up since their high school days. The two combined for 106 hits and 45 RBI. Quinnipiac loses two big bats in the heart of the order, but senior Bryn Doyle (Manchester, NH/Manchester Memorial) may have an opportunity to move up from the sixth spot after hitting .307 last season.

Long Island (16-31, 7-15 NEC) looks to fare well at the plate again in 2009. Head coach Don Maines welcomes back three of his top four batters from an offense that compiled the second-best team average (.287) in the NEC. The Blackbirds were the only other program besides Monmouth to plate more than 300 runs. Junior outfielder James Jones (Brooklyn, NY/Telecommunications HS) scored a team-high 41 of the Blackbirds’ 311 runs and may pose even more danger to opponents from the rubber. Voted Baseball America’s 30th-best prospect currently in the collegiate ranks, the southpaw Jones whiffed 61 strikeout victims in 51.1 innings. Seeing time in the outfield and at first base, Jones was one of four .300 hitters LIU had last season. Senior Frank DiMasi (Staten Island, NY/Moore Catholic) joined Jones in the all-NEC first team outfield by hitting .346 (fourth in NEC) with 49 RBI. Senior Anthony Amatucci (Toms River, NJ/TR South) led the club with a .446 on-base percentage to go with a .316 batting average.

Sacred Heart (12-41, 10-18 NEC) looks to capture its first NEC Tournament berth since 2006 as head coach Nick Giaquinto began 2009 a lot healthier than they ended 2008. Former NEC all-star Jeff Hanson was lost 11 games into last season, which compounded the injury bug that bit SHU before the season even started. The Pioneers receive an instant boost with the return of junior third baseman Steve Tedesco (Mission Viejo, CA/Trabuco Hills), who hit .285 and stole 13 bases as a rookie but was sidelined all last season. Tedesco only strengthens what is a strong infield. Junior JJ Edwards (Endwell, NY/Endwell), who manned the hot corner in Tedesco’s absence, hit a team-high .316 after coming in from Maine. Senior shortstop Phill Tantillo (Blue Point, NY/St. John the Baptist) produced a .303 batting average as one of only two Pioneers to start all 53 contests. Junior lefty Jared Balbach (Pine Bush, NY/Pine Bush) should only get better at the top of the Pioneers’ rotation where he won four games as a sophomore. Senior righty Ryan Lynch (North Babylon, NY/North Babylon), who was SHU’s lone all-NEC honoree last year at utility, can contribute from a number of positions including the mound.

Fairleigh Dickinson (15-38, 10-16 NEC) took a huge step last season under head coach Jerry DeFabbia, finishing one spot away from its first NEC Tournament berth since 1999. The Knights return the top five hitters, four of whom are seniors, from a team which won 10 league games, their highest total in three years. Veteran outfielder Zach Sand (San Diego, CA/ Mission Bay) was the NEC’s third-ranked hitter (.352) while totaling 40 RBI last season. FDU’s outfield is home to two other .300 hitters in seniors Jeff Vincent (Murrysville, PA/Franklin Regional) and Matt Maher (Peekskill, NY/JFK Catholic). Vincent posted a .438 on-base percentage and batted .316 while starting all 53 games on his way to the all-NEC first team. Maher, an Academic All-American, owned the NEC’s eight-highest batting average (.328). The Knights pitching department must find a way to address the loss of John O’Hara (3.13 ERA) and his 92 strikeouts over 77.2 innings. Senior lefty John Meadus (Mount Holly, NJ/Holy Cross) is a reliable arm that posted a 4-6 record over 11 starts striking out 54 over 62.1 innings.