The CAA starts tournament play in the final year of the six team format. The conference will cut the number of playoff teams to four next season, which is a shame given the parity this year. Entering the final weekend of play, only two teams had locked up spots, and five teams were battling for the remaining three spots on the final day of the season.
James Madison, which won the tournament last season, was knocked out of the playoffs by George Mason in the final weekend and became the first team with a winning CAA record not to make the six team tournament. UNC Wilmington, last season’s regular season champion, will be a three seed heading into the playoffs.
The double elimination tournament starts at noon Wednesday at Brooks Field in Wilmington, N.C. when top seeded George Mason takes on sixth seeded Delaware. Here’s a rundown of each of the six teams.
No 1. George Mason (40-10, 19-5)
THE SKINNY: The Patriots dominated from start to finish and clinched the top seed with a win against Northeastern on May 2. George Mason finished first in the CAA in team ERA (4.15) and second in batting average (.326). They’ve lost one game in May, a 9-6 defeat to James Madison to close the regular season Sunday and finished with the best winning percentage in the nation. Junior catcher Chris Henderson (.427-13-51) and senior outfielder Scott Krieger (.383-18-76) shared CAA Player of the Year Honors.
WHY THEY’LL WIN: Depth. GMU has a deep lineup and pitching staff. Krieger has the most home runs of any active player in the nation and teams with junior Justin Bour (.342-17-63) to give Mason a fierce tandem in the middle of the order. On the mound, the Patriots have senior Mike Modica (10-1, 4.16) and junior Kevin Crum (8-3, 3.98) at the top of the rotation. In the bullpen, seniors Ben Reade (2-1, 2.73), Shawn Griffith (3-0, 2.95) and junior Ryan Brecko (3-1, 3.68) have each made at least twenty appearances.
No. 2 Georgia State (35-20, 12-9)
THE SKINNY: The Panthers will open at 3:30 Wednesday against Northeastern, who they took two of three from in April. It was Northeastern’s only losing CAA weekend at home. Georgia State leads the CAA in runs scored (444). Like Mason, the Panthers are hot coming into the tourney, having won nine of their last eleven games.
WHY THEY’ll WIN: The Panthers have a nice balance of speed and power, having stolen 82 bases and slugged 63 home runs. Three players drove over fifty runs, led by senior Marc Mimeault (.392-13-51). Sophomore Aidan Francis (5-1, 3.97) moved to the rotation late in the season and pitched into the ninth and eighth, respectively, in his first two starts. He’ll get the nod in the opener against the Huskies.
The Panthers have struck out 430 batters on the season, and will face an NU team which can fall victim to the strikeout.
No. 3 UNC Wilmington (28-21, 10-8)
THE SKINNY: The regular season champs in 2008 slipped to third seed this year. The perennial host of the tournament will faced Old Dominion in the final game of the opening day at 7 p.m. Last year’s squad got an at large bid, but the Seahawks only had one senior this season.
WHY THEY’LL WIN: Last year’s team lost eleven seniors but returned nine juniors, including leading home run hitter Robbie Monday (.293-12-38), Mike Rooney (.331-2-41), and Bryan Booth (2-1, 3.41 in team-high 33 appearances.) Booth, along with freshman Tyler McSwain (2-1) and Stephen Davis (4-2, 5.03) will be key in the bullpen. Ten pitchers have started for the Seahawks, but only one, junior Seth Frankoff (3-5, 5.46), has made more then ten
No. 4 Old Dominion (22-25, 13-11)
THE SKINNY: Despite having a losing record overall, the Monarchs are in the tournament for the fourth straight year. ODU lost two of three to the Seahawks this season.
WHY THEY’ll WIN: Old Dominion can run a bit, notching 74 steals in 47 games. The pitching staff has a conference best seven complete games, led by the five turned in by Rookie of the Year Brett Harris (6-4, 4.95). Harris also saw time at DH, hitting .315 while driving in 31 runs, tied for fourth on the team.
No. 5 Northeastern (28-23, 13-11)
THE SKINNY: The conference’s northernmost team is in the tournament for the first time since 2006, the team’s first in the league. Seniors Mike Tamsin, James Donaldson, Jeff Thomson, Trevor Smith, and Tyler Thornton are the only members left from that team who saw game action.
WHY THEY’ll WIN: Pitching depth. NU finished second in the CAA with a 4.57 team ERA, a number which was skewed by a series at slugging GMU in the third to last weekend of the season, and a series at Towson’s bandbox stadium to close the year. Smith (5-2, 3.94) was a stalwart out of the bullpen before moving to the rotation late in the season. He’ll draw the start in the opener. Seniors Dan Zehr (2-3, 3.30 in team high 25 appearances) and Russ Lloyd (1-2, 3.00) have been solid in relief, although Zehr hasn’t been as sharp recently Several hitters, including senior Frank Pesanello (.289-13-40) have been hot lately. Pesanello, the school’s career home run leader, is joined by Tamsin (.353-5-43) and Donaldson (.330-11-40) to form a potent trio in the middle of the order. Freshman lefty Andrew Leenhouts (1-1, 2.37) could be a wildcard out of the bullpen.
No. 6 Delaware: (27-18, 11-10)
THE SKINNY: After being swept at Northeastern in the penultimate series of the season, the Blue Hens bounced back with a sweep of VCU. Delaware is one of only two teams that rank in the top-five in the CAA in both batting average and ERA. Entering the playoffs, the squad stands third in the conference with a .324 batting average, while the pitching staff ranks fifth with a 5.45 ERA. Their opponent, GMU, is the other. All-Rookie selection Rich McDonald (5-3, 4.18) was the team’s best starter this year.
WHY THEY’ll WIN: The Blue Hens will have a tall challenge in George Mason. But with senior Bill Merkler (.357-15-51), and juniors Ryan Cuneo (.292-16-54), and Carlos Alonso (.387-4-36), they have the bats to slug it out with the Patriots. But can Delaware’s staff hold down the powerful Patriot bats? A win against Mason would give Delaware swagger through the rest of the tournament.