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America East Baseball News & Notes: Top Two Teams To Play

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Three weeks before the America East Baseball Conference Tournament begins, an interesting matchup is on the schedule. The top two teams currently in the league will meet at Mahoney Diamond in Maine. The University of Maryland-Baltimore County (22-19, 11-7) meets the Maine Black Bears (23-15, 13-2). Both teams come into this weekend series already knowing that they have punched their ticket to the tournament that will take place in Binghamton, NY starting on May, 24. As it stands right now, both teams would have a bye in the double-elimination part of the event that would start on Thursday afternoon May 25. With that said, there are still four spots left to be secured over the next three weeks. Let’s take a look at where we are in the league.

The UMass Lowell River Hawks (13-28, 6-12) hold the key to how the rest of the field is arranged. They have a series left with both NJIT and Binghamton. The River Hawks hold a two-game lead in the loss column on the last-place UAlbany Great Danes (6-27-1, 1-14). The River Hawks would seem to have the advantage as the final three weeks unfold. They have the tie-breaker on the Great Danes based on winning two-of-three from them in April. But UMass Lowell must continue to win games if a trip to Binghamton is in their future. Both UMass Lowell and UAlbany will be at home this weekend. The River Hawks will host NJIT while the Great Danes will host Binghamton. Some scoreboard-watching will take place in both Lowell and Albany as the weekend moves on.  

The team that may have the toughest road to the tournament is the host school for the event. The Binghamton Bearcats (22-16, 8-7) finish the regular season on the road for the final three weekends. After playing UAlbany this weekend, the Bearcats head to Bryant and then end the regular season at Lowell. At this point, the Bearcats do have some breathing room to work with. They have a five-game lead on UMass Lowell and earlier this season they swept a series from the River Hawks back on March 24-26. While their lead gives them a bit of a cushion, it must be pointed out that the Bearcats are 5-10 on the road this season. They are also coming off losing a series at home to UMBC last weekend. Nothing is a sure thing in this league and playing your last nine games in league play on the road does have its challenges. What kind of shape the Bearcats are in as the defending tournament champions when this stretch is over will go a long way to determining their chances of back-to-back titles.

Bryant has this weekend off from league play. However, the Bulldogs do not have the weekend off. They will face an old friend from their days in the Northeast Conference when they host Central Connecticut State. These two teams had some great battles when they were both in this league. They met for both the regular season and conference titles on many occasions. Although the stakes will not be quite the same, expect a good series when these two start on Friday afternoon in Smithfield, RI.  

Some notes to take into this weekend’s set of games. In the series at Maine, the top two hitting teams will be on display when the Black Bears take on the Retrievers. Maine leads the league with a team batting average of .301. UMBC is second at .295. Both teams are in the middle of the pack in pitching. UMBC team ERA is 6.51 while Maine is at 6.58. UMBC has the top pitcher in the conference in Luke Johnson who should get the ball on Friday in Maine. Johnson is the only pitcher in the league with an ERA under three at 2.69. His record is 6-1 and teams are hitting just .207 against him. He has two complete games to his credit this season. In 60.1 IP, Johnson has allowed 45 hits and 21 earned runs of which 16 are earned. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is 24 BB to 70 SO. Colin Fitzgerald is Maine’s best starter at 5-1, with a 4.23 ERA in 61.2 IP. He gave up 31 runs, 29 earned runs, and 60 hits. Teams are hitting .255 against him with 31 walks to 51 strikeouts.

In the UMass Lowell NJIT series, the Highlanders are both good and bad. The bad is they are the worst-hitting team in the league at .236. They lead the league in strikeouts with 361. They are slugging .380 as a team. Their on-base percentage of .336 is the worst in the league. However, they have the best team ERA in the league at 5.28. They have allowed the second-fewest runs in the league at 200. They have balked the most times at nine. They have also allowed the least amount of walks at 151. Their pitchers are always around the plate. NJIT is the worst fielding team in the league with a fielding percentage of 961. They have made the second most errors at 53 while turning the second most double plays at 26. Their catchers have allowed 30 stolen bases while 12 have been caught. 

The America East Player of the Week is Jeremiah Jenkins of Maine. In the five games played vs Merrimack and UMass Lowell, Jenkins slashed .611/.708/ 1.986. He hit three home runs (two vs the Warriors, one vs the River Hawks) had 11 RBI, hit three doubles, and scored seven runs. He is starting to put himself on the radar of MLB scouts. As this week begins, Jenkins is batting .404 with 17 HR and 65 RBI. It is the third time in four weeks he has been named Player of the Week.

The America East Pitcher of the Week is UMBC sophomore right-hander Jackie Shertel. Last Sunday at Binghamton, Shertel went eight innings to pick up the series-clinching win over the Bearcats. He allowed three runs and struck out four. It was his second straight start of at least eight innings. He is becoming a solid #2 in the Retrievers rotation  This is his first weekly award.

The America East Rookie of the Week is another first baseman in Leewood Molessa of UMBC. In a 3-2 week for the team, Molessa had a home run and eight RBI, he also scored three runs. In the field at first, Molessa was just as good with a perfect 39-for-39 at the bag and helped his infield turn four double plays. This is the fifth time this season that Molessa has been named Rookie of the Week.

Next week we’ll be back with more from the America East Baseball Conference.

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