As the final weekend of America East Conference Baseball gets underway, two things have become clear. First, the six-team field for the league’s tournament has been decided. Binghamton, Bryant, NJIT, UMBC, Maine, and UMass Lowell, have all made the tournament that will begin on May 24 in Binghamton, NY. The second thing we have learned is that for the second year in a row, the Maine Black Bears have clinched at least a share of the regular season championship. This weekend’s set of games are for seeding purposes only. There is still one bye available to grab to avoid playing in the win or go home the first day. With that, let’s look at the final weekend of the regular season.
UMBC (27-23, 16-8) will have the weekend off from conference play. They will host VMI in a single game on Thursday, then play a doubleheader on Friday. At the moment, they hold the second bye into the double-elimination format of the tournament. They hold a one-game lead in the loss column on Bryant who will head to Maine to finish the regular season. Last weekend, the Retrievers did what they needed to do to keep their bye slot as they swept a three-game series from UAlbany. In the process, they eliminated the Great Danes from postseason play. UMBC scored 28 runs in the three-game series while hitting eight home runs on the weekend. The Retrievers will be doing some scoreboard watching this weekend looking for a little help from the Black Bears to stay away from the first day of the tournament.
UMass Lowell (17-31, 9-12) will be looking to bounce back from a rough weekend at home vs Hofstra. The River Hawks pitching staff gave up 37 runs on the weekend, 29 of those runs were earned. They gave up 48 hits and committed 10 errors. Not the kind of baseball you want to play at this time of the year. On the bright side for UMass Lowell is the play of sophomore outfielder Jacob Humphrey who went 8-for-12, 3 RS, and 5 RBI in the series. They end the regular season with a home series with Binghamton, a team they trail by two games in the loss column. A sweep of this series by the River Hawks could give them the last at-bat on day one of the tournament.
The Bearcats (25-19, 11-10) are finishing a rough final stretch of the season in which they played the final nine league games on the road. Their record during this stretch is 3-3. They head to Lowell with plenty on the line, however, they do have one thing in their favor, the earlier series with the River Hawks was a sweep by Binghamton. One win this weekend is all they need to keep the last at-bat on day one of the league tournament. Last weekend at Bryant, the Bearcats played a pair of one-run games losing Friday by a 9-8 score in 13 innings. Matt Smith was hit by a pitch to bring home the winning run for the Bulldogs. On Sunday, Bryant did it again, scoring the winning run in the eighth on an infield single by Justin Hackett to take a 6-5 win.
The Bulldogs (25-20, 12-9) finished the season on the road at Maine (26-19, 16-5). Bryant still has a shot at finishing in second place and avoiding the first day of the tournament. They trail UMBC by a game. Maine heads into this series having taken two-of-three from NJIT. Jeremiah Jenkins continues to lead the league in hitting with a .385 batting average. His 18 home runs and 70 RBI also led the league. Bryant’s Jake Gustin is fifth in the batting race with a .357 average, 8 HR, and 39 RBI. Both guys have over one hundred total bases this season, Jenkins at 133, and Gustin at 111.
NJIT (20-29, 9-12) will finish with UAlbany. Depending on what happens in the other conference series, the Highlanders could either move up or stay put in the standings. Playing good baseball should be a priority one for them. Still, some scoreboard-watching will also take place as the Highlanders find out where they will finish this season. They still have the best staff ERA in the league at 5.47 with one shutout and eight saves. They are also the worst-hitting team in the league at .233, and they have scored the second-fewest runs in the league at 226. They will face a Great Danes pitching staff that has the worst staff ERA in the league at 8.27.
The America East Player of the Week is Jake Gustin of Bryant. He slashed .429/1.143/1.610 last weekend in the series win over Binghamton. Gustin went 6-for-14 with two doubles, one triple, two home runs, 5 RBI, and 6 runs scored. The America East Pitcher of the Week is Noah Lewis of Maine. In the Sunday win over NJIT, Lewis went six shutout innings, as he allowed two hits, 1 walk, and punched out four batters. For the sixth time this season, Leewood Molessa of UMBC is this week’s Rookie of the Week. His slash line was 421/.842/1.318. He hit two HR, two doubles, four RBI, seven runs scored, and 16 total bases. In the field, he helped turn five double plays and was a perfect 40-for-40 in total chances.
Next week we will look at the first-day matchups in the America East Baseball Conference Tournament.
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