Binghamton Bearcats

America East Baseball News & Notes: Binghamton is the Preseason Favorite

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We are just 16 days away from the start of the 2024 college baseball season. The road to Binghamton begins with the preseason coaches poll that was held recently. The Binghamton Bearcats were voted as the preseason choice to win the regular season title. The Bearcats received 35 points and five of the seven first-place votes. The other two votes went to the team that was chosen second, the Maine Black Bears. The defending champs from last season got 31 points to go along with the two first-place votes. The rest of the voting went this way, UMBC was third (26 points), NJIT was fourth with 19 points, Bryant fifth with 18, UMass Lowell was sixth with 10 points, and UAlbany was seventh with 8 points.

The Bearcats return a couple of key players from last year’s team that made it to the championship game as a #3 seed. All-Conference First Team selection, OF Tommy Riefler, is back after leading the league in hitting last season with a .371 batting average. Starting pitcher and fellow All-Conference First Team selection Gabe Driscoll who went 7-1, 4.96 ERA is back for his senior season. He worked 77.2 IP, led the league in wins, was seventh in ERA, and eighth in strikeouts with 66. Binghamton also returns six members from last year’s starting lineup.

The Maine Black Bears who defeated Binghamton in last spring’s title game, return maybe the best position player in the league. First baseman Jeremiah Jenkins, who was named the league’s Player of the Year, led the conference in both home runs with 21 and RBI with 76. The pitching staff looks to be strong with the return of Colin Fitzgerald. The junior righthander started 15 games last season for the Black Bears, He had a 5.23 ERA in 75.2 IP. He fanned 61 hitters with a 1.59 WHIP in 2023. Gianni Gambardella, the sophomore righthander, appeared in 13 games for the Black Bears. He was named a Freshman All-American, AE Rookie Team. Both he and Fitzgerald were AE All-Conference First Team members. Gambardella had an ERA of 3.90 with a WHIP of 1.28. He recorded 42 strikeouts for the Black Bears last season.

UMBC brings back last year’s Rookie of the Year first baseman Leewood Molessa. He set a school record with 65 RBI while hitting .294 with 15 home runs. Modessa was named to the Collegiate Freshman All-American First Team and was named second team in AE. He played in 56 games in 2023. The best starting pitcher in the league is starting for the Retrievers. Senior RHP Luke Johnson finished last season with a 12-6 record and a 4.15 ERA. In league play his ERA was under three at 2.96. He was named to the NCAA Division 1 All-Region second team and was the league’s Pitcher of the Year. He had 190 strikeouts in 199.1 total innings pitched.

NJIT has found a home to play in this season after being road warriors last year. The Highlanders have a couple of members of the last year’s lineup that have come back for 2024. Starting pitcher Aidan Kidd, a LHP from Laguna Beach, CA. will be pitching his senior season for NJIT. He led the league in strikeouts with 90. He threw two 10-k games against UAlbany and Long Island University. He had a 5-2 record with a 4.48 ERA, the five wins topped the staff. OF Albert Choi is back for his grad year of baseball. His season was cut short because of an injury suffered in a game at Missouri. In 13 games played, Choi hit .377 (20-of-53) with two HRs and three triples. He had three multi-RBI games before his injury.

Bryant College will play 22 home games at renovated Conaty Park. Senior first baseman Carmine Petosa started all but one game for the Bulldogs last season. He hit .249 with eight home runs, seven doubles, 37 RBI, and 27 runs scored. He finished 2023 with a .975 fielding percentage (nine errors in 49 games). He helped the Bulldogs infield to turn 28 double plays and also had 22 assists. Catcher Jackson Phinney is a senior from Marshfield, MA. He batted .223 with six home runs, 22 RBI and 25 runs scored. His value to the team is behind the plate. Phinney threw out 25% of would-be base stealers and committed just one error all year. He finished with a .997 fielding percentage in 39 games behind the plate for Bryant College.

A new era is about to begin at UMass Lowell. Nick Barese is the new head coach of the River Hawks program. He takes over a team that went 20-35 last year. Junior LHP LJ Keevan struggled all last spring with injuries. He made 14 appearances with eight of them being starts. His record was 3-5 with an inflated ERA of 9.91. He did record two saves. In 42.2 IP he struck out 29 batters. Another player that struggled with an injury was third baseman Brandon Fish. The junior from Londonderry, NH battled hamstring issues all of last spring. He made 37 appearances with 34 of them starts. He batted .260 with one HR, three doubles, and 13 RBI. Both of these players will need to be available all year if the River Hawks are to have any kind of season.

UAlbany had a tough year a season ago. A young team getting their feet wet in college baseball had up-and-down moments. One player that the Great Danes will lean on is senior infield, Will Binder. He led the team in batting with a .350 average which was fifth best in the league. He started all 45 games the Great Danes played, drove in 42 runs, and hit four home runs along with 13 doubles. He was in the top three on the team in BA, RBI, slugging percentage (.489), on-base percentage (.410), and total bases (88). He was a second-team All-conference selection in AE.

On February 16, the season begins with Binghamton, Bryant, UMass Lowell, Maine, and NJIT all getting started. UMBC and UAlbany will begin the following weekend. The conference tournament will return to Binghamton in May.

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