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First Pitch: Back To Northborough As Pistol Hot Eagles Battle UConn & UMass

Regional rivalries run deep this week as Huskies and Minutemen converge on the New England Baseball Complex.

The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports

Since the turn of the decade, no team has been the standard flag bearer of New England collegiate baseball quite like the Connecticut Huskies. They've made the NCAA Tournament three times, including a 2011 stint as Big East regular season champions and a 2013 Big East Tournament championship. They boast 18 national tournament bids and five College World Series appearances, and although they haven't been to Omaha since 1979, it's hard to argue with the Huskies' sustained levels of success.

In addition, UConn's committed itself to a great baseball tradition. Beyond its All Americans and MLB Draft picks is a program built on the backs of alumni. The current head coach, Jim Penders, helped lead UConn to the 1994 Big East Conference Tournament championship before becoming a graduate assistant in 1997. He's never coached anywhere else. A Connecticut native, he's a three-time conference coach of the year. In addition, he has a "UConn guy" on his staff in Chris Podeszwa, himself a man who's put a number of players into the professional ranks as a longtime assistant in the Cape Cod Baseball League.

So if Boston College expects to keep the goodwill rocking from its five game winning streak, they'll need to do it by going through the local big, bad dog.

That's not the least of BC's problems this week. After playing the Huskies, they'll return to the NEBC to take on Massachusetts and longtime head coach Mike Stone. While the Minutemen aren't exactly a great team—they lost 30 games the last two seasons—they're still a regional rival, and they battled the Eagles last year to a one-run game. Many of the athletes playing in this game played against each other in high school, and that familiarity breeds a natural contempt.

In a world where BC is a recent factor into the ACC Tournament race, this isn't a week where they can pull their feet off their collective gas pedal.

On Paper

UConn Record: 17-9 (2-1 AAC)
UConn Last Time Out: Took two of three from Tulane (6-0, 1-5, 5-3)
UMass Record: 4-7 (4-2 A-10)
UMass Last Time Out: Lost two of three to VCU (3-16, 3-2, 0-8)

Around The Horn

In a world where aluminum reigns college baseball, it's funny and ironic to talk about teams as not being mashers more and more., but that's really what we're looking at. UConn isn't a team that's going to kill the ball and knock it out over the fence; of their 244 hits, just 20 are homers and only 60 others are for extra bases. And of those 20 homers, 16 come from four guys.

Like other opponents the Eagles faced during the year, the Huskies are great at manufacturing runs. They hit .275 as a team, but it's rare to find a guy on their team under .200. They've nearly doubled up their runs allowed, coughing up 84 but scoring 161. They strike out less than a quarter of the time, recording 207 K's at the dish in 887 at-bats. They're very good at stealing bases, having only been caught stealing 12 times in 55 attempts.

The first name jumping off the stat sheet is Vinny Siena, a .395 hitter with 22 RBI. He's joined by Max McDowell, a power hitter with with five long balls and 22 RBI on his own while hitting .293. Blake Davey sports a .505 slugging percentage with four homers and a .284 batting average, but he's struck out 29 times. Jon Testani is hitting only .209, but he has three homers to his credit. Joe DeRoche-Duffin is at .238 with four homers and 16 RBI.

Bottom line is that the Huskies have power but are more than capable of getting guys on and getting them into scoring position. Every single one of their regular players have scored at least 10 times this year. Getting outs and not getting behind batters is going to be huge for the BC pitching staff.

As for UMass, we haven't talked about them too much, mostly because they aren't as powerful as the Huskies. They're a top-heavy team, with a few guys over the .300 mark but hitting .254 as a team. Kyle Adie is hitting at a .356 clip with Paul Yanakopulos (#WeAreMC alert) hitting .355. Rob McLam is at .313. After a couple of guys hovering around the .275 mark, there's a significant drop-off.

Not helping the situation for the Minutemen is their lack of a true sample size. They've only played 11 games after their first five were cancelled. Their game with Holy Cross was postponed, and the majority of their games played were spent in the A-10. Their offense experienced a major power outage against Army, scoring only four runs in three games (one of which was seven innings). They had flashes against Dayton, but they really struggled last weekend against VCU.

BC's pitching staff, which has been excellent the past two weeks, should be able to feast on the Minutemen.

On The Bump

Once again, this week is going to be a contrast between teams heading in the opposite direction. Nine UConn pitchers have ERAs under 3.00, including a couple of their regular starters. It's unlikely BC will see one of those weekend starters unless Coach Penders throws his Friday ace for a few innings of work, which I don't think he will.

That means BC is more likely to see a guy like Andrew Zapata, who is struggling with a 6.46 ERA this year after striking out 13 in 12.1 innings for the Wareham Gatemen this past summer on the Cape. He started eight midweek games a year ago.

William Montgomerie is also an option with a couple of starts, but he also has faced some early issues with a 6.00 ERA. Both of these guys haven't pitched a ton of innings, so their ERAs are slightly deceptive.

UMass' pitching staff is a flat out train wreck with a 6.13 ERA charged to the staff. Five guys have ERAs over 10.00. They've barely played, so the stats are deceptive, but that's not a good look.

Scoreboard Watching

Florida heads to Tallahassee this week to take on the Seminoles in a matchup between two top-ranked teams. Last year, they had a brawl. Rivalries are awesome.

Music To Listen To As You're Hopefully Pounding the Poo Poo Out of UMass

This is the most excited I've been for BC to play these teams as I have been in a long time. I'm hoping to reclaim the mantle of New England's best college baseball team with a couple of solid showings, and if nothing else, let's remind UMass that this is our state.

Fun Fact Of The Week

Remember what I said about these games having a Massachusetts feel? Yeah I lied. Sorry.

If you're looking for a Bay State approach to this weekend, here are the official numbers of Massachusetts players on each team, bearing in mind that, yes, the University of Connecticut is in a different state:

UConn - 4
BC - 5
UMass - 22

UMass is easily the worst statistical team in this group. *Bashes head off wall*

Prediction Time

I really want to see the Eagles come away with a big win against UConn. That's the key to the weekend. That said, don't overlook UMass and pummel them behind the woodshed to keep the good vibes rolling into Wake Forest this weekend with the Beanpot on the horizon.