Bryant Bulldogs vs. Boston College Eagles
First Pitch: 3 PM
Bring up Boston College's baseball season to any number of casual observers this year, and you're likely to hear a couple of opinions. For starters, this team is more competitive than it has been in years, a rebuilding work in process that's almost but not quite there. On the other hand, detractors will say that it's another year where the Eagles are on the outside looking in on the ACC playoff picture, no matter how close they really are.
When the schedule came out months ago, though, there was one game nobody likely circled on their calendar - today, April 27th, against the Bryant Bulldogs.
Playing a team like Bryant should seem innocuous. The Bulldogs play in the Northeast Conference, a league featuring Wagner, Sacred Heart, and Mount St. Mary's. They're barely through a half decade of playing as a full member of Division I, and the Bryant Baseball Complex is a very good Division II stadium with its outdoor batting tunnels and locker room located in the Chace Athletic Center (even though it's still probably better than Shea Field).
But in just five years, the Bulldogs supplanted the Eagles as the top-ranked team in the Northeast. Heading into this weekend, despite all of their success against Louisville, the Bulldogs received all except for one vote as the top regional team in the NEIBA poll released on Monday.
They're 13-1 in their conference, already pushing 30 overall wins. They entered this week on an eight game winning streak, losing only twice since April started. They beat George Mason on the road for two out of three, defeated Maryland on the road for one out of three, and beat Kentucky in a one-game series. At 35th in the RPI rankings, Bryant is in the discussion for a potential at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, ranking ahead of the Wildcats and on the heels of teams like Pittsburgh and Wake Forest.
Even though the Eagles dominate the all-time series, this is far from a "gimme game." This is no cream-puff Bryant team, and this is no pushover opponent. This is a midweek game where BC's midweek roster has to be at the top of its game. Quite simply, this is the game for New England supremacy.
Record: 29-7 (13-1 NEC)
Last Time Out: Bryant made quick work of Brown yesterday in an Ocean State matchup, their ninth win in a row. This past weekend, they destroyed Stony Brook in NEC competition, winning 14-5, 8-4, and 6-2. They haven't lost since April 13th, when they traveled to Connecticut and were handed a 6-3 defeat.
Around The Horn
For a midweek pitching staff, Bryant poses one of the toughest tests of the season. Led by senior Robby Rinn and junior Matt Albanese, they hit over .300 as a team with a .400-plus on-base percentage and a .450-plus slugging percentage.
Bryant entered the week with five players with 20 or more RBI, led by the aforementioned duo. Albanese already hit the 40 mark, with Rinn right behind him. In contrast, BC only has two players with 20 or more RBI.
It's hardly a two-person show. Cole Fabio, Brandon Bingel, Dan Cellucci, Zach Wood - these are all big hitters capable of ripping the cover off the ball. They're all having solid seasons at the dish, and they're all going to pose major issues for the Eagles pitching staff.
BC will counter with their (pardon the pun) bulldog, Thomas Lane. The 6'5", 285-pound freshman is 1-1 with a 4.21 ERA, notching 15 strikeouts. The notoriously heavy ball pitcher most recently spent two innings on the hill against those same Northeastern Huskies, helping the Eagles win the Beanpot last week.
On The Bump
Bryant has a stable of three very good weekend starters, led by Bingel, who in addition to being a solid hitter is also 5-2 on the mound with 40.2 innings and a complete game in eight starts. He's joined by James Davitt and James Karinchak. The trio's won a combined 17 games, including eight from Karinchak, who as a sophomore also pitched 57 innings.
Since this is a midweek game, it's a plus that BC is missing all three of them. One Midweek starter is freshman lefty Steve Theetge, who in six starts and 10 appearances this year is 4-0 in 37.0 innings pitches with 21 strikeouts. He's allowed 33 hits while walking 14.
BC, however, will face Craig Lacey, who is making his third straight midweek start for the Bulldogs. Last week against Northeastern, he pitched five innings for his first collegiate win.
As for the rest of the staff, only five pitchers have ERAs over 5.00, only one of whic has ever pitched in more than three games. The majority of the bullpen includes Justin Snyder, who in 16 appearances this year has five save, and Michael Marshall, who in 15.2 innings (13 appearances) has a 1.72 ERA.
The team itself has a 3.39 ERA, just about half of what their opponents are allowing. While that may be misleading given their conference affiliation, the way Bryant dominates in the NEC proves them worthy of big time recognition.
A day after cold, wet, and raw conditions washed out a Boston College home game, we're due to receive some absolutely beautiful weather for Wednesday's game against the Bulldogs. Game time temperature will touch up into the 50s, with it hanging between 50-53 throughout the entire game. As the game gets closer to its end, temps could dip down to 49, but otherwise, bright sunshine skies will dominate an absolutely perfect New England spring day.
Where in the World is Boston College Baseball?
The Eagles are back at home at Shea Field. We can't say anything more that needs to be said there.
Music to listen to as you're hoping to upset an NEC team?
Jimi Hendrix - Voodoo Child (Slight Return).
This one ranks as one of my all-time favorite guitar hooks ever. The intro to this song made me feel almost invincible every time I heard it at the gym, and the one year I used this as a walkup song to the plate, I strode to the plate like an absolute bad ass...even if it was to strike out or beat one into the ground to short.
In terms of excitement levels on this game, this is as close to a huge game as you're going to get outside of the ACC. A win in this one will count as a quality win for the Eagles, especially since they rank behind Bryant in the RPI.
Bear in mind that there are two methods of thought heading into this game. Some people view Bryant as the better team because they haven't finished lower than first since joining the NEC in the regular season, and they're clearly moving towards becoming a major player on the national level. If BC enters this game as playing second banana, it's because Bryant's earned that moniker.
At the same time, people will still look at Bryant and see a team that five years ago was barely out of Division II, not a real, full-fledged Division I program. They'll see an ACC school playing an NEC school and see no reason why BC loses.
This is a real game against a totally quality opponent. I cannot state that enough, and this is going to be a great regional game that could potentially set the stage for a budding rivalry for years to come.
Random Fact(s) of the Week
In 2012, Bryant finished 33-21 overall with a 24-8 record, good enough for first place in the NEC. But they didn't qualify for the conference tournament. That's because they were ineligible as they completed their transition from Division II into the Division I level.
In 2013, they burst onto the national radar, going 45-17-1, winning 27 NEC games. After losing to LIU in the NEC First Round, they rallied to destroy Monmouth, 11-1, before ripping LIU apart, 16-1, in elimination games. After beating Sacred Heart, 6-3, they eliminated the Pioneers with a second, 8-0 win to advance to the tournament. It was there, as a #3 seed in the Manhattan Regional, that they defeated Arkansas, 4-1, before losing two in a row, eliminated 12-3 by the same Razorback team they earlier defeated.
In 2014, the Bulldogs won 40 games again, going 41-14, but they only went 19-5 in league play. Still, they finished first, plowing through the NEC Tournament undefeated by beating Wagner, Central Connecticut, and Sacred Heart. But there was no Cinderella in the Baton Rouge Regional, as the third-seeded Bulldogs lost in extra innings twice, first to Houston (3-2) and then to Southeast Louisiana (2-1).
Last year, the Bulldogs slipped to 24-20 overall but still managed to finish first in the league with a 15-5 record. Like '13, they lost in the first round, this time to Fairleigh Dickinson, then rallied, beating second-seeded Wagner in an elimination game, before beating the team that beat them, 7-0, in another. After beating Sacred Heart, 5-2, it looked like the Bulldogs would once again celebrate, but the Pioneers finally broke through, putting a dent in the dynasty with a 5-4 win.
Since joining the NEC in 2010, Bryant finished lower than first only once, in 2011.
Head-to-head, Boston College holds a 7-2 advantage over the Bulldogs, having beaten them 11-5 last season.
While a member of the NE-10, Bryant won six conference championships, but their conference tournament crown came in a year where they didn't win it all. The regular season champs in 1986, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, and 2008 before they transitioned out, the Bulldogs won the conference tournament in 1999.
With five NCAA Division II Tournament appearances, Bryant's won only one regional championship in 2004, a year in which they went to the D2 College World Series.
Only one Bryant Bulldog has ever played in Major League Baseball. Keith MacWhorter made 14 appearances for the 1980 Boston Red Sox, going 0-3 with a 5.53 ERA.
This game is as much of a toss-up on paper as any of the non-conference games this season. You can point to BC as an ACC team and Bryant as an NEC team all you want, but Bryant is a very good baseball school. They've built their athletic department around very good spring sports, and both men's lacrosse and baseball are standouts in that league. They're the biggest fish in the small pond of being a mid-major league.
But this is a midweek game, which means everything is a toss-up. BC could easily go out and win this game handily, they could lose this game handily, or it could go down to the wire.
Either way, consider this possibly the seeds being planted for a regional rivalry that could really spice up the college baseball scene.