By Brandon Scalea
As February comes to a close, baseball season is right around the corner. This week, Rider’s season will officially begin in Spartansburg, South Carolina, when it will face Wofford on Feb. 26. Last season, the Broncs clinched the MAAC regular-season title for the second time in three years under Head Coach Barry Davis. While they will look to stay atop the MAAC in 2016, here are my predictions for how the rest of the conference will shape up.
1. Canisius (Last season 34-30, 16-8 MAAC)
Key player: Senior infielder Anthony Massicci.
Key pitcher: Senior Mike Elwood.
Despite finishing second to Rider in the standings, the Golden Griffins came alive in the MAAC Tournament last season and will look to continue their dominance in 2016. Along with his reliability in the field, Massicci has proven to be a threat at the plate every at-bat. In 2014, he hit .364 with 48 runs scored.
2. Quinnipiac (29-27, 15-9 MAAC)
Key player: Senior catcher Lou Iannoitti.
Key pitcher: Graduate Gary Benkiewicz.
With four preseason All-MAAC selections, Quinnipiac is sure to be a force in the conference this season. As a junior, Iannoitti batted .284 with a .353 on base percentage and a .376 slugging percentage. However, the team’s inexperience might come into play as freshmen and sophomores make up the bulk of the roster.
3. Rider (28-22, 15-6 MAAC)
Key player: Senior outfielder James Locklear.
Key pitcher: Junior Josh Sharik.
Barry Davis has compiled nearly 300 wins in 11 seasons with Rider, a team that has been among the elite in the conference during that span. Last year, it was strong pitching and defense that allowed Rider to clinch the regular season crown. In 2016, it will rely on the bat of Locklear, a first team All-MAAC selection in 2015. He batted .341 in conference play and ranked tenth in the MAAC for stolen bases with 18.
4. Siena (23-28, 13-8 MAAC)
Key player: Sophomore infielder Joe Drpich.
Key pitcher: Junior Justin Scala.
Any time you have the reigning MAAC Rookie of the Year on your team, high hopes ensue. The Saints are going to be a tough team to beat these next few years, and Drpich is a big reason for it. During his freshman season, he batted .301 and demonstrated great power with nine homeruns.
5. Monmouth (22-24, 14-10 MAAC)
Key player: Sophomore shortstop Justin Trochiano.
Key pitcher: Senior Frank Trimarco.
Monmouth, another young team, certainly has the offense to finish in the upper half of the conference. If the Hawks want to be good, their pitching needs to come through, as well. Trimarco is one of the veterans who will need to step up on the mound. He is coming off a season where he finished with 53 strikeouts, but a 5.49 ERA.
6. Marist (19-27-1, 12-12 MAAC)
Key player: Senior infielder Joey Aiola.
Key pitcher: Junior Tyler Dearden.
During his college career, Aiola has proven that he can be an effective utility man. Last season, he made 36 starts at second base, six at third base, and two at shortstop. As a result of his play, he was named second team All-MAAC. He also hit .306 with two homeruns and 16 runs.
7. Manhattan (18-34, 9-15 MAAC)
Key player: Senior infielder Christian Santisteban.
Key pitcher: Junior Shawn Kanwisher.
After a ninth-place finish last season, the Jaspers will look to rebuild their program into a winning one. Santisteban will look to end his college career with a bang. Arguably one of the best hitters in the conference, he batted .301 last year. He ranked eighth in the MAAC in doubles and triples with 14 and three, respectively.
8. Iona (20-33, 11-18 MAAC)
Key player: Senior catcher Carmine Palummo.
Key pitcher: Junior pitcher Andrew Pucillo.
The Gaels finished in the middle of the pack in 2015, and unfortunately for them, it doesn’t look like they are moving to the top any time soon. However, their strong pitching could make them a tough team to register runs against. Pucillo appeared in 17 games as a sophomore, finishing with an ERA of 3.76 ERA.
9. Saint Peter’s (10-38-1, 7-17 MAAC)
Key player: Senior shortstop Jon Kristofferson.
Key pitcher: Senior Mark Wilson.
The Peacocks finished last in the conference last season, but they were a very inexperienced team. Their returning starters will allow the team to slowly begin the uphill climb. Kristofferson will emerge as the team’s leader as a senior shortstop.
10. Fairfield (17-32, 9-15 MAAC)
Key player: Junior infielder Michael Conti.
Key pitcher: Junior Mike Bonaiuto. The Stags’ inexperience will play a huge role in 2016. While the team will likely struggle offensively, it will rely on defense to stay in ballgames. Bonaiuto had a strong sophomore season, appearing in 16 games and finishing with a 3.18 ERA.
11. Niagara (13-32-2, 8-16 MAAC)
Key player: Senior infielder Michael Furhman.
Key pitcher: Junior Kevin Lucas.
Leading the team in hitting last season, Furham will look to have another solid season for the Purple Eagles. Furham finished 2015 with a .340 batting average and the highest on-base percentage in the MAAC.