By Carlos Toro
After clinching the MAAC regular season twice from 2013-15, the Broncs vastly underperformed last season, missing out on the conference tournament. Rider is going to battle for one of the six spots in the MAAC Baseball Tournament held this May. Here are the predictions for the 2017 MAAC Baseball Season.
1. Fairfield (Last season, 32-26, 17-7 MAAC)
Key Player: Senior Mac Crispino
Key Pitcher: Senior Kyle Dube
Usually not a baseball powerhouse in the MAAC, Fairfield shocked the conference by not only winning the regular season, but also the conference title for the first time in program history. Seniors Mac Crispino and Troy Scocca are the team’s best two returning hitters. The return of six everyday starters should offset the loss of the team’s top threat Jake Salpietro. They’ll also have senior Kyle Dube returning to the team as the Stags’ top pitcher and one of the best in the conference.
2. Monmouth (30-27, 16-8 MAAC)
Key Player: Senior Shaine Hughes
Key Pitcher: Senior Ricky Dennis
Monmouth is a serious contender to win the conference this year after four players were placed on the All-MAAC Preseason First Team. Shaine Hughes led the conference in batting average last season and he’ll be a serious contender for MAAC Player of the Year. Dennis won nine games as a starter last year and should be even better in his second season as a full-time starter.
3. Canisius (33-26, 16-8 MAAC)
Key Player: Senior Jake Lumley
Key Pitcher: Sophomore Nolan Hunt
Canisius could have a secret weapon in freshman Jake Burlingame, who could be a huge help offensively and in the outfield. Jake Lumley and the Golden Griffins’ very deep pitching staff, headed by sophomore Nolan Hunt, will lead a team that failed to win either the MAAC regular season or the conference tournament, breaking a 2013-15 championship streak.
4. Quinnipiac (21-31, 10-14 MAAC)
Key Player: Senior Matthew Batten
Key Pitcher: Junior Taylor Luciani
Quinnipiac vastly underperformed in the conference this past season, but it is a sleeper team this year and it is primed to have a major bounce back year. Matthew Batten has been a major offensive force for the Bobcats, leading the team in batting average (.344), runs (43) and stolen bases (20) and junior Taylor Luciani is going to be the top starter for the Bobcats.
5. Manhattan (24-31, 13-11 MAAC)
Key Player: Sophomore Fabian Pena
Key Pitcher: Junior Tom Cosgrove
Fabian Pena was one of the most outstanding freshmen in the entire country last year and he’ll be the offensive focal point for the Jaspers. Tom Cosgrove is the top returning starter and has progressed nicely since his 1-5 freshman year.
6. Rider (18-33, 10-14 MAAC)
Key Player: Sophomore Riley Mihalik
Key Pitcher: Junior Nick Margevicius
The Broncs experienced a lot of growing pains as they had to replace several key players from the 2015 roster, but they did get to compete in the Liberty Bell Classic Championship game, which should serve as great experience for the younger players. Riley Mihalik had a solid year as a freshman and could anchor the offense this year. Starter Nick Margevicius is probably going to be the Broncs’ top starter. If he performs well, it will boost the rest of the pitching staff.
7. Siena (25-32, 16-8 MAAC)
Key Player: Junior Jordan Bishop
Key Pitcher: Sophomore Tommy Miller
Siena’s offense was above average with Jordan Bishop leading all starters in batting average, but its pitching and defense certainly was not. The loss of graduating senior starting pitcher Kyano Cummings will be a huge loss for Siena, but Tommy Miller will have to pick up the slack. The team’s schedule isn’t easy at the end, with its last 10 games — nine of which are conference games — being contested on the road.
8. Marist (24-27, 13-11 MAAC)
Key Player: Sophomore Frankie Gregoire
Key Pitcher: Junior Charlie Jerla
The Marist Red Foxes have improved their win total each year for the past three seasons, but the team has not faced a conference this stacked. Charlie Jerla won eight games as a sophomore and will figure to be a top pitcher on a slightly above average pitching staff this season and Gregoire will be expected to follow up on a 10-home run freshman year.
9. Niagara (16-35-1, 11-13 MAAC)
Key Player: Junior Tanner Kirwer
Key Pitcher: Junior Cody Eckerson
Tanner Kirwer, the only unanimous Preseason All-MAAC First Team selection, is expected to have a big year, but it will be up to Cody Eckerson to lead a pitching staff, who finished with the third-worst team ERA in the MAAC last year, that needs to improve in order to qualify for the MAAC Tournament.
10. Iona (11-39, 5-19 MAAC)
Key Player: Sophomore Sean Breen
Key Pitcher: Junior Joe DeRosa
Two seasons ago, Iona was a 20-win team in MAAC Tournament contention, but those days are gone for now, given their youth. Sean Breen led the team in batting average and slugging percentage last year and if he continues progressing, Iona could still be a sleeper team. Iona can climb the ranks if starting pitcher Joe DeRosa, a 2016 All-MAAC Second Team selection, follows suit.
11. Saint Peter’s (10-42, 5-19 MAAC)
Key Player: Junior Mike Ionta
Key Pitcher: Junior Willie Krajnik
There isn’t much hope for the Peacock in terms of being a contender this season. Mike Ionta and Willie Krajnik are among the team’s top returning starters and they could be a huge help in Saint Peter’s becoming a much better team next year.