Spartans Look for Third-Straight NAC Championship

Spartans Look for Third-Straight NAC Championship

CASTLETON, Vt. – Castleton's baseball team will host the North Atlantic Conference Tournament for the fifth-straight season on May 6-8 and will look to become the first team in conference history to win three consecutive NAC Titles. 

In last season's tournament, the Spartans turned in a dominating performance, outscoring the opposition 30-4 to go perfect in tournament play at 3-0. Castleton opened the tournament with a 4-1 victory over Maine-Farmington before taking back-to-back games from Thomas by scores of 12-1 and 14-2 to capture the title. 

The Spartans will open the 2016 tournament as the top seed yet again, taking on the fourth-seeded Thomas Terriers in the opening game on Friday, May 6 at 9:30 am. The second game of the day will take place at 12:30 pm and feature No. 2 Husson versus No. 3 Maine-Farmington. The losers of those first two games will face off in an elimination match for the final game of the day on Friday at 3:30 pm. 

Tournament action will continue throughout the weekend with two games scheduled for Saturday, May 7, concluding with the final day of the tournament slated for Sunday, May 8. The tournament champion will clinch a berth in the 2016 NCAA Division III Baseball Championship. 

No. 1 Castleton
Castleton has been the top team in the conference this season and one of the top clubs in the region, collecting a 29-10 overall record and 21-3 mark in the conference. The Spartans have gone a combined 10-2 against tournament foes, earning season sweeps of Husson and Maine-Farmington while splitting with Thomas this year. 

At the plate, Castleton is batting a conference-best .314 so far, led by senior Nick Swim, who is hitting a NAC-leading .426 this season. Jim Buckley holds a .354 average with 34 RBIs, while Zach Bahan and Dan Errico have posted respective averages of .350 and .341 with a combined 29 extra-base hits and 70 RBIs.

The Spartans' pitching staff leads the NAC with a 3.00 ERA and an average of 6.30 strikeouts per game. Sam Spencer has been the ace, posting a 6-2 mark with a 2.89 ERA and six complete games. Steven Jurkiewicz (5-2) has a 2.82 ERA with one save and four complete games in 51 innings pitched, while Charles Stapleford is 6-1 on the year with a NAC-best 1.93 ERA.

Player to Watch – #7 Nick Swim – SS
Swim has been the Spartans' top player this season, leading the Spartans in almost every offensive category. The shortstop leads the team in batting average (.426), hits (49), doubles (15), home runs (3), RBIs (44), runs scored (49) and slugging percentage (.482). In last year's tournament, Swim went 8-for-15 at the plate, and if he can replicate that form this weekend, expect Castleton to be in contention for a third-straight championship.

No. 2 Husson
Husson finished the regular season at 21-19 overall and 15-9 in the conference following a 5-4 victory over Colby on Tuesday. The Eagles posted a respectable 6-6 mark against tournament competition this year, splitting the season series' with both Maine-Farmington and Thomas before suffering a four-game sweep from Castleton.

The Eagles have posted a solid .278 average on the year, with six different players hitting above .300 so far. J.T. Whitten is batting .370 this season with 13 extra-base hits, 21 RBIs, 26 runs scored and 18 walks. Sam Huston is hitting .343 with nine doubles and 14 RBIS, while Ryan Rebar has tallied a .323 average with 15 runs scored and ten walks.

Husson's pitching staff has collected a team ERA of 3.81, allowing 171 runs in 300 innings pitched. Dan Whitney and Ben Walls have anchored the staff. Whitney is 4-2 overall with a 2.95 ERA and four complete games, whereas Walls (6-1) has posted a 2.51 ERA with a team-leading 27 strikeouts in 46.2 innings of work.

Player to Watch – #21 Brandon Reilly – SP
Brandon Reilly has been solid in his senior season, posting a 5-4 mark with a 4.24 ERA in 67.2 innings of work. When Husson won the NAC Championship in 2013, the right-hander tossed a complete game shutout in the opener before earning a save in the title game. If he can deliver a similar performance this weekend, the Eagles will have a much-improved shot at snapping their two-year title drought.

No. 3 Maine-Farmington
Maine-Farmington won 11 of its final 13 games to close out the regular season with a 23-14 overall record and 15-9 spot in the conference. The Beavers have struggled against tournament competition this year, posting a 3-9 mark. UMF split the season series against Thomas, but were swept by Castleton and managed just one win out of a four-game set with Husson.

So far this season, the Beavers have hit .290 as a team with an average of six runs per game. Leading the way have been senior Sean Cabaniss and junior Jordan Croteau. Cabaniss is hitting .353 with ten extra-base hits, 17 RBIs and 24 runs scored, while Croteau has driven in 20 runs with seven doubles and a .341 average. 

The UMF pitching staff has posted a team ERA of 5.40 with 157 runs allowed in 258 innings of work. Riley Chickering has tossed a team-high 48.1 innings so far with a 5-3 mark and 3.17 ERA. Kyle Peterson is 5-2 overall with a 3.52 ERA and three complete games, while Mark Leahy has posted a 3.30 ERA in nine appearances. 

Player to Watch –  #21 Tom Grady – OF
Tom Grady has quietly put together a solid senior campaign for the Beavers. In 37 games, he has notched a .318 average with six doubles, two triples, two home runs, 22 runs scored and a team-leading 28 RBIs. Grady has picked up just three hits in his last five games, but if the senior's bat gets hot in the tournament, watch out for UMF to make a push for a title run.

No. 4 Thomas
Thomas stands at 19-18 overall and clinched the fourth seed in the tournament with a 13-11 mark despite ending the regular season on a three-game losing skid. The Terriers have notched a 5-7 spot against tournament competition this year, splitting the season series' with Castleton and Maine-Farmington, while dropping three out of four games to Husson. 

Offensively, the Terriers sport a .288 average with 159 runs scored in 37 games. Nik Beeson and Anree Benitez have spearheaded the attack. Beeson is batting .403 with nine doubles, 25 RBIs and 20 runs scored, while Benitez has driven in 11 runs with 25 stolen bases and a .321 average.  

Thomas' pitching staff has notched a 4.17 ERA in 261 innings of work, while averaging 5.66 strikeouts per game. Beeson's success at the plate has been replicated on the mound, where he sports a 4-1 mark with a 2.33 ERA and two complete games. Dominic Esposito is 4-4 overall with a team-leading 2.02 Era in 49 innings, whereas Isiah Fleming has won four games with a 5.08 ERA. 

Player to Watch – #16 Matt Rutherford – SP
Matt Rutherford has been a steady and dependable performer for the Terriers this season. In 11 appearances, he's posted a 3-5 mark with a 3.55 ERA and three complete games. His best outing of the season came in a 2-1 victory over Castleton, when he worked 5.2 innings of one-run baseball with four strikeouts. If the sophomore can deliver a similar performance in the tournament, watch out for the Terriers to make some noise as the fourth seed.