Four-time national champs ranked highest among LEC institutions
Balowski (far left), Chamberlain
WILLIMANTIC, Conn. -- The Eastern Connecticut State University baseball team has been ranked No. 24 nationally in the 2013 ABCA/Collegiate Baseball Division III national pre-season poll.
A winner of 29 of 42 games last year, Eastern missed by one victory its 12th straight season of at least 30 wins and is one of three institutions ranked in the Top 30 poll which did not qualify for NCAA tournament play a year ago. The Warriors were seeded fourth in last year's Little East Conference tournament and dropped two in a row after opening with a victory.
Eastern was ranked No. 9 in the 2012 pre-season poll after coming off its 32nd NCAA tournament in 36 years and remained among the top 25 teams in the Top 30 poll throughout the regular season. The Warriors were ranked third nationally in New England at the outset of the season and no lower than eighth through the regular season.
Among other Little East Conference institutions, 2012 LEC tournament champion University of Southern Maine is rated 26th in the pre-season poll and 2012 LEC runner-up Keene State College also received votes.
Last year against teams rated in this year's pre-season poll, Eastern defeated No. 1 Wheaton College (MA), 4-2, and No.16 Trinity College (CT), 11-1, and lost two No. 7 Kean University, 5-0, No. 22 Western New England University, 9-6, and twice to No. 26 University of Southern Maine, 4-2, 5-1, in a Little East doubleheader on the final day of the regular season.
Eastern, whose senior class last year consisted of two starting pitchers and the starting catcher, returns eight of last year's top nine hitters and five of seven pitchers who logged at least 30 innings.
Among the most accomplished returning pitchers are senior lefty Tom Darby (Middletown, RI), junior righty Greg Porter (Mystic), and senior righties Matt Purnell (Stafford Springs) and senior righty Evan Chamberlain (Amston). Darby was 6-0 in 2012 with a 3.12 ERA, Porter 4-0 with a staff-best 1.52 ERA, Purnell 1-3 with a 3.97 ERA and Chamberlain 3-2 with a 3.04 ERA and three saves.
Among the starting returning position players are first-team All-New England senior first baseman Joe Balowski (Berlin), sophomore outfielder Adam Roderick (West Hartford), last year's LEC Rookie-of-the-Year, All-LEC junior shortstop Danny O'Connell (Braintree, MA), senior centerfielder Mike Riemer (Ellington), and junior catcher/DH T.J. Larivee (Salem, MA). Balowski batted .371 last year with 94 total bases, Roderick .364 with 80 total bases, O'Connell .363 with 77 total bases and 101 assists, Riemer .324 with a .988 fielding percentage and Larivee .331.
Among the top newcomers are senior transfer outfielder Tyler Caserta (Stratford) and sophomore transfer catcher Chuck Vogt (Windsor Locks). After two seasons at Central Connecticut, Caserta batted .241 last spring at Keystone College, the top-seeded team in the NCAA Division III Mid-Atlantic Regional last year. Vogt batted .218 with 89 putouts and 50 assists last year at Keene State.
A 12-time NCAA regional champion since 1982 and four-time national champion, Eastern won regional titles five times in the first eight years of last decade, last claiming a national championship in 2002 with an 8-0 shutout of Marietta College in the championship round at Grand Chute, WI.
Eastern is scheduled to open its 45th season under head coach Bill Holowaty (1,382-515-6) March 2 at Hoboken, NJ against New Jersey City University at 11 a.m. and Stevens Tech at 2 p.m.