Spartans Chase Fourth-Straight NAC Championship

Spartans Chase Fourth-Straight NAC Championship

CASTLETON, Vt.  – The Castleton baseball team will host the North Atlantic Conference Championship Tournament for the sixth-straight season on May 6-8 and will set out for its fourth consecutive NAC title when the league's top four teams clash on the double-elimination stage at Spartan Field. 

In last season's tournament, Castleton went 3-0 to become the first team in NAC history to three-peat as conference champions. The Spartans defeated Thomas and Husson respectively by scores of 5-3 and 7-5, before capturing a come-from behind 6-5 victory over the Eagles in the Championship game to secure their fourth NCAA Regional appearance in five years.

Castleton will open the 2017 tournament as the top seed yet again, taking on fourth-seeded Husson in the opening game Saturday, May 6 at 9:30 a.m. The second game of the day is slated for 12:30 p.m. and will feature second-seeded New England College versus third-seeded Lyndon. The losers of those two matchups will square off in an elimination contest for the final game on Friday at 3:30 p.m.

Tournament action will continue throughout the weekend, as two games are slated for Sunday, May 7, before concluding with the final day of the tournament scheduled for Monday, May 8. The tournament champion will earn an automatic berth to the 2017 NCAA Division III Baseball Championship.

No. 1 Castleton (30-7, 21-3 NAC)

Castleton was the unanimous favorite in the NAC Preseason Poll, and it followed through with 21 conference victories for the second straight year. The Spartans went 11-1 against tournament foes in the regular season, with their only loss coming in a 5-4 defeat against Lyndon.

The Spartan pitching staff has been the anchor this season, as it is currently ranks tied for first in all of collegiate baseball with a 1.89 ERA. Davis Mikell is fifth in the nation with a 0.92 ERA, pitching his way to a 5-1 record with 50 strikeouts in 39.0 innings. Michael LaBeau is ranked eighth in the country with a 1.10 ERA, going the distance in six starts with 44 strikeouts in 49.0 innings. Luke Salerno is 6-0 with a 1.94 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 41.2 innings, while Devin Hayes (6-1) has posted a 1.65 ERA with 47 strikeouts in 49.0 innings. 

At the plate, Castleton leads the NAC in batting average (.291) and slugging percentage (.412). Dillon Benham leads the way with a .333 batting average and is tied for third in the NAC with 33 RBI. Deagan Poland is batting .328 with 33 runs scored and 26 stolen bases, while Dylan Bailey has recorded 10 doubles, 29 RBI, and 17 runs scored on his way to a .309 batting average.

Player to Watch - #20 Davis Mikell – P/1B

Mikell has been a difference maker both offensively and defensively for the Spartans. While leading the pitching staff with his 0.92 ERA, the freshman is also batting .322 with seven home runs, nine doubles, two triples, and 28 RBI. Mikell has just three hits in his last 23 at-bats, but if his bat gets hot in the tournament, expect Castleton to be in contention for a fourth-straight NAC title.

No. 2 New England College (22-18, 14-10 NAC)

New England College, which was voted seventh in the NAC Preseason Poll, is the hottest team entering the tournament. The Pilgrims are currently riding an eight-game winning streak with 82 runs scored over that span. They struggled against tournament foes in the regular season, however, posting a 3-9 record. New England College split with Husson, but went 1-3 against Lyndon and was swept by Castleton.

Offensively, New England College is batting .287 as a team and averaging just over six runs per game. Three Pilgrims are hitting over .300, led by Evan Delaney, who is batting .403 with 48 hits in 119 at-bats. Conor Crouse has a .333 average with 31 runs scored, while Vincent Backert has driven in 36 runs on his way to a .305 clip at the plate.  

The Pilgrim pitching staff has an ERA of 4.58. Stanley Vargas is 4-3 in 13 appearances and is tied for fifth in the nation with 96 strikeouts in 65.1 innings pitched. Backert (5-2) has pitched five complete games and notched 63 strikeouts in 62.1 innings to support his 2.31 ERA.

Player to Watch - #20 Evan Delaney - OF

Delaney leads the NAC in batting average (.403), RBI (38), home runs (8), and stolen bases (32). He is slugging .782 with nine doubles and six triples, while also working 39 walks for a .556 on-base percentage. If Delaney continues his offensive production in the tournament, look for the Pilgrims' first postseason appearance in 18 years to be a deep one.

No. 3 Lyndon (22-18, 13-11 NAC)

Lyndon has won five of its last seven games to eclipse the 20-win mark for the first time in the program's NCAA history. The Hornets went a respectable 6-6 against tournament foes during the regular season. Lyndon took three out of four against New England College and split with Husson, but managed just one win against Castleton.

At the plate, Lyndon ranks second in the NAC with a .288 batting average. Devon Rollins is second in the conference with a .393 average, while collecting 55 hits and 12 walks for a .456 on-base percentage. Andre Eason Jr. is batting .331 and leads the team with 24 RBI. Ryan Cordeiro is batting .285 and has 20 stolen bases to go with 28 runs scored.

Lyndon's pitching staff has notched a 4.21 ERA in 282.0 innings, while averaging 6.73 strikeouts per nine innings. Jeff Williams is 5-2 with five complete games, 49 strikeouts, and a 3.34 ERA in 56.2 innings. Andrew Whalen has been a reliable force out of the bullpen, as he leads the NAC with nine saves and holds a 1.45 ERA with 16 strikeouts in 18.2 innings pitched.

Player to Watch - #26 Zak Johnson – P/Util.

Johnson has played a key role both ways for Lyndon, sporting a .315 batting average at the plate and tossing 45.1 innings on the mound. He has elevated his game against NAC opponents, batting .341 in 44 at-bats and holding a 2.83 ERA in 28.2 innings pitched. If Johnson carries over his strong conference play in the NAC tournament, look for Lyndon to make a push for a title run.

No. 4 Husson (21-18, 13-11 NAC)

Husson entered the final week of the regular season in second place in the NAC, but dropped two positions after being swept by Castleton. Three of the four games were decided by just one run. The Eagles went 4-8 against tournament foes with series splits at New England College and Lyndon before being swept by the Spartans.

Offensively, the Eagles are batting .272 as a team with an average of just over 4.5 runs per game. Sam Huston is batting .317 with 12 doubles and 33 RBI, while Ryan Rebar has a .290 average with 21 runs scored. Christian Corneil has legged out four triples and stolen 11 bases, while ranking second on the squad in home runs (2), RBI (19), and slugging percentage (.411).

Husson's pitching staff has a 4.42 ERA with 140 earned runs in 285.0 innings. Ben Walls (5-2) has proven to be the ace of the staff, as he has a 1.89 ERA with 37 strikeouts in 57.0 innings. Ben Holmes is 3-3 with three complete games, posting a 3.38 ERA with 28 strikeouts in 42.2 innings pitched.

Player to Watch - #2 Logan Rogerson - INF

Rogerson has enjoyed a strong freshman campaign for the Eagles. In 38 games played, he is batting .302 with 23 runs scored. Rogerson has stepped his game up another notch in conference play this season, as he leads the team in batting average (.356), hits (26), and runs (17) in 23 games played against NAC opponents. If Rogerson can replicate his conference success in the tournament, watch out for Husson to make some noise as the fourth seed.