Baseball: Beginning Wednesday, No. 2-Seeded Warriors Seek 10th LEC Tournament Title

With head coach Matt LaBranche (far left) are seniors looking for their second Little East Conference baseball title in three years. From left: LaBranche, D.J. Scavone, Mike Funaro, Sam Kosterich, Merlyn Herrera and Collin Russell.
With head coach Matt LaBranche (far left) are seniors looking for their second Little East Conference baseball title in three years. From left: LaBranche, D.J. Scavone, Mike Funaro, Sam Kosterich, Merlyn Herrera and Collin Russell.

By Mitch Foster ’18 /Sports Information Intern

WILLIMANTIC, Conn. -- The four-day, double-elimination  Little East Conference Baseball Tournament will start Wednesday at Monan Park on the campus of top-seeded UMass Boston.

Regular season champion and 2017 tournament champion UMass Boston will get the tourney started at 11 a.m. against 6th-seeded UMass Dartmouth.

The 2nd-seeded Eastern Connecticut State University Warriors’s first game will be against 5th-seeded Plymouth State at 2:30 p.m., and No. 3 Southern Maine faces No. 4 Rhode Island College at 6 p.m.

Eastern finished the regular season going 22-14 overall and 10-4 in LEC play after sweeping No. 16 nationally-ranked Southern Maine last Friday. Unranked all season, Eastern moved into the New England poll in a tie for sixth after ending the regular season having captured eight of its last 11.

Eastern has reached the LEC championship game three times in four years under fifth-year head coach Matt LaBranche, winning in 2014 at home and in 2016 at UMass Boston and losing to host Southern Maine in 2015. Eastern is far-and-away the winningest program in 21 years of LEC play, having claimed nine titles and losing in the championship round only twice.

The Warriors’ offense is led by Alex Parkos (Meriden) and D.J Scavone (Auburn, MA), who have 37 and 31 RBI respectively. The 3-4 hitters for Eastern are responsible for over 30 percent of the team’s RBIs this season.

Starting pitcher Jordan Muchin (West Hartford) and spot starter/reliever Nick Rascati (Wallingford) look to carry Eastern’s pitching staff deep into the tournament. The conference leader in strikeouts, Muchin’s last start of the season saw the 6-2 righty pitch the program’s first ever complete game shutout at Southern Maine. Rascati has a 2-0 record on the season with a 3.67 ERA and is averaging just over one strikeout per inning.

Behind Muchin and Rascati, the success of pitchers Sam Kosterich (Stamford), a senior, junior Cole Ogorzalek (Portland) and sophomores Drew Alexopoulos (Hanson, MA) and Jack Risley (Willimantic) will play a large role in determining the Warriors status in the tournament.

Senior Merlyn Herrera (La Yaquiza, DR) will start behind the plate, with  freshman Kevin Murphy (Springfield, MA) ready to step in if necessary after seeing plenty of early-season action while Herrera recovered from injury.

In addition to Parkos at third and Scavone at first, additional infield starters figure to be senior Mike Funaro (Northford) at second and junior Dale Keller (Oxford) at short. Outfield starters include  juniors Alexander White (West Hartford) in center and Ryan Hood (Arlington, MA) in left and Anthony Stigler (Mansfield) – the only fulltime starting position player – in right.

Sophomore Jake LeFevre (Mansfield Center) has seen the most time at DH, but additional candidates include senior Collin Russell (Sandwich, MA), Alexopoulos, and freshman Jack Rich (Meriden), who have all taken turns at that position this year. LeFevre, Alexopoulos and Rich all join Scavone and Stigler as offensive threats from the left side of the plate.

Scavone is looking forward to his last LEC tournament, the first baseman said, “Going into the tourney we are looking to carry over some momentum from the regular season. Every team in this tournament is legit, and there’s no easy route for any team so it’s critical for our guys to be ready to compete every pitch this tournament and leave it all out on the field this week.”

 If they win their first game, the Warriors will play against the winner of the Southern Maine-RIC game Thursday at 6 p.m. If the Warriors lose their first game, their second game will be against the loser of the UMass Boston-UMass Dartmouth game Thursday at 11 a.m.