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Western New England College looks for strong showing against Westfield State in NCAA Division III Tournament

Western New England College looks for strong showing against Westfield State in NCAA Division III Tournament

Western New England College Media Notes

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – The Western New England College baseball team hopes to make a strong showing against Westfield State at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday (May 19) in an opening round game of the NCAA Division III New England Regional Tournament in Mansfield, Connecticut.

The Golden Bears (33-10) received the third seed in the eight-team double elimination tournament while the Owls gained the sixth seed.

Western New England College advanced to the national tournament for the fifth consecutive season after capturing The Commonwealth Coast Conference (TCCC) Tournament in a week of baseball that won’t soon be forgotten. The Golden Bears won the league playoffs for the third straight year the hard way after winning five straight games in the losers' bracket after dropping their opening contest against Anna Maria.

Westfield State (30-9) received an at-large bid to the NCAAs after finishing second in the Massachusetts State College Athletic Conference (MASCAC) following a 3-2 loss to Worcester State.

Besides trying to get that important first win in the NCAAs, the Golden Bears figure to have extra motivation after the Owls handed them their worst loss of the season with a 19-5 victory April 22 in Westfield. WSC leads the all-time series by a 29-13-1 margin.

Western New England College coach Matt LaBranche was justifiably proud of his team’s comeback in the conference tournament and pointed to the leadership displayed by senior captains, first baseman Joe Griglun (Southington, CT), center fielder Steve Kearney (Glastonbury, CT), and shortstop Justin Walz (Groton, CT), as a big reason why the team is playing in the nationals for the sixth time in the last seven years.

“I’m very proud of what this team has accomplished this season,” commented LaBranche. “Another 30-win season and another conference title were goals and those things don’t happen without a great deal of hard work and commitment. What makes this group unique is its daily work ethic. This team has very good practice habits, in fact, maybe better than any other team I’ve coached.

“The senior tri-captains set a tremendous example early in the year and the younger players followed suit,” he pointed out. “As a result, we got better every day. This year’s conference title was particularly sweet given the path we took to obtain it. To drop into the losers' bracket and then win five games in a row speaks volumes of this team’s heart and tenacity. That experience gives us tremendous confidence heading into the regional. We should be a tough team to beat."

Griglun leads the Golden Bears in batting (.442), hits (school-record 73), RBI (58), doubles (15), homers (5), and slugging percentage (.624). He had the game-winning single in a 4-3 win over Anna Maria in an elimination game of the league playoffs. Defensively, Griglun has only two errors in 347 chances (.994).

Kearney moved from right to center his spring and batted a solid .250 while setting a school-record for getting hit by a pitch a remarkable 19 times.

Walz hit .326 and walked 44 times in tying Griglun for the team high in on-base percentage (.492). Walz delivered a walk-off RBI single with two outs that capped a five-run ninth inning in a 15-14 victory over Endicott that sent the Golden Bears into the conference title game.

Senior pitcher Matt Rogers (Portsmouth, RI) will get the nod against Westfield State after having one of the best seasons in school history. The crafty right-hander posted a 9-1 record with a 3.64 earned-run-average in 71.2 innings. He will return next year for his final season of eligibility.

Western New England College received valuable contributions from six juniors who came through with big performances all season.

Jason Leclerc (Chicopee, MA) emerged as one of the most improved catchers in the region batting .401 with a team best 49 runs. Third baseman Tony Trubia (Tolland, CT) and left fielder Andrew Fatse (Hampden, MA) each have a.340 average. Designated hitter Ryan Dudzinski (Bristol, CT) batted .331 mark with a school-record 29 stolen bases (in 30 attempts) from his leadoff spot in his first year as a starter. Pitchers Zach Cloft (Glastonbury, CT) and Evan Michaud (Windsor Locks, CT) each won four games.

Three sophomores dispelled the notion about that famed second-year jinx.

Right fielder Tom Bouvier (East Longmeadow, MA) batted .347, committed only one error in the field, and made seven pitching appearances. Relief pitcher Mike Lawlor (Windsor, CT) set a school record with seven saves to go along with a 4-1 record and 1.59 ERA. Pitcher Mark DiTommaso (Hebron, MA) won three games.

The Golden Bears have two of the best freshmen in the region in second baseman Mike Rubino (Northford, CT) and pitcher Kevin Jefferis (Cheshire, CT). Rubino ranks third on the team with a .358 average while Jefferis is undefeated with a 7-0 mark and 2.82 ERA to go along with a team best 54 strikeouts.

Griglun (1st Team), Rogers (2nd), Lawlor (2nd), Leclerc (3rd), and Jefferis (3rd) made the All-New England Intercollegiate Baseball Association (NEIBA) Team. The five players along with Dudzinski and Trubia also gained All-TCCC recognition.

Western New England College has a .350 team batting average and 4.33 earned-run-average.

Despite losing a pair of one-run games to Worcester State in the MASCAC playoffs, Westfield State has a dangerous team with six players hitting over .350.

Senior outfielder Jeff Fields (Pittsfield, MA) (.399) heads the list followed by sophomore third baseman Matt Kelly (Weymouth, MA) (.392) and senior Ben Campbell (Easthampton, MA) (.387). Senior outfielder Kevin Lyons (Braintree, MA) (.362), junior infielder Jeff Ackerman (Beverly, MA) (.357), and senior shortstop Ben Wagner (Cumberland, RI) (.355) are veteran players.

The Owls have three talented pitchers in seniors Jesse Vermeersch (Marlboro, MA) (2.23 ERA) and sophomore Aaron Messier (New Bedford, MA) (3.35 ERA) who both have 6-1 records. Junior Tymon Muska (Brimfield, MA) sports a 5-0 mark and 4.54 ERA.

Eastern Connecticut and the Little East Conference are the co-hosts of the tournament.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010 (Weather permitting)
10:00 a.m. - #4 seed Eastern Connecticut (30-13) vs. # 5 Worcester State (31-19-1
1:15 p.m. - #1 Tufts (31-5) vs. #8 St. Joseph’s Maine (32-11)
4:30 p.m. - #3 Western New England College (33-10) vs. #6 Westfield State (30-9)
7:45 p.m. - #2 Wheaton (32-8) vs. #7 University of Massachusetts Boston (28-15)

Tufts – New England Small Conference Athletic Conference (NESCAC) champion
Wheaton – New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) champion
Western New England College – The Commonwealth Coast Conference (TCCC) champion
Eastern Connecticut – Little East Conference (received an at-large bid)
Worcester State - Massachusetts State College Athletic Conference champion
Westfield State – Massachusetts State College Athletic Conference (received an at-large bid)
University of Massachusetts Boston - Little East Conference champion
St. Joseph’s Maine – Great Northeast Athletic Conference champion