Marc Maturo’s official sports column
STAC ‘9’ set for playoff preview against Dowling
A classic four-game showcase of sorts looms this weekend when St. Thomas Aquinas College and Dowling College, two East Coast Conference powerhouses, square off in a postseason preview.
Pitching-rich Dowling leads the conference with a 17-3 record (29-11 overall) while the hard-hitting Spartans of Sparkill have been in hot pursuit with a 14-6 conference mark (27-12 overall, including a seven-game winning streak following a sweep against Adelphi University).
The Spartans, coached by veteran Scott Muscat of West Haverstraw, would need an unlikely four-game series sweep to trade places in the conference standings but both regionally-ranked clubs have already received the top two seeds in the postseason tournament.
This reality, however, does nothing to dampen the teams’ first meetings of the season, beginning May 2 at 3:30 p.m. at Provident Bank Park in Pomona. Dowling is scheduled to host a noon doubleheader on May 3 in Brookhaven, and the teams return to Provident Bank Park at 1 p.m. on May 4 to close the series on Senior Day.
“We’re going to see each other four times and we’ll get a close look at them, and they’ll get a close look at us,” noted Muscat, whose Spartans went 0-2 in the NCAA Division II Championships last year. “This will be kind of a preview for the tournament, and what matters most in the (ECC) Tournament, if one teams wins the series it can have a bearing on the regional ranking; one team can move up and the other would move down.”
The Spartans were listed No. 5 in the East Region in the first official NCAA Division II rankings while Dowling was ranked No. 4. Six teams in the East Region will qualify for the NCAA Division II tournament, with automatic bids being earned by the tournament champions from the East Coast Conference, Northeast-10 and Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference. The remaining three bids will be issued on an at-large basis.
STAC boasts the top-hitting team in the conference, led by Rich Baerga of Pomona, who is at the magical .400 level, while Dowling has the top pitching staff, powered by senior right-hander Tyler Badamo of Mount Sinai. Badamo has proven nearly impossible to score against, with a .43 ERA and 108 strikeouts.
“We’re going to have to adopt a different strategy against him,” said Muscat, who expects Badamo to get the starting nod on May 2. “We’ll have to adjust, for sure.”
Baerga, the Spartans’ leadoff hitter, is doing precisely what Muscat and other coaches expected, tabbing the junior standout as a preseason all-America selection.
Baerga, however, had much support in the lineup. Sophomore Nick Gargan of Nesconset has settled into the No. 2 slot while junior Stanley Susana of the Bronx, who was the ECC rookie of the year as a freshman, leads the conference with 34 RBI.
Outfielder Derek Hirsch of Melville, who delivered a two-run homer against Adelphi in the second-game victory following a 5-for-5 performance against Caldwell, bats in the cleanup position.
Another offensive threat is senior first baseman and team captain Kenny Kirschner of Cornwell-on-Hudson, a left-handed bat.
“He’s one of our best hitters — leads us in stolen bases — and is one of our best infielders,” Muscat said. “He led the ECC in hitting last year.”
Still and all, STAC will have its bats challenged by Dowling’s hurlers; not that Dowling is a one-horse opponent.
“We haven’t met this season, but they have the best pitching in the conference, and also run very well (an astonishing 111 stolen bases in 137 attempts),” offers Muscat, putting on his scouting cap. “They’re solid hitting, too, above average. But pitching and speed keeps them in every game.”
Not to be undone, STAC also brings some formidable arms to the mound, sparked by the Spartans’ all-time and single-season strikeout leader, right-hander Robert Frank of Closter, N.J.
“He’s not completely healthy, but has a 1.84 ERA; he’s pitching very well,” notes Muscat, also pointing to sophomore righty Matt Kostalos of Staten Island, the No. 2 man in the rotation, and senior ECC saves leader C.J. Ferriggi of Bellmore.
“C.J. has seven saves and throws four pitches for strikes, which is unique for a closer; most have two, which is still pretty good,” adds Muscat.
In the tournament, the No. 1 seed meets No. 4 while the No. 2 seed meets No. 3. The survivors meet on the second day.
“One of us will have to beat the other to win the tournament for sure,” offers Muscat, noting that the champion receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. “But either of us can get in the (NCAA) tournament without winning the conference tournament because of our regional ranking, if it stays as it is.”
QUICK HITTERS: Rockland County teams are eligible to compete at the Continental Amateur Baseball Association (CABA) 18u Metal Bat World Series July 7-12 in Struthers, Ohio. To register, contact Ken Quinn at 330-719-0581, or visit the CABA website. … St. Thomas Aquinas College sophomore Inigo Aldekoa of Barrika, Spain, was named second-team all-East Coast Conference in men’s tennis. … Junior right-hander Frank Fantino of Nanuet evened his record at 2-2, pitching five innings and allowing two runs as the Purchase College baseball team waylaid visiting John Jay, 21-3. The Panthers lifted their record to 14-10 overall. … The Mercy College softball team used an offensive flurry to sweep a doubleheader against Nyack College, 16-2, 16-3, at the Orangetown Little League Field in Orangeburg. Mercy improved to 15-30 while Nyack fell to 3-33. Meghan Richards of Nanuet, a junior infielder, has been a bright spot for Nyack, leading the team in hitting with a .390 average and a team-high 21 RBI. … Sophomore Tara Monaghan of Stony Point had an assist as the nationally top-ranked Cortland women’s lacrosse team defeated 20th-ranked Fredonia State, 14-2, to record its second unbeaten regular season in school history. The Red Dragons, who went 17-0 overall and 8-0 in SUNYAC competition, host the semifinals and finals of the SUNYAC Tournament on May 2-3. The top-seeded Red Dragons were to face the winner of a first-round game between fifth-seeded Brockport at fourth-seeded Oneonta, while third-seeded Fredonia State matches up with second-seeded Geneseo at the Stadium Complex. … Dominican College senior golfer and team captain, Keith Prokop of Boonton, N.J., will be making his second consecutive East Regional appearance, May 5-7. At a minimum, the top three teams and the top two student-athletes not with a team from each regional (regardless of region) will advance to the finals May 19-23, at The Meadows Golf Course in Allendale, Mich. … Thomas Dertinger of Nanuet had two goals and an assist and goalie Matt Quinones, also Nanuet, had 21 saves as the Dominican College men’s lacrosse team dropped its season finale, 17-0 to Mercy College at Smith Field in Dobbs Ferry. Dertinger, a senior midfielder, finished third on the team in scoring with 22 points on 19 goals and three assists. Quinones, also a senior, posted a 57 percent save percentage for the Chargers. Tappan Zee graduate William Madigan appeared in eight games as a freshman defenseman, while freshman attack Conor Reeves, another TZ alum, scored 13 points on 10 goals and three assists. … Junior Meg McNally of Hillburn had an assist as the Mercy College women’s lacrosse team fell to Wesleyan College, 10-6, to close the season. McNally, a graduate of Suffern HS, finished with 13 points on five goals and eight assists. … Mike Cruz of West Haverstraw was a member of the victorious SUNY Cortland 4×100-meter relay team at the Cornell University Big Red Invitational. Cruz meshed with Khaaliq Evans of Queens, Peter Sigona of Auburn and Romain Saint Germain of Westbury to clock an ECAC qualifying time of 43.72. The Red Dragons, two-time defending league champion, will compete at the SUNYAC Championships May 2-3 at Geneseo.