Preview: Friday Night Lights - STAC Meets Dowling in NCAA East Regional

Preview: Friday Night Lights - STAC Meets Dowling in NCAA East Regional

The St. Thomas Aquinas College baseball team will take on Dowling College on Friday night at 8:30 pm in the Winner's Bracket in Game 6 of the 2016 NCAA Division II East Regionals in Rindge, NH. The #3 seeded Spartans (36-15) won the completion of Game 3 on Friday morning against Molloy, 5-2, while #7 Dowling (28-23) upset #2 Southern New Hampshire in a 4-0 shutout Thursday afternoon in Game 2.

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Where Things Stand - At this writing (5:00 pm Friday), four games have been played with one team being eliminated. In yesterday's action, #4 Felician won Game 1 by a 3-0 count over #5 Bridgeport, with Dowling following with their 4-0 win over SNHU. Game 3 was halted by rain in the first inning and completed Friday, with STAC downing Molloy.

SNHU staved off elimination in Game 4, ending Molloy's season with an 11-5 victory. Top seeded host Franklin Pierce, through the quirks of the seven-team format, has yet to play and is currently facing Felician in Game 5. Through another scheduling quirk, Bridgeport will not play its next game until Saturday, enjoying a day off despite losing its opening game.

The Match-Up - Though Dowling's run to the ECC Tournament Championship did not include a meeting with STAC, these teams are hardly strangers. The Spartans captured the regular-season series, winning three-of-four, starting with a 4-2 home victory on April 22. The following day on Long Island, STAC won a 10-inning, 5-1 decision, with the Golden Lions rebounding for an 8-4 triumph in the nightcap. The set concluded on Sunday with the Spartans capturing another extra-inning affair, pulling out a 6-5 triumph in 10.

Playoff History - The last post-season meeting of these programs resulted in a quartet of games that neither will soon forget. In the 2014 season, Dowling appeared poised to take the ECC title before the Spartans emerged from the Loser's Bracket with a pair of wins, including an epic 4-3, 10-inning win in the finale. Just one week later, the improbable scenario repeated itself at the NCAA Regional Final in Manchester, NH. The ECC's finest were the last teams standing but again the Spartans came out on top, taking 4-2 and 3-0 triumphs on the final day to earn their first NCAA Elite Eight trip. That final game was a complete-game shutout for Matt Kostolos, who will not see action after throwing 132 pitches in this morning's victory. Though with the bulldog-tough senior, it would seem nothing is impossible.

The Tournament - The NCAA Baseball Tournament is a double-elimination format, with teams requiring two losses to be eliminated. Seven teams make up this year's East Region, and Molloy was sent home Friday afternoon, leaving six teams remaining. Neither of Friday's remaining games is an elimination contest. Barring weather, the regional will conclude on Monday.

What's Next - If STAC wins Tournament Game 6 on Thursday night, they play in Tournament Game 9 on Saturday night at 7:00 pm against the winner of Game 5 (Franklin Pierce vs Feliciian).

If the Spartans lose Friday night, they will face elimination in Game 8 at 3:00 Saturday, taking on a rested University of Bridgeport.

STAC Facts - No strangers to close contests, the Spartans have posted an amazing 18-4 record in games decided by two runs or less. They are also 24-2 in games they are leading or tied after six innings.

Known for their hitting prowess, the Spartans were just third in conference batting average this season but they took up the slack on the hill, with a sparkling league-leading 2.94 team ERA - nearly one full run better than the closest competitor (Molloy, 3.84). Ace Matt Kostolos (7-0, 1.41 ERA) and George Navadel (12 saves) have held the fort.

Battle Tested - Including Friday morning's victory over Molloy, the Spartans are now 15-8 in the post-season over the past three years against the best teams in the conference and the region. Over that span, they are 8-5 in NCAA Tournament games, and an impressive 8-3 in East Regionals.

What's At Stake - The winners of each of the eight regions will advance to the NCAA Division II Tournament Championships, held annually in Cary, North Carolina.


2016 NCAA Tournament East Regional Schedule

Thursday, May 19

Game 1: (4) Felician 3, (5) Bridgeport 0

Game 2: (7) Dowling 4, (2) Southern New Hampshire 0

Friday, May 20

Game 3: (3) St. Thomas Aquinas 5, vs. (6) Molloy 2 -- box score

Game 4: Southern NH 11, Molloy 5  (Molloy eliminated)

Game 5: Felician at (1) Franklin Pierce -- 5 p.m.

Game 6: Dowling vs. St. Thomas Aquinas -- 8:30 p.m.

Saturday, May 21

Game 7: Game 4 Winner vs. Game 5 Loser -- 11 a.m. (loser eliminated)

Game 8: Game 6 Loser vs. Bridgeport -- 3 p.m. (loser eliminated)

Game 9: Game 5 Winner vs. Game 6 Winner -- 7 p.m.

Sunday, May 22

Game 10: Game 8 Winner vs. Game 7 Winner -- Noon (loser eliminated)

Game 11: Game 10 Winner vs. Game 9 Loser -- 3:30 p.m. (loser eliminated)

Monday, May 23

Game 12: Game 9 Winner vs. Game 11 Winner -- Noon
Game 13: Game 12 rematch* -- 40 minutes after conclusion of Game 12
* Game 13 only necessary if Game 11 Winner wins Game 12.