Preview: Spartans Meet Molloy as Quest to Reclaim ECC Tournament Crown Begins

Preview: Spartans Meet Molloy as Quest to Reclaim ECC Tournament Crown Begins

The St. Thomas Aquinas College baseball team opens the East Coast Conference Baseball Tournament as the top seed, facing #4 Molloy at 3:00 pm Thursday.


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The Tournament - The East Coast Conference Baseball Tournament starts on Thursday, May 11 thru Saturday, May 13, and will be held at Mitchel Field, hosted by Molloy College. Four teams participate in the double-elimination format tourney, with St. Thomas Aquinas going in as top seed (37-13, 20-5), with LIU Post (#2, 27-18, 17-8), Bridgeport (#3, 19-23, 13-12) and Molloy (#4, 19-27, 11-14) rounding out the field.

The Schedule - The Tourney opens with Game One at 12:00 noon, with Bridgeport facing LIU Post, followed at 3:00 pm by Game Two between the Spartans and Molloy. The Losers of Games One and Two square off in Game Three at 11:00 am Friday, with the losing team eliminated. The Winners of Games One and Two advance to Game Four, scheduled for 2:00 pm Friday.

St. Thomas Aquinas - The Spartans have been red-hot of late, closing the regular season with 10 straight wins, 16-of-17 overall, and a 28-4 mark over their last 32 contests. STAC had the top four home run hitters in the ECC this season (Dingcong 14, Ruiz 7, A. Shkrelja 7, Pena 6 - tied). They also had the league-leaders in batting average (Pena .399), wins (Morris 8), ERA (Moscatiello 1.64), RBIs (Dingcong 39, tied), and strikeouts (Moscatiello 79).

This season, the Spartans won their 4th ECC Regular Season Championship in the past six seasons (2012, 2013, 2016); they have captured three ECC Tournament titles (2013, 2014, 2015); and are in search of their 5th straight NCAA Tournament appearance, winning the East Regional Championship in 2014.

Over the past four seasons, the Spartans have a 20-13 overall post-season record (11-4 ECC; and 9-9 NCAAs). That total includes an impressive 14-5 mark in games when facing elimination.

Molloy - The Lions stumbled out of the gate this season, losing 13 of their first 16 games before rebounding to win eight of their next 11. Their 9-6 start in conference play was enough to overcome late struggles that saw them clinch a playoff berth despite dropping eight of their final 10 ECC tilts.

Speedster Brian Murphy is a key factor at the top of Molloy's order, as he dominanted the conference with 41 stolen bases to go with a team-leading .328 batting average. Angelo Navetta has provided the power with six homers and 33 RBI. Pitching ace Ron Bauer, the ECC's Pre-season Pitcher of the Year, has struggled this season with a 2-5 record and 4.38 ERA, yet he remains one of the circuits most feared hurlers, while Bobby Kelly led the staff with a 5-1 record.

The Season Series - St. Thomas Aquinas wins series, 5-0

   March 29 - STAC 6, @ Molloy 5

   April 28 - @ STAC 7, Molloy 2

   April 28 - @ STAC 7, Molloy 4

   April 29 - STAC 8, @ Molloy 7 (10)

   April 29 - STAC 8, Molloy 7

While the Spartans swept the season series, three of the five games were decided by one run, with Molloy having held leads in all three of those games.

Playoff History - Last season, Molloy eliminated the Spartans from the ECC Tournament with a 3-2 decision on May 13, though STAC returned the favor with a 5-2 triumph a week later at the NCAA Regionals. The previous post-season meeting between the two was in 2014, when Molloy won the opening-round meeting before being eliminated by STAC, with the Spartans proceeding to win the second of their three ECC Tournament Championships.

What's Next - The winner of the ECC Tournament receives an automatic qualifier to the NCAA Division II Tournament. The Spartans, who are #2 in this week's NCAA East Rankings, are likely to secure a berth regardless of the ECC Tourney outcome, while Molloy will need to win the championship to earn one of the seven regional berths.