NCAA Preview: Spartans Begin East Region Title Defense vs. Wilmington Thursday Afternoon

NCAA Preview: Spartans Begin East Region Title Defense vs. Wilmington Thursday Afternoon

The St. Thomas Aquinas College baseball team begins its defense of last year's East Regional championship on Thursday, taking the #2 seed into the 3:00 pm opener against Wilmington University. This year's regional is being hosted by top seeded University of New Haven, and will be played at Pace University's Peter X. Finnerty Field.

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How They Got Here - The Spartans swept their way to their fourth East Coast Conference Tournament championship, topping Bridgeport, LIU Post, and host Molloy to earn the automatic qualifier and their sixth consecutive trip to the NCAA Division II Baseball Tournament.

Wilmington took the long road to the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference Tournament championship, emerging from the Loser's Bracket. After defeating Post, they fell to Felician. That forced the Wildcats to rally with wins over Post and two against Felician to take the CACC's automatic qualifier.

The Spartans (36-13)- St. Thomas Aquinas was ranked #18 in the nation in this weeks National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association poll, the final one of the season. STAC's offense is sparked by NCBWA First Team All-Region selection Giovanni Dingcong, who leads the ECC in homers (13) and RBI (51), while Joseph Pena currently leads the league with a .390 average. Nicholas Lucchese was red-hot in earning Most Outstanding Player honors in the conference tourney, and pitchers Frankie Moscatiello, Chris Cepeda, and Angelo Baez lead the mound corps.

The Wildcats (34-19) - Wilmington struggled in the early weeks of the season, with a tough Florida trip contributing to a 3-9 start. That difficult schedule paid dividends in the long run, as the Wildcats stormed to a 23-9 record in CACC play and the conference's tournament championship. Kendall Small (.362 average, 47 RBI), Christian Adorno (.356 avg) and Max Carney (.351 avg, 55 RBI) provide the threats in the WilmU offense while Brad Scull (9-2, 2.71 ERA), Zach Rumford (7-3, 3.16 ERA), and Justin Mears (11 saves, 1.76 ERA) have set the tone on the hill.

2015 Rematch - While these teams have seldom met during the regular season, there is certainly notable history between them. First, between the two teams, three of the four previous East Championship trophies have been taken home (STAC in 2014 and '17, WilmU in 2015). These squads squared off twice during the 2015 regional, with the Wildcats standing in the way of STAC capturing its second consecutive regional title. The Spartans needed two consecutive victories and won the first by a 9-7 count, but Wilmington rebounded for a wild 11-9 win in the final contest.

In the Post-Season - With their share of this season's regular-season conference championship and tournament title, the Spartans have now won either the regular-season and/or the tournament championship in an amazing seven consecutive seasons, taking the regular-season crown in 2012, '13, '16, '17 and '18, and capturing the tourney title in 2013, '14, '15 and '17. STAC is in its sixth straight NCAA Tournament appearance, won the East Region Championship in 2014 and '17, and were among the three finalists for last year's National Championship.

Wilmington's 2015 regional appearance was the program's eighth all-time and capped a string of five straight seasons, but this is the Wildcats first trip back to the national stage since then.

What's Next? - The winner of this game will advance to tournament Game 6 on Friday at 7:00 pm, taking on the winner of Game 1 between #3 LeMoyne and #6 Merrimack. The loser will play an elimination contest in Game 4 on Friday at 11:00 am against the loser of Game 1. The winner of the regional advances to the NCAA Division II Baseball Championship in Cary, North Carolina.

2018 NCAA Division II East Region Championship
Thursday, May 17
Game 1: No 3 Le Moyne vs. No. 6 Merrimack - 11:00 am
Game 2: No. 2 St. Thomas Aquinas vs. No. 7 Wilmington - 3:00 pm
Game 3: No. 4 Southern New Hampshire vs. No. 5 Franklin Pierce - 7:00 pm
Friday, May 18
Game 4: Game 1 Loser vs. Game 2 Loser - 11:00 am (loser is eliminated)
Game 5: No. 1 New Haven vs. Game 3 Winner - 3:00 pm
Game 6: Game 1 Winner vs. Game 2 Winner - 7:00 pm
Saturday, May 20
Game 7: Game 4 Winner vs. Game 5 Loser - 11:00 am
Game 8: Game 6 Loser vs. Game 3 Loser - 3:00 pm (loser is eliminated)
Game 9: Game 5 Winner vs. Game 6 Winner - 7:00 pm
Sunday, May 21
Game 10: Game 8 Winner vs. Game 7 Winner - 12:00 pm (loser is eliminated) 
Game 11: Game 10 Winner vs. Game 9 Loser - 4:00 pm (loser is eliminated)
Monday, May 22
Game 12: Game 9 Winner vs. Game 11 Winner - 12:00 pm
Game 13: Game 12 Winner vs. Game 12 Loser - 4:00 pm (if necessary)