Baseball visits LIU Brooklyn for NEC series



BASEBALL WEEKLY | Live Updates (@BryantGameday)

SMITHFIELD, R.I. – Stung by a walk-off home run on Wednesday against Boston College, the Bryant University baseball team will look to heal those wounds with a four-game Northeast Conference series against LIU Brooklyn this weekend on Long Island. Game one of the series is scheduled for Friday, March 30 at 3:00 p.m.

Sitting in first place in the NEC standings thanks to a sweep of Mount St. Mary's two weekends ago, the Bulldogs (11-11, 4-0 NEC) will look for a bit of revenge after dropping two-of-three to the Blackbirds (9-15, 1-3 NEC) last season in Smithfield. The Black and Gold hold an 8-3 lead in the all-time series between the teams.

Last year, LIU rode the right arm of Chris Franzese and the left arm of Matt McCormick to a pair of victories against the Bulldogs. Franzese scattered eight hits over eight innings and struck out four to lead the Blackbirds in game one and McCormick pitched a seven-inning complete game shutout in game three of the series. Bryant salvaged the middle game of the series thanks to five Blackbird errors and an eight-strikeout performance from junior Peter Kelich (Jackson, N.J.).

This season, the Blackbirds pushed their record over the .500 mark (7-6) with a sweep of Coppin St. on March 9-10 but have dropped nine of their last 11 games entering Friday's series opener. They blew a 7-4, seventh-inning lead against Fordham on Wednesday and dropped three-of-four against Central Connecticut last weekend. LIU won the first game against the Blue Devils behind eight innings from Franzese and a squeeze bunt from Tyler Jones in the top of the ninth inning.

While Jones's bunt propelled his team to victory last weekend, the senior catcher is more feared for his swing. Last season, Jones hit .425 with 71 hits, 36 RBI, 28 walks and 17 hit by pitches. His on-base percentage was an astounding .545, but teams have adjusted a bit this season, holding him to a .284 average, two home runs and 16 RBI. Pete Leonello has picked up the slack for the Blackbirds, hitting .363 with five doubles and a team-high 16 runs scored. He also leads the team with nine stolen bases.

Bryant will look to continue its offensive surge against NEC opponents this weekend. In four games against The Mount, the Bulldogs hit .348 and scored 31 runs. Held hitless in the final game of the series against Mount St. Mary's, junior Dan Muscatello (Hopkinton, Mass.) has produced a hit in each of the last five games. Over that stretch, he's hitting .409 (9-22) with five runs scored and three RBI. Senior Connor Carignan (Norwich, Conn.) has also come on of late, collecting hits in each of his last four games. He's gone 6-for-14 with two doubles, a triple and four runs scored over the span. Junior Adam Claire (Litchfield, Conn.) leads the Black and Gold in batting, hitting .319.

With temperatures expected to be in the mid-50s for most of the weekend, fans can expect low-scoring games between the two sides. If the weather wasn't enough to determine that, the pitchers that both teams will send to the mound should. Kelich and Franzese will square off in Friday's first game, in what should be one of the premier pitching matchups across the league this weekend. Kelich is 3-2 with a 2.35 ERA and has struck out 30 and walked just 13 in 38 1/3 innings. Franzese is 2-1 with a 3.51 ERA in 41 innings and has struck out 28. On Saturday, the Bulldogs will counter LIU's duo of McCormick and Jordan Wilcox with sophomores Craig Schlitter (Guilford, Conn.) and Joseph Michaud (Milford, Conn.). Schlitter and Michaud have been stellar over their last two appearances, with Schlitter allowing just three runs (two earned) on seven hits over his last 14 innings. Michaud, on the other hand, has struck out 14 over his last 13 innings and is tied with Kelich for the team-lead in strikeouts with 30. McCormick is 2-3 with a 5.68 ERA over 25 1/3 innings and Wilcox is 0-1 with a 2.33 ERA in 19 1/3 innings. Sunday's series finale will be an all-freshmen matchup between Kevin McAvoy (Syracuse, N.Y.) and Chance Fuglistahler. McAvoy is 2-1 with a 5.47 ERA and Fuglistahler is 1-1 with a 4.64 ERA.

Friday's opener is scheduled for a 3:00 p.m. first pitch at LIU Field and the series continues with a doubleheader on Saturday starting at 1:00 p.m. and a single game on Sunday set to start at 1:00 p.m.