PLYMOUTH, N.H. - The pairings for the second annual Little East Conference baseball tournament are set, with Plymouth State College receiving the No. 4 seed and opening play Thursday against third-seeded UMass Dartmouth.
The Panthers and Corsairs will meet Thursday at 7:00 p.m. in Willimantic, Conn., at Eastern Connecticut's brand new baseball stadium. All eight conference teams are participating in the tourney, as the four lowest seeded schools are meeting in play-in games on Tuesday (May 5th), with the two survivors and the four top seeds all advancing to a double-elimination tournament Thursday through Sunday at ECSU.
Plymouth State qualified as the No. 4 seed after completing the regular season at 6-8 in LEC games and 18-18 overall under 14th-year head coach Dennis McManus. Eastern Connecticut won the regular season title by going 12-2, and defending champion Southern Maine and UMass Dartmouth tied for second at 11-3 (USM won the tiebreaker over UMD and gets the No. 2 seed). No. 5 seed UMass Boston hosts No. 8 seed Western Connecticut in one play-in game, and No. 6 Keene State hosts No. 7 Rhode Island College in the other.
"We're happy with the No. 4 seed," said McManus, who is leading his team into post-season play for the ninth time in 14 years. "It was one of our preseason goals to be one of the top four teams so we didn't have to play a play-in game, and we accomplished that. The main reason it's important is because pitching is so important, and the teams that play Tuesday will have to use some of their pitching to get to the weekend."
The Panthers will be facing a UMass Dartmouth squad in the opening round that captured both encounters earlier this season, knocking off PSC in a pair of one-run games on Apr. 10th, 10-9 and 5-4 in 11 innings. PSC was also swept this season by Southern Maine, but split its two games against top-seeded ECSU.
"I think we can match up well in the first two games with our starting pitchers," said McManus, "and I'm confident our hitting and fielding is as good as anyone's. If we're fortunate enough to advance, then once we get into games 3 and 4 and/or 5, it's probably going to be pitching by committee, and we'll be matching up against someone else's third, fourth and fifth pitchers as well. I like our chances the further we go in the tournament."
The Panthers upset Eastern Connecticut in the second game of last year's LEC tourney, knocking the top seed out of the tournament. The tourney increases from four to six teams this year to mirror the NCAA regional tournament, which is a week away.
"I like the current format," said McManus. "As coaches, we thought it was very important to make the Little East Tournament like the regional, so when our conference champion earns an automatic bid to the NCAAs in a year or two, that team will be prepared for a six-team, double-elimination tournament."
Leading the way for the Panthers is senior captain Mark Thompson (Manchester, NH), who has set more than a half dozen school hitting records. Other top players for the Panthers include junior CF Josh Egan (Sharon, MA), junior DH Mike Bence (Warwick, RI), and sophomore SS Todd Steffanides (Fitchburg, MA). The top pitchers on the Panther staff are junior Ben DuBois (Franklin, NH) and sophomore Adam DeChristopher (Brockton, MA)
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