NEWPORT, R.I. - The two teams that finished off last year's Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC) baseball season will begin this season tied as preseason favorites as Salve Regina and Endicott both earned 74 points in the 2017 CCC Preseason Coaches' Poll.
The Seahawks, the reigning CCC baseball champions, earned five of the nine possible first place votes in the voting conducted by the league's baseball head coaches.
Salve Regina finished the regular season in fourth place last year with a 10-6 CCC (26-18-1 Overall) record. In the tournament, the Seahawks picked up a road win against No. 3-seed Nichols, before being bumped into the losers' bracket with a 6-5 loss to No. 2-seed Endicott. Salve staved off elimination with a win against No. 6-seed Curry and then defeated top-seeded Western New England to earn a spot in the tournament's championship matchup. Needing two wins to claim the title over the Gulls, the Seahawks picked up a decisive 10-3 victory to force a final game. The final game of the season was a pitchers' duel, but two runs by the Salve in the sixth were enough to propel the team to its first conference title in over a decade.
The 2016 CCC Champions earned a spot in the Mid-Atlantic Regional of the 2016 NCAA Baseball Championship Tournament, but dropped close games to St. John Fisher and Salisbury to eliminate them from championship contention.
Salve Regina returns seven of its nine All-CCC players from last season including three All-Region (D3baseball.com and NEIBA) performers in Tristan Dacey (Wyccckoff, N.J.), Alex Perry (North Attleboro, Mass.), and Zack Smith (New Canaan, Conn.). Seniors Cory Poplawski (Syracuse, N.Y.) and Hunter Sleeper (Arlington, Mass.) provide the most experience for fourth-year head coach Eric Cirella, who has consistently produced 26 wins in each of his first three seasons.
"Obviously it's an honor to be picked to finish first in the conference by the CCC coaches, but it's irrelevant when you look at the big picture because there are a lot of talented teams in this conference who will beat you if you don't show up ready to play. At the end of the day, we can't look at what people think May playoff seeding will look like. As a ball club we have to focus on what we can control each day we get an opportunity to practice or play. There is an element of luck involved as well because staying healthy is a big factor. Overall, we have to prepare and think like a champion, and then we have to back that up on the field every day. That is the way we would look at it no matter what the preseason polls predict, that's why we play the games."
The Gulls earned two first place votes in this year's poll after competing in the 2016 CCC Tournament as the No. 2 seed. Endicott finished the regular season with a 13-3 CCC (29-15 Overall) record, tied for the top spot in the standings. The Gulls were seeded second after losing the tiebreaker to Western New England. They made their way through the CCC Tournament through the winners' bracket without dropping a game until the championship pairing with the Seahawks.
Western New England ranked third in this year's voting. The Golden Bears claimed 62 points and the last two first place votes. Western New England, last season's CCC Tournament No. 1 seed, went 13-3 (30-11 Overall) in the CCC last year, but had its championship run cut short with losses to the two championship teams.
Nichols, coming off the most successful season in program history, was picked fourth in the poll with 57 points. Curry ranked fifth on the ballot with 43 points, followed by Roger Williams with 34 points.
Gordon (33 points), Wentworth (18), and Eastern Nazarene (10) closed out the poll in that order.
First pitch for CCC baseball teams is this Saturday, Feb. 18 as Curry heads down south for a three-game series with Oglethorpe. Other teams will be making spring trips in early March to get their seasons underway. The first set of conference doubleheaders are scheduled for Saturday, March 25.
The top six teams in the conference standings will qualify for the CCC Baseball Championship Tournament, which will have a modified format starting this year. Starting on Friday, May 5, the six tournament teams will play a double-elimination format tournament to determine the two championship contenders. The two teams remaining will then play a best-of-three series on Friday-Saturday, May 12-13 to determine the 2017 CCC Baseball Tournament Champion. The CCC Tournament Champion will earn the league's automatic qualifier into the NCAA Baseball Championship.