NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. – Back in the postseason for the first time in three years, the Merrimack baseball team opens up Northeast-10 Championship action Tuesday night, traveling to Northeast Division champion and No. 26 Franklin Pierce for a First Round showdown at 7 p.m. at Dr. Arthur and Martha Pappas Field in Rindge, N.H.
In pursuit of the program's fourth conference crown and first since 1996, the Warriors (26-17, 12-9 NE Div.) ride into the postseason on a high note, taking six out of their last eight games of the regular season while rebounding from a seven-game skid midway through April to continue what has been one of the most memorable seasons in recent memory.
Merrimack's 26 victories rank third in single-season program history, four shy of the school record of 30 victories established back in 1994. Coincidentally enough, it would take at least four more wins – including tonight – to lay claim to a conference title.
Two weekends ago, Merrimack welcomed the Ravens (32-15, 15-6 NE Div.) to campus for a pivotal three-game weekend series that wound up being one of the defining moments of the season for the Navy and Gold. After falling in the weekend opener, 4-1, on Saturday, April 27, Merrimack roared out of the gates the following afternoon and pounded out a 7-3 victory over the Ravens in game one of a Sunday doubleheader, ending an 11-game, four-year losing streak against Franklin Pierce in the process.
Then, later in the day, the two sides battled back and forth in the rubber game of the weekend series; Merrimack held a 2-1 lead before the Ravens tied it up late in the contest. But senior Mark O'Flynn (Ipswich, Mass.) completed a two-out rally with a walk-off single to right field, giving the Warriors their first-ever multi-win weekend over Franklin Pierce in program history.
Now, their task will be a much more unenviable one; while Franklin Pierce struggled on the road this spring (6-8), their dominance on their home diamond has been outstanding, winning 18-of-19 games played in Rindge. The Ravens' only home loss came against archrival Southern New Hampshire back on April 10, but since then, they have won six straight at Dr. Arthur and Martha Pappas Field.
Merrimack, meanwhile, has gone 10-6 on the road compared to an 11-7 mark at home. The Warriors are coming off a pivotal, 4-3 road victory against then-first-place Bentley back on Tuesday, April 30, which led into the final three-game set of the regular season, of which they took 2-of-3 against Stonehill at home to clinch a postseason berth.
In its history, Merrimack has lay claim to three NE-10 Championship titles, having won in 1990, 95 and 96, and has made six appearances in the final (3-3). The last time the Warriors qualified for the tournament was back in 2010 as the sixth and final seed. Merrimack upended top-seeded Southern Connecticut, 5-2, and then downed third-seeded New Haven, 4-0, before dropping the ensuing two games to fall one round short of qualifying for the NE-10 Championship Finals.
Senior outfielder Casey Cotter (North Hampton, N.H.) leads the Warriors and the conference with an astounding .419 average at the plate on 65 hits, 11 doubles, two triples, a homer and 20 RBI. The senior owns an impressive .535 SLG% and an equally good .508 OBP and has gone 19-for-23 on the base paths. On the mound, junior Alek Morency (Nashua, N.H.) is anticipated to get the start Tuesday. The right-hander leads Merrimack with a 1.45 ERA and has gone 5-3 over 11 starts and 74 2/3 frames this spring, striking out 62 while walking only 14 over that span.
Franklin Pierce boasts a quintet of plus-.300 hitters, led by junior first baseman Zach Mathieu, who owns 60 hits and a .347 average at the plate this year. The infielder has smashed six homers and driven in 32 RBI while slugging .561 on the year. Right-hander Trevor Graham will likely start Tuesday night's single-elimination bout; the righty owns an impressive 1.76 ERA and averages over 10 strikeouts per game while totaling 99 K's on the year, and has gone 8-1 in 12 starts this spring.
Tuesday's first round will advance four winners into a three-day, double-elimination championship weekend on Thursday, Friday and Saturday (May 9-11). It will be hosted by the highest remaining seed from the Northeast-10 Southwest Division following Tuesday's action.
NORTHEAST-10 BASEBALL CHAMPIONSHIP SEEDINGS AND SCHEDULE
Championship Weekend - May 9-11