A LOOK BACK AT 2016
The Merrimack College baseball team fell one win shy of a 30-victory season, which would have tied the program record for single-season wins. The Warriors finished third in the Northeast Division and advanced to their second straight Northeast-10 Conference Championship.
The Warriors started the year with a 5-0 week in Myrtle Beach at the Northeast Challenge and ended the season on a four-game winning streak that included a sweep of Stonehill on the road and a pair of extra-inning victories during that stretch. The Warriors were on the outside-looking-in, however, on the program's first NCAA Tournament appearance since the 1999 campaign.
The Navy and Gold lost six seniors from last year's squad, including three starters for the Warriors' lineup and one starting pitcher in Zach Schindler. Starting outfielder Bobby Losanno was the lone all-conference selection to graduate, who also capped off a career season with all-region nods from three outlets.
Nick Barese enters his third season at the helm of the Warriors, and has advanced to the postseason in each of his two years at the helm of the program.
Barese has guided the Navy and Gold to 46 total victories over his first two campaigns, and Merrimack begins the season ranked seventh in the NCBWA Preseason East Region Poll. After narrowly missing out last season, Barese and the Warriors aim to advance to the program's first regional since the 1999 season.
Returning captain and second-year leader Mike Forgione will be joined by seniors Matt DiNello and Cam DiSarcina as well as junior Ricky Smith as team captains in 2017. Forgione set career highs in hits (52), runs (49), RBI (25) and doubles (15) last season after returning from injury that cost him all of the 2015 campaign.
DiNello is the lone pitcher among the captains, and is coming off a breakout junior season. The right-handed reliever posted a 3.24 ERA over a career-high 33.1 innings worked, striking out 26 batters and totaling three saves.
DiSarcina will slot it as Merrimack's starting second baseman, while Smith expects to split time behind the plate for the Warriors in 2017.
ON THE HILL
Senior Perry Kulaga returns for his final season as Merrimack's ace. Last season, the NE10 All-Conference Second Team selection threw just the second no-hitter in program history. He led the staff with 84.1 innings across 14 appearances and tossed two complete games over 12 starts. Kulaga was named a Preseason NCBWA All-East Region Second Team selection entering the year.
Junior PJ Browne is in line to continue his role as one of Merrimack's weekend starters. The southpaw has 125 strikeouts in 122.1 career innings over his first two years. Classmate Anthony Lupi, redshirt-sophomore Garrett Hudson and sophomore Tucker Lord are all expected to factor in the rotation as well.
DiNello and senior Nate Spielvogel will anchor the bullpen for the Warriors. Spielvogel has 11 saves over the last two years to set a new program record. Junior righty Joe Westerman and sophomore Cam Monagle are in line to step into larger roles, while veteran hurlers Joe Velozo and Michael Nocera will be relied upon as well.
Merrimack will trot out an experienced outfield, with the trio of expected starters having played in 208 combined career games. Senior Ryan Petrone and junior Matt Nicholson will man the corner spots in left and right field, respectively. Redshirt-junior Tyler Lyne will slide over from left to center field to replace Losanno.
An All-Conference Third Team honoree, Lyne emerged as one of the Warriors' and league's top offensive outfielders in 2016. He slashed .324/.380/.469 - posting career highs across the board. Lyne combined for 19 extra-base hits including five triples and his first career homer.
Nicholson will slot into the middle of the Warriors' order after smacking a team-high six long balls as a sophomore. He slugged .460 to go along with 32 RBI. Before his season was shortened due to injury, Petrone was hitting .294 with a .410 on-base percentage. Newcomer Aidan O'Leary is also expected to see time as a reserve outfielder.
For the second straight season, Forgione and DiSarcina will anchor the middle of Merrimack's defense at shortstop and second base, respectively. A fifth-year graduate student, Forgione has played in 118 career games and boasts 124 hits and 107 runs scored. DiSarcina has a chance at 200 career hits as he begins his senior campaign. He also collected preseason accolades from the NCBWA, landing on the All-East Region First Team.
Sophomore Matthew Ronai steps into a starting role at the hot corner following an all-rookie campaign as a freshman. He appeared in 34 games and total 103 at-bats, hitting at a .301 clip. Merrimack will need to replace starters at first base and designated hitter, with junior Mike Hoalcraft in line to see time at both spots. Senior Paul Buckley returns as well, representing one of Merrimack's most versatile players.
Senior Chris Cimmino and Smith will split the catching duties in 2017. Cimmino appeared in 12 games last season, registering eight hits in 31 at-bats. The fourth-year Warriors has played in 26 career contests, and posted a personal-best .258 batting average.
Smith slugged at a .377 rate despite just 53 at-bats over 20 appearances as a sophomore. Four of his 12 hits went from extra-bases including a pair of home runs. He came on strong, playing in 12 of the Warriors' final 16 games, and also had a flair of the dramatics. His first-ever round-tripper came in the bottom of ninth against nationally ranked SNHU to tie the game, and his second broke a 9-9 tie in the 16th inning against Stonehill.
Freshman Thomas Joyce headlines the crop of newcomers in an eight-player freshman class for the Warriors. The Newton native is expected to contend for a starting spot at either first base or DH. Teammates Joey Porricelli and Nick Shumski join Joyce in the infield, while Ethan Sprague and Michael Mercuri will provide depth in the outfield. Mercuri will also be an option out of the bullpen for the Warriors, joining Stephen Fleury and Dylan Stevens as new arms at the Warriors' disposal. Catcher Connor Suech rounds out the rookies as Merrimack's third catcher.
Merrimack enters the season picked to finish third in the Northeast Division behind national powers Southern New Hampshire and Franklin Pierce. The selection in the NE10 Preseason Coaches' Poll marks the highest for the program in three years.
The Navy and Gold begin the season with five games in Myrtle Beach, S.C. as part of the Northeast Challenge at The Ripken Experience. Merrimack will face Dominican (N.Y.) on Opening Day this Friday followed by doubleheaders against Concordia (N.Y.) and LIU Post on Saturday followed by another tilt with Dominican and a meeting with Felician on Sunday.