Central Connecticut State: Regionals remain the expectation for Blue Devils

After three regionals in four seasons, the Blue Devils are once again in prime position to make a run at the NEC’s auto-bid.

Central Connecticut State baseball

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In the last six full seasons, Central Connecticut State baseball has won the Northeast Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament on four occasions. The Blue Devils have won the regular season title just once over that time — last season — but consistently find a higher gear in the conference tournament.

That ability to get the job done under head coach Charlie Hickey when the lights are brightest is why, yet again, the Blue Devils enter the 2024 season as the presumptive NEC favorites.

“It’s about playing well at the right time of the year,” Hickey said. “We’re always going to be a one-bid league and for a few of those championships, Bryant was the dominant team in the conference in the regular season — we just happened to catch them at the right time at the end of the year. “

“If you can just stay .500 for the first third of the season, the goal is playing the best at the end,” he added. “Hopefully, we can stay healthy and our pitching can develop over the first third of the season so we can be in a position to rely on that experience. We have guys that have been to two regionals and understand what it means to be unselfish and to play that way. That’s always been our motto and I would expect that to continue.”

Now, even with big names in Ramon Jimenez, Jimmy Sullivan, and Dominic Niman gone, CCSU has quite the veteran group on both sides of the ball and will look for that experience to carry them once again.

The Blue Devils finished the 2023 campaign with a lineup that averaged over seven-and-a-half runs per game, crushing Wagner by 13-2 and 12-3 margins in the semifinals and NEC Championship game. That offense featured the since-departed Jimenez (.351, 11 HR) and Sullivan (.303), but Hickey is confident in the depth CCSU brings in to the new season.

“We might not have as much firepower in terms of home runs,” he said. “We’re going to have a chance to be consistent — we have a lot of kids who’ve played in a lot of games and we’re going to rely on stringing some hits together. I’d like to think that we can go 13 or 14 deep.”

The Blue Devils return the bulk of their at bats from last year, highlighted by the infield trio of Elliot Good, Brady Short, and Hunter Pasqualini. Good was second on the team in RBIs (39) last year, slashing .304/.379/.404 while Pasqualini had 11 extra base hits, swiped 19 bases, and posted an .868 OPS. Short, meanwhile, hit .311/.413.402 and swiped nine bases with 10 extra base hits.

Central Connecticut State baseball
Elliot Good. (CCSU Photo)

In the outfield, there’s plenty of returning production as well — Mike Torniero (.324/.379/.414, 10 2B), Dan Hussey (.268/.363/.520, 8 HR), and Joe Rios (.280/.364/.513, 8 HR) are all veteran hitters. Add in catcher Jeff Nicol (.289/.411/.509, 6 HR) and promising junior Aidan Redahan (.333/.442/.437 in 105 PAs) and you can see why CCSU is feeling good about their lineup.

What Hickey is chasing in 2024, though, is consistency. One thing to keep an eye on — with the three- and four-hole hitters departing — is how the lineup evolves with less protection.

“We have guys with experience that have played in big games,” Hickey said. “We had some more protection last year with Ramon and Jimmy, so these guys are going to find out and learn how to protect themselves in the lineup.”

In the rotation, with staff ace Niman graduating and heading to Kentucky, the Blue Devils are a little less settled. Two key arms are coming off of offseason surgery as well, which means the rotation and pitching usage throughout the start of the year could be quite the mix.

It helps, though, that CCSU has another strong arm leading the rotation with Jake Neuman. The senior fanned 12 across 11 innings on the Cape this summer and has 143 collegiate innings under his belt. He went 6-3 with a 5.38 ERA and 61 strikeouts across 14 starts last year.

He’ll likely be joined in the rotation by Vincent Spizzoucco, a junior that struck out 34 in 31-plus innings across 19 relief appearances last season. Anthony Mozzicato was limited to just six starts last year but if he ramps up well this season, that’s a 2022 All-Northeast Conference First Team arm. TJ Wainwright, meanwhile, spun seven innings of one-run ball in last year’s conference tournament against Sacred Heart and should be a key piece.

In any close game, Hickey has the benefit of turning the ball over to Luke Garofalo late. The former Bryant transfer made a team-high 22 appearances last year and held opponents to a .176 batting average against, fanning 46 in 44-plus innings while logging 10 saves. Of course, he could also be a factor to start.

Central Connecticut State baseball
Luke Garofalo (CCSU Photo)

Others to know include Drew Munn, a rising sophomore that made 12 appearances with six starts in his first year with the Blue Devils. The righthander faced No. 15 South Carolina in the first game of last year’s regionals and stopped the bleeding, going four scoreless with four strikeouts in mop-up duty. Then there’s an incoming freshman in Randy Guzman out of Cranston, R.I., that has drawn high praise.

“We were a little bit more settled on the pitching end last year — we knew where we were going and we were healthy,” Hickey said. “This year, we’re going to have to find that out.”

“With the expansion of our conference, we play 11 conference weekends and the premium is not going to be on the first one or two weekends if you don’t win 2 out of 3,” he added. “There’s plenty of time and it’s a long season. We just want to make sure we’re healthy and there’ll be some experimenting in the first few weekends.”

Featured Images via Central Connecticut State baseball