You didn't think we'd forget about the Hawks, did you??
Season: With a 32-23 record and a Northeast Conference tourney championship in its back pocket, Monmouth is going to the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time (other trips: 1998, 1999, 2007). They came back from a 7-0 deficit to eliminate Sacred Heart, 14-8, and make the field of 64.
RPI & Ranking: #177 RPI, predictably unranked
Common Opponents: The closest we get is that they beat Saint Peter's while Mizzou beat Saint Louis. Seriously, baseball is so friggin' regional...of our three Oxford opponents, the only common opponent we've had was Ole Miss and Mizzou both playing SLU.
The Hawks in recent NCAA Tourneys: The Hawks' only NCAA trip since 1999 took place in 2007, where, honestly, they put up a pretty good fight. They were sent to Tempe as the #4 seed and lost to #1 Arizona State (5-3) and #3 Nebraska (6-5) in competitive games.
Non-Conference: A 17-12 non-conference record was accented by...well, a whole bunch of cupcakes. After going 1-6 against East Carolina, Central Florida, and Florida Atlantic, Monmouth feasted on Navy (2-0 versus the Middies), UMass (2-0), NJIT (3-0), Bryant (2-2), Princeton (1-0) and Saint Peter's (2-0). They did take out a Big East team in beating Rutgers, 6-4, but...well, Rutgers isn't very good at baseball.
Northeast Conference Action: The Hawks tied for fourth in the NEC at 15-11 before plowing through the field at the conference tourney. They split four games with first-place Wagner, lost three of four to second-place Sacred Heart, and lost three of four to third-place CCSU, and went 11-3 versus the bottom half of the conference. In the NEC Tourney, they got hot, beating #1 Wagner (14-8), #2 Sacred Heart (7-6 in 11), and Sacred Heart again (14-8) to snag the automatic bid.
Offense: From an OPS perspective, Monmouth's stud is awesomely-named sophomore OF Nick Pulsonetti (.358 BA, .420 OBP, .617 SLG, 11 HR, 53 RBI). He is the anchor for a decent lineup that averaged over eight runs per game and scored 14 or more runs eight times. Clearly strength of schedule has to be taken into account here, but still...this is a lineup that has gotten pretty hot a few times this season.
- Best OBPs: senior 2B Chris Collazzo (.433), Fulsonetti, sophomore 3B Ryan Terry (.412)
- Best SLGs: senior OF Paul Bottigliero (.648), Pulsonetti, senior catcher Bobby Dombrowski (.507)
Defense: Monmouth brings the worst fielding % of the four teams to Oxford. Terry is the worst offender, with 24 errors and an .874 fielding %.
Pitching: If Monmouth makes some noise in Oxford, it's going to be because of their offense, as their pitching staff is pretty iffy. The Hawks' four main starters have put up ERAs of 4.11 (junior righty Ryan Buch), 4.31 (junior lefty Nick Vallillo), 4.61 (junior righty Brett Brach), and 7.28 (junior lefty Kyle Breese). Brach will take the mound against Ole Miss, while the highly-touted Buch (by far their best strikeout pitcher, ranked among Baseball America's Top 100 prospects) will go on Saturday.
The Hawks only have nine saves on the year, nobody with more than three. Lefty Nick McNamara (3-3, 3 saves, 2.31 saves) appears to be their best reliever.
Fun Fact: When The Beef and I went to Greensboro in 2001 to watch Mizzou play Georgia and Duke in the NCAA Basketball Tournament, we also got to watch Duke and Monmouth play in the first round. I don't remember for sure, but I'm pretty sure Duke scored at least 20 points before Monmouth put up their first basket. It was 62-29 at half.
Overall Thoughts: Clearly I would love for Mizzou to play Monmouth in the winners' bracket on Saturday, but it's probably not going to happen. While the Hawks have some offense, the Rebels' balanced lineup will more than likely eat up Brach and an iffy Monmouth defense. That said, facing the dynamic Buch in the losers' bracket is a bit scary. He's just enough of a strikeout pitcher that he could catch a demoralized Tiger offense off-guard. So how's about we just beat WKU and not have to face that scenario, mmmkay?