College baseball at the Division II level has always been dominated by warm weather programs. No college from the East Region has ever won the College World Series.
One team from Rindge, New Hampshire is looking to change that this year.
Franklin Pierce University, home to just 1,400 undergraduate students, is currently atop the polls as the number one ranked team in the country with their conference tournament set to begin tonight. The Ravens finished the regular season with a 42-2 record and won their last 23 games, smashing the school’s record for consecutive victories.
The Ravens are no stranger to regular season success and they’ve been a regional powerhouse in the for over a decade now. Behind head coach Jayson King, now in his 17th season with the job, the team has won the regional championship six of the past 12 seasons but this year’s team has more in mind then just a regional title.
“We’re not scared of anybody,” said senior pitcher Conor Gleason, who is 3-0 on the season with a 3.82 ERA. “We have one goal and that is to bring a national championship back to Franklin Pierce. We won’t stop until we do.”
Early season road trips to Myrtle Beach, SC and Cary, NC gave the Ravens opportunities to play teams from warmer area regions and Franklin Pierce excelled, capping their southern trip off with a 10-1 win over nationally ranked Mount Olive.
“I firmly believe that we can play with any team in the country,” said King. “We have a lineup that cam perform well against any style of pitching. That combined with the players believing they can play with anyone puts this team in a good position to achieve success.”
Catcher Matt Walsh, first baseman Matt O’Herron, shortstop Justin Brock, and right fielder John Razzino were all starters for the Ravens back in 2013 when the team last advanced to the College World Series, finishing in a tie for fifth place in the eight team field. Having almost half a starting lineup that already has the experience in the big spotlight is something that King believes can really help put the Ravens over the top.
“These guys can pass along information to the guys that have not played in that spotlight yet,” said King. “Just the fields, the feelings of that atmosphere and the competitiveness that you experience is something that helps you the second time around.”
But despite having a veteran core on offense, Franklin Pierce has an excellent mix of younger bats in the lineup as well. Sophomores Chris LaVorgna and Jay Jabs are the teams two leaders in runs batted in and they each are hitting above .340 on the season.
But the bats aren’t the only reason why Franklin Pierce was able to jump to the top of the polls as the Ravens 2.04 team ERA ranks as the best in the nation. Senior Brendan O’Rourke went 10-0 in 11 starts this year and currently has a 0.56 ERA, which is the second best mark in the nation, but the rest of the staff is so good behind O’Rourke that it might be impossible to call him the “ace.”
The one man in the country with a better ERA than O’Rourke in junior Miles Sheehan, who finished the year 5-0 after jumping from the bullpen to the rotation in the middle of the season. Sophomore Mike Lundin went 7-0 in ten starts this year and tossed four complete games, one of them a no-hitter against Queens and the other three coming against nationally ranked opponents.
“The starting pitchers have been absolutely awesome for us this year,” said King. “However, I would say that our bullpen has been equally impressive. We have never had a combination of starters and delivers like we have this year. We can get all types of hitters out in different ways when the pitchers are throwing well.”
The Ravens take on Merrimack tonight in the first round of the Northeast-10 tournament and are likely to be named the top seed and host of the East Regional tournament. The NCAA Division II baseball selection show is next Sunday at 10:00 p.m. and can be streamed live on NCAA.com for free. The Ravens last hosted the regional tournament in 2011, when they fell to Southern Connecticut State 3-0 in the championship game.