May 7, 2010


The Bryant Bulldogs take a bite out of the NEC

By Bart Remington

Special to


In just their second full season of Division I ball, and the first to include a full slate of Northeast Conference games, the Bryant Bulldogs have already started marking their territory. After sweeping a four-game set against conference foe Wagner, the Bulldogs enter the upcoming series against Long Island University with a three-game lead in the Northeast Conference. Bryant also earned a #4 ranking in the latest New England Intercollegiate Baseball Association (NEIBA) Poll. As was the case in Division II, winning is nothing new to Bryant. The program compiled six conference titles and a trip to the 2004 Division II College World Series, and all indications point to the Bulldogs having the same level of success in D-I play.


In order to gain an understanding of just how Bryant has made such a smooth transition into Division I play, one need look no further than the series against the Wagner Seahawks this past weekend. The four-game series featured timely hitting, strong performances from the mound and some late-game heroics, all qualities that define the Bryant Bulldogs.


In Game 1, starting pitcher Brent Almeida picked up his third win, going six innings and allowing just four runs on six hits. Clinging to a two-run lead heading into the bottom of the eighth, Bryant put the game out of reach, adding two runs on singles from catcher Jeff Vigurs and second baseman Dylan Stone. The four-run lead was more than enough for junior pitcher Mark Andrews, who earned his ninth save, striking out two allowing just one hit in 1.1 innings.


One would be hard-pressed to find a team that responds as well as Bryant when the score is tight and the game is on the line. In speaking with Bryant head coach James Pinzino, the mental toughness and focus required to secure victory during close contests is something he values and works to instill in every player on his roster.


“I’m proud of the way our guys played and competed,” Pinzino said. 


According to Pinzino, this was “…the biggest weekend in a while. Both teams were tied for first place in the conference. I’m proud of how our players responded this weekend.”


When asked about the stingy defense and strong fundamentals displayed by his team this season, Pinzino explained that much of this philosophy was instilled in the days of playing Division II baseball, where teams use wooden bats instead of the D-I aluminum sticks.  


Pinzino commented “It (wooden bats) forced us to learn how to play defensive and hit situationally. If you want to win games, you can’t give away runs.”


Game 2 saw Bryant jump out to a two-run lead in the bottom of the first, but Wagner tacked on four runs in the third, capped off by a two-run homer from Wagner right fielder Kevin McDonnell.  Bryant responded in the fourth, as first baseman Jamie Skagerlind singled to open the inning. Skagerlind advanced to second after left fielder Kevin Brown was hit by a pitch from Wagner starting pitcher Matt Watson. Right fielder Jordan English followed with a single to center field, allowing Skagerlind to score from second.


In the fifth, Skagerlind tied the game at 4 on a double to center field, scoring center fielder Nick Campbell (left) from third. Wagner regained the lead in the seventh when catcher Hayden Hunter led off with a home run to left, but Campbell matched Hunter’s shot with a dinger of his own over the left field fence in the bottom of the seventh. 


Bryant entered the bottom of the eighth with the score deadlocked at five. With a runner on first and two outs, Campbell singled to shortstop. Wagner relief pitcher Ian Karlsson walked the next batter, loading the bases. Shortstop Zakary Cianciolo followed with a grounder to Wagner shortstop Brian Martutartus that should have ended the inning, but a throwing error allowed Brown to score from third. The game ended after the eighth, giving Bryant starter Eric Polvani the win in a complete-game performance. Polvani faced 34 hitters, striking out eight and giving up five earned runs on six hits.


In the third game of the series, Bryant recorded a 6-3 victory in seven innings. Bryant again struck first, putting up two runs in the bottom of the first, but Wagner answered with two in the second to tie the game. The game was still tied at two as Bryant entered the bottom of the fourth. Dylan Stone led off with a single and advanced to third when Cianciolo ripped a double down the left field line. Skagerlind drove in Stone, and a single by third baseman Tim Norton scored Cianciolo from third. Brown then hit a triple to right center, scoring Norton from first. Bryant capped off the rally when English singled to right field, driving in Brown for Bryant’s fourth run of the inning. Wagner would add a run in the fifth to close the gap to three, but Andrews entered in the sixth and gave up just two hits on his way to his 10th save.


During the first three games against Wagner, Bryant displayed the grit and determination that has led them to the top of the NEC this season.  In the fourth and final game, Bryant was forced to tap into that seemingly endless reservoir of determination once again.


Game 4 started out much like the first three, with Bryant jumping out to a quick 3-0 lead through two innings. As expected, Wagner battled back with a solo homer from first baseman Vin Avella to lead off the top of the fourth. The Wagner bats came alive again in the fifth as the Seahawks struck for an additional three runs to take a 4-3 lead.


Bryant would respond in the bottom of the fifth, as designated hitter Connor Carignan walked to lead off the inning. A single by Brown (right) allowed Carignan to reach third. After two quick outs failed to move the runners, Campbell stepped up with a single to center field that drove in Carignan from third.


The Bulldogs would recapture the lead in the bottom of the sixth after Norton doubled down the left field line. Carignan would come up big once again, singling to center to score Norton from second, giving Bryant a 5-4 lead.


The lead wouldn’t last though, as Wagner responded in the seventh with three runs on three hits, including a huge two-out single from Brian Martutartus with the bases loaded that drove in two runs. Wagner would add a run in the top of the ninth to extend its lead to 8-5.


In the bottom of the ninth, the Bryant bats came alive once again. Carignan opened the inning with a single up the middle, and again advanced to third on a single from Brown down the right field line. English singled to score Carignan from third, and the Wagner lead was cut to 8-6.  Vigurs then doubled to right, scoring Brown from second and advancing English to third.  Campbell followed with a sac fly to deep left field, bringing in English from third to tie the game. The inning ended at an 8-8 tie.


In the top of the tenth, Andrews made his third appearance of the weekend, and promptly struck Martutartus. Matt Logan then grounded out to short. Andrews hit Wagner catcher Hayden Hunter with a pitch on the next at-bat, and Nick Alfano made Andrews pay for the mistake with a two-run shot to right center, giving Wagner a 10-8 lead. Andrews would get out of the inning after retiring the following batter, but the damage had been done and the game seemed all but out of reach to everyone, except the never-say-die Bryant Bulldogs.


Carignan drew a walk to open the bottom of the 10th, and an error by Wagner second baseman Seth Boyd allowed both Carignan and Brown to reach safely. English then laid down a sacrifice bunt to move the runners, putting Brown, who represented the tying run, on second and Carignan on third. Vigurs singled on the next at-bat and advanced to second on an errant throw. Both Brown and Carignan scored, tying the game at 10 with one out. Vigurs advanced to third on a wild pitch, and Wagner intentionally walked hot-hitting Campbell.  A strikeout of Stone gave Wagner the second out, bringing Cianciolo to the plate.


Hitless in the game, Cianciolo said that he had been “…hoping and praying that it would come down to me. I wanted a chance to redeem myself since I was having an off day.”


After a first pitch fastball just missed the corner, Cianciolo (left) readied himself for the second pitch.  He got the pitch he wanted too, another fastball up the middle.


“I just sat on it and drove it up the middle,” Cianciolo said. The single drove in Vigurs and ended the game with Bryant taking a thrilling 11-10 win.


“It was something special” commented Cianciolo. “When I got to first, I just turned around and saw my team running toward me.”


Cianciolo went on to explain the moment as the biggest thus far in his baseball career, and the moment may stand as a spark to light was seems to be a great conference rivalry in the making.


Campbell may have put it best when asked about the series when he said “Wagner is a good team. They have a lot of great players. I think this is going to be a great rivalry.”


Fans around the NEC, as well as around the nation, would be wise to keep a close eye on the NEC race.


Bryant will be fully eligible for post-season play in 2013. The Bulldogs hold a three-game lead in the NEC over Sacred Heart, and will play four-game series with Long Island University and Quinnipiac before hosting Sacred Heart in the season finale.


If you find the Bryant Bulldogs on your team’s schedule in the future, remind your athletic department to break out the “Beware of Dog” sign, because this dog can hunt.


(Bryant won three of four at Long Island this past weekend to keep its hold on first place)


(photos courtesy of Bryant Media Relations Office)