Mike Connolly’s Bowdoin College baseball team runs with a tough crowd. The Polar Bears have won eight straight, sit atop the East Division in the New England Small College Athletic Conference, are 17-9 overall and get no respect.
Bowdoin went unnoticed in the most recent national poll ranking the top 25 NCAA Division III teams. The poll included a secondary list of schools that got at least one vote. Bowdoin was not on that list, either.
Didn’t matter that senior Oliver Van Zant (Westport, Conn.) threw a no-hitter against Colby College last weekend, striking out 11. Or that Bowdoin boasts a strong three-man rotation and a good pitching staff overall. Last week, freshman Harry Ridge (Yarmouth, Cheverus High) shut out St. Joseph’s College, a national poll vote-getter.
What matters is that very good baseball is played at the Division III level. A veteran of 15 seasons as Bowdoin’s head coach, Connolly has steadily built up his program.
But in reality and perceptually, Bowdoin baseball still takes a back seat to the University of Southern Maine, ranked 18th with its 23-3 record, and St. Joseph’s, 21-9 and 7-0 since its 16-2 loss to USM last Tuesday. Bowdoin’s first appearance in an NCAA regional tournament was in 2006. The Polar Bears didn’t win a game.
Last spring, Bowdoin qualified for the second time and lost to St. Joseph’s and its ace pitcher Chad Rafferty 2-0 in its first game of the double-elimination tournament. Bowdoin turned around and beat USM 6-4 for its first postseason baseball win ever, eliminating the Huskies. Western New England sent Bowdoin home the next day with a 7-1 win.
Van Zant is 3-1 with a team-leading 1.29 ERA. He was NESCAC’s Pitcher of the Year last season with 95 strikeouts in 731/3 innings, a 5-3 record and a 2.21 ERA. Christian Martin (Lake Bluff, Ill.) is 5-0 this season with a 2.29 ERA and Ridge is 3-2 with a 3.20 ERA.
Henry Van Zant, a sophomore and Oliver’s brother, is 3-1 with a 2.39 ERA. He was Bowdoin’s closer last season.
Sam Canales (Saco) plays third and is among the hitting leaders at .328. Tim McGarry (Kennett Square, Pa.), the senior outfielder and hockey co-captain, has had a breakout year, hitting .391. The Bowdoin lineup has a team batting average of .274, compared to opponents who are hitting .237 against Bowdoin pitching. But power is not a Bowdoin strength; in 26 games the Polar Bears have just two homers.
Bowdoin plays last-place Williams in a three-game conference series this weekend.
ST. JOSEPH’S COLLEGE
Last week, Coach Will Sanborn lamented his out-of-sync pitching and hitting. Meaning, when his pitchers were effective, the bats were quiet. Or vice versa.
No longer. The Monks are getting good pitching and hitting during their current seven-game win streak. Infielder Brandon Chase (Naples, Lake Region) leads the team with a .376 average while catcher Nic Lops (South Portland, Cheverus) is hitting .368 and first baseman Mike Pratt (Dartmouth, Mass.) sits on a .348 average. Chase and Pratt each have 54 total bases. Pitchers Tyler Laverriere (Biddeford) and Joe Gruntkosky (Peabody, Mass.) are both holding foes to sub-.200 batting averages. Laverriere has a 0.71 ERA; Gruntkosky’s ERA is 1.48. Each has won four games.
UNIVERSITY OF NEW ENGLAND
It wasn’t the playoffs, but UNE’s men’s lacrosse team did celebrate its 10-9 victory this week over Endicott, a perennial powerhouse. Endicott had beaten the Nor’easters 19 straight times. But the win shouldn’t have been too unexpected. First-year coach Charlie Burch, who helped grow the sport for 24 years at Cape Elizabeth and then Kennebunk, won nine state high school titles. Prior to 2013, he had been an assistant coach for four seasons.
UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN MAINE
The baseball team has an eye-popping .355 team average. Opponents are hitting .249. No wonder the Huskies are 23-3 and should rise from 18th in Division III after beating No. 11 Wheaton this week. Infielder Nick Grady (Whitefield, Erskine Academy) is batting .460. Outfielder Tucker White (Deerfield, N.H.) is hitting .456 and shares the team’s homer lead of five with utilityman/pitcher Chris Bernard (Scarborough). Starter Logan Carman (Newfields, N.H.) is 6-0 with an ERA of 1.85 in 432/3 innings.
Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: