By jack Ispen
Since their arrival in the Northeast Conference in 2010, the Bryant Bulldogs baseball team has dominated the competition, winning seven regular season titles including three trips to the NCAA tournament. This year, the expectations are no different. Led by senior captain Mickey Gasper and redshirt freshman Ryan Ward, the Bulldogs are looking to win their 7th straight regular season title, potentially culminating in an NEC Tournament Championship and a berth in the NCAA tournament that alluded them last year.
After two tough losses in the NEC tournament last year to Sacred Heart and Wagner, the Bulldogs came into this year with the utmost motivation to rebound. Going into the year the team stared down one of the toughest non-conference schedules in recent program history. The team opened its season in Tucson, Arizona to face a perennial powerhouse in the University of Arizona. The following week they went south to Auburn University where they faced off against a top 25 ranked team along with a potential number 1 selection in this year’s Major League Baseball draft. It was a tough start for Bulldogs as they lost their first six games of the year, but they were able to bounce back the next weekend in Cary, North Carolina where they were victorious against rival Boston College and Niagara University. The team then embarked on a ten-day spring break road trip that began at the University of Maryland and ended in a series win against the University of Delaware. The Bulldogs look to continue their success in conference play as they take on LIU Brooklyn this coming weekend.
Coming into the season, expectations were high for the Bulldogs’ loaded lineup. Led by senior Mickey Gasper, a potential Top-15 round draft pick, and Jimmy Titus one of the most highly touted shortstops in the country, the Bulldogs had one of the most feared lineups in New England. Unfortunately, the team lost Titus to a season ending injury during a loss to Arizona in February, but ever since, redshirt-freshman Ryan Ward has taken complete control of the Bulldogs’ offense. He has already racked up three NEC Rookie of the Week nods and has reached base safely in his last 20 games. Ward is batting .382 with 4 home runs and 20 RBIs out of the leadoff spot. Junior Tyler Panno has continued his hot start as well, batting .297 with 5 home runs. Sophomore James Ciliento has been lock down in right field this season and has contributed at the plate with a .352 average including a ten-hit weekend at the University of Maryland. The Bulldogs currently lead the NEC in hitting and look to keep the bats hot as the season continues.
The road ahead for the Bulldogs begins in Brooklyn for a four game set against the LIU Blackbirds before a mid-week matchup in Stoors, Connecticut against rival UCONN. The Bulldogs return home to Smithfield next on April 18 for a game against Quinnipiac and a four game series with Sacred Heart. With 32 games remaining, the Bulldogs look to their senior leadership and young talent to carry them to a 7th straight regular season title.