mountaineers

Straton Podaras swings during batting practice on Tuesday in Montpelier as the Vermont Mountaineers get ready to open the 2019 season Friday.

The Vermont Mountaineers’ season-opener was pushed back a few days due to rainy weather, creating even more anticipation heading into Friday’s 6:30 p.m. home game against the Upper Valley Nighthawks.

The Mountaineers and Nighthawks are Vermont’s only teams in the New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL), and the rivals will battle for season-long bragging rights in their Governor’s Cup series. Both teams compete in the Northern Division and will jockey for playoff position as the season progresses.

The Martha’s Vineyard Sharks are the newest team in the league, while the Newport Gulls boast the most hardware with six championships. The Keene Swamp Bats have won four NECBL titles and the Mountaineers are three-time champs.

The annual All-Star Game will make its stop in Montpelier on July 28 at Recreation Field. It will mark the third time the Mountaineers have hosted the NECBL All-Star Game. Players from each NECBL franchise will showcase their skills in front of scouts from every Major League Baseball organization.

As teams prepare to kick of their seasons, here is a glance at the Northern and Southern Divisions:

Northern Division

After defeating the Ocean State Waves for the second year in a row for the NECBL Championship last season, the Valley Blue Sox will look to be the first team since the 1997-1999 Middletown Giants to three-peat as league champions. With key returners in outfielder Andre Marrero, pitcher Riley Sorenson and infielder Richard Constantine, the Blue Sox will attempt to make NECBL history at the end of the 2019 season.

The other six teams in the Northern Division will try to stop the Blue Sox from winning again. After being swept in the Northern Division championship last season, the Sanford Mainers have brought five Southeastern Conference players onto their roster this summer.

The Keene Swamp Bats could also have a strong campaign after an early exit in last season’s playoffs. Their roster features four Virginia Cavaliers along with standouts from the Georgia Southern Eagles.

The Upper Valley Nighthawks finished just out of playoff contention last year. They enter the 2019 season with a strong pitching staff enforced by arms from Notre Dame, Wichita State and Troy University.

The North Adams SteepleCats have bolstered their offense and pitching staff for 2019 with strong returners in pitcher Joe Kemlage and infielder Joey Porricelli, along with bringing in three pitchers from West Virginia fresh out of the College World Series. The Winnipesaukee Muskrats and Vermont Mountaineers also missed the playoffs last year, but both teams will attempt to fight their way back into contention.

Southern Division

Since their arrival in the NECBL in 2013, the Ocean State Waves have been one of the league’s most successful franchises, capturing the Southern Division titles the last two seasons. This year, the Waves bring in four players from Kent State along with two Indiana Hoosiers to beef up their roster.

For the first time since 2016, there is a new face coming to the NECBL this season as the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks make their debut. Having won two league titles in the FCBL, including one last year, the Sharks will quickly look to make a name for themselves in a new league.

The Mystic Schooners feature a lineup that includes big bats from UMass, Alabama and Seton Hall. The Schooners have their sights set on making another postseason appearance after falling in the semifinals last summer.

Last year, the Newport Gulls found themselves in the unfamiliar territory of missing the playoffs for a second consecutive summer despite a wild finish where they nearly qualified. The Gulls will look to rebound this summer, and they bring big offensive power from outfielder Hulane Haskin and returning infielder Joey Bellini.

Both the Danbury Westerners and the New Bedford Bay Sox also missed out on the postseason, with each capturing 18 wins throughout 2018.

The Bay Sox hope to find success with a Boston-led bullpen that features players from Harvard, Boston College and Northeastern. The Westerners bring in numerous outfielders from southern colleges such as South Florida and Eastern Kentucky to strengthen their offense.

Eighteen teams in the NCAA Division I tournament will be represented in the NECBL, with at least one player from a College World Series team on every team’s roster. North Adams leads the league with eight players from NCAA tournament squads, while Keene and Newport have seven apiece.

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