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Scrappy Jaspers Seeking MAAC Baseball Crown

Manhattan College's best hitter, Matt Cucurullo, broke his

foot a few weeks ago after stepping on an uneven patch of outfield. It's one of

the realities coach Steve Trimper has had to face since leaving the University

of Vermont to take the Manhattan job five years ago.

The facilities are not exactly ideal, and scholarship money is at a

premium, but Trimper's tenure is already recognized as the most successful in

the team's 130-year history.

After winning 20 games four seasons in a row - and winning 32 games and

earning Trimper the Metro Athletic Association Conference Coach of the Year

honors last season - the Jaspers (25-24, 15-10) have qualified this season, for

the first time in their history, for the MAAC playoffs. They're the No. 4

seed, and will play top-seeded LeMoyne College (30-15, 22-3) at 3 p.m. today at

Dutchess Stadium in Fishkill. The winner of the double-elimination tournament

receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Even without Cucurullo (.368, 36 RBI), the Jaspers head into the tournament

with a certain measure of confidence. They have only two seniors, and yes,

they are untested in tournament play, but the Jaspers lost two games against

LeMoyne by one run earlier this season, and they took two out of three from

Marist, the No. 2 seed.

Cucurullo will be available to pinch hit during the tournament, but so far,

the Jaspers have not suffered without him. The Jaspers won four of their last

six regular-season games without Cucurullo, with lifts from struggling catcher

Josh Greco (.276, 20 RBI) - who's raised his batting average almost 100 points

in the past couple of weeks - shortstop John Maser (.299, 18 RBI) and first

baseman Chris Gaskin (.270, five home runs).

"Everybody knew Matt was a big part of the offense," said the Jaspers' top

pitcher, senior Ryan Darcy. "But we wanted to show that just because we're

missing him, doesn't mean we can't still win."

But the Jaspers have relied, more than anything, on their pitching.

"That's the one thing about this team," Trimper said. "All our scholarship

money went into pitching. We're probably one of the only Division I programs

that won't be recruiting for pitching next season."

Behind Darcy (6-5, 2.95 ERA), who will start against LeMoyne, are freshman

Chris Cody (5-2, 4.66) and sophomore Mike Parisi (3-5, 3.97). Another freshman,

Steve Bronder (3-4, 3.77), works out of the bullpen. And with the Jaspers

facing a LeMoyne team that hit .322 for the season, it will be up to the

pitching staff to keep the scoring at a minimum.

"If we can keep them down, all we've got to do is scrap out a few runs,"

Trimper said. "There's not an outstanding, blow-you-out-of-the-water kind of

team in this conference. And in these tournaments, anything can happen."

Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Baseball Tournament

Double-elimination

At Dutchess Stadium, Fishkill

Today

No. 1 LeMoyne vs. No. 4 Manhattan College, 3 p.m.

No. 2 Marist vs. No. 3 Niagara, 7 p.m.

Friday

Games at 11 a.m., 3 p.m., 7 p.m.

Saturday

Championship Game 1, 1 p.m.

Championship Game 2 (if necessary), 4 p.m.

New York Sports