Five Former APA Athletes Feature in NCAA Regional
As student-athletes finished finals and the summer started to begin, Advanced Performance Academy welcomed back most of their collegiate athletes to train during their off-season. For five athletes, however, the start of summer meant vying for an NCAA Division I Baseball Championship title as their respected team’s season still continued.
On Monday May 28, Sophomore Conor Moriarty, a member of the University of Connecticut Huskies, Junior Joe Mercadante, a member of the LIU-Brooklyn Blackbirds, Sophomore Nate Florence, and Freshmen Drew DeMartino and Nick Dombkowski, all members of the University of Hartford Hawks, watched the 2018 NCAA Division I Baseball Championship Selection Show alongside their teams to know who and where they would play next.
Dombkowski recalled, “Every time someone else’s name got called, you would see it pop up on the screen where the Regional home was, and then you wait. We were just so anxious and every time someone else’s name got called it was like a relief almost, but it was nerve-wracking waiting to see where we would head.”
For Moriarty and the Huskies, they received an at-large bid after finishing second in the American Athletic Conference Tournament Championship. The Huskies were the second seeded team to play at the Conway Regional in South Carolina to face the third seeded University of Washington Huskies.
Moriarty commented, “We had a feeling we were either going to go to Minnesota or somewhere in the Carolinas, either Coastal Carolina, which it ended up being, or NC State, but it was exciting.”
Mercadante and the rest of the Blackbirds watched as they received the automatic bid after winning their first-ever Northeast Conference Tournament Championship, as the fourth seeded team to also play at the Conway Regional to match-up against the first seeded Coastal Carolina Chanticleers. As for Florence, DeMartino, Dombkowski, and the Hawks, their journey continued as they got the automatic bid after winning their first America East Tournament Championship title to travel to the DeLand Regional in Florida as the fourth seeded team to take on the number one seeded Stetson University Hatters.
“The whole team was very excited. Coastal has great facilities and we knew they were a great team. We were going to the defending National Champions in 2016, so we were all really excited,” exclaimed Mercadante.
At the NCAA Division I Baseball Regionals, UConn played four games winning two advancing them to the Regionals Championship game. For Moriarty, the third baseman totaled 14 at bats, four hits, two RBIs, and five assists. The Blackbirds played two games. Mercadante, who was the designated hitter, tallied four at bats and was credited with a walk. Moriarty and Mercadante faced each other in game two at the Conway Regionals.
“That was very cool. Knowing Joe and his family my whole life, I remember, especially when we were both getting recruited, being with Joe’s Dad and them helping me out so much with my recruiting process and going to UConn, so playing against him in the Regionals it was honestly crazy and cool. It showed how far we came with all the weekends, summer baseball with AP, and even before AP, all our hard work payed off. It was just really surreal,” Moriarty stated, “At one point he was on third base, I was playing third and we were just talking about how crazy it was, how special and how it was a big deal to be on this stage.”
The University of Hartford Hawks played their guaranteed two games. Florence pitched five innings, throwing 97 pitches in the Hawks second game, facing 22 batters, striking out six and allowing four hits. DeMartino, the second baseman, recorded eight at bats, one hit, and one assist. Dombkowski threw 101 pitches in five innings in game one for Hartford, facing 23 batters, striking out four and allowing four hits.
In addition to making it to the NCAA Division I Baseball Regionals, the 2018 baseball season marked a number of accomplishments for these athletes, as most received various accolades within their respected conferences. Joe Mercadante was named to the Northeast Conference All-Tournament Team. Nate Florence was named to the America East All-Conference Second Team and to the America East All-Academic Team. Drew DeMartino was named Most Outstanding Player of the America East Championship, while Nick Dombkowksi was the first student-athlete in America East history to be named America East Pitcher of the Year and America East Rookie of the Year in the same season, as well as being named to the America East All-Conference First Team, the America East All-Rookie Team, and receiving Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American honors. In speaking on his accolades, Dombkowski mentioned, “I feel like I’ve been overlooked a bit through my high school career, I wanted to prove to myself that I can do it. I had this burning fire in me the whole summer, fall, winter, that I wanted to get the best and the most out of myself. I put a lot of hard work in this offseason to strengthen a lot of my weaknesses.”
Conor Moriarty, on the other hand, got through his own hurdles this season. He told, “…there was a lot of ups and downs, but I did my best to always stay positive with the downs and kept working hard, kept my nose down and did whatever I was told.” Keeping positive, Moriarty finished the season strong with a .222 batting average, 22 runs, 32 hits, 4 Homeruns, 19 RBIs, 63 assists, and a .943 fielding percentage.
For all five of these athletes, appearing in a NCAA Division I Baseball Championship was a first, so what did advancing to the NCAA Division I Baseball Regionals truly mean for these athletes?
When asked what it meant to them to play in the NCAA Division I Baseball Regionals, Moriarty, Mercadante, and Dombkowksi described what that moment was like.
“The best way to describe it is proud and humble,” Moriarty stated.
“It was unbelievable,” Mercadante said, “A really cool experience, unbelievable facilities, and the first time anyone on our team has ever been there, so I’m glad I got the opportunity to play in it and share it with those guys, it was great.”
“It was kind of surreal,” replied Dombkowski, “The first day you kind of get treated like you never have been before. Everything is waiting for you there. Access to all these amazing facilities, there are people watching your practices, there are other big time schools who are walking around looking at you, about an hour before the game, there was already 1,000 people in the stands, it was just surreal.”
Making the Regionals for the athletes was clearly an exciting experience and opportunity, but what exactly does having five athletes travel to the Regionals say about Advanced Performace Academy?
“First things first, you give credit where credit is due this place is unbelievable,” relayed Mercadante. “Pete, Alex and Joe do a great job preparing our athletes in the winter, summer, or whenever they need to be tended to. They do a great job of getting guys prepared for the college level, getting guys prepared for the marathon, and I can’t say enough about them. This place has been home to me for the past five years. I’m very fortunate to have it in my life.” Dombkowski added, “I think it just shows what AP does and how we approach our business. We train to be better players on the field and having all these guys in the facility ups your competitiveness, whether we are working out or whether we are hitting, throwing, we all try to be the best. When you’re competing against other guys in the weight room that are just as good as you, I think it brings it to a whole other level. It is just a testament to Pete and his philosophy. He gets progress out of his players and surrounds himself with a elite level staff.” Moriarty expressed, “I wouldn’t expect anything less. Our facility and the people who work there, the coaches, honestly, just do a top notch job. They expect the best effort out of you. Pete has done a really good job instilling that at AP. I’m not surprised one bit and I expect more every year. I expect us to be in a Super Regional next year and hopefully Omaha.”
Joe Ciarla, a strength and conditioning coach at AP, commented, “I think it’s big. When you think of baseball players, Western Mass. is the last place you think. To have five of our athletes make it to Regionals puts our name out there and speaks to what we do here.”
With a motto such as “Building Champions”, it is clear that the AP Academy does just that. The coaches take pride in training their athletes to be the best they can. Having five former athletes travel to the 2018 NCAA Division I Baseball Regionals, as well as the numerous accolades some received this season shows that the actions they take for their athletes produce results.