Reflections and Thoughts on NESCAC Sports

Our all-time favorite picture of NESCAC sports, and there have been a lot of great ones.
Our all-time favorite photo of NESCAC sports, and there have been a lot of great ones.

Adam wrote the following good bye, and in classic fashion, it’s plenty wordy for both of us, and I agree with everything he wrote, so I’ll say my piece in two sentences. Nothing but NESCAC has been a tremendous source of pride, frustration, stress, happiness, controversy, procrastination, relationships, blood, sweat and tears (okay, I’m exaggerating – slightly), late nights, early mornings, conversation starters, angry Facebook messages and aggressive emails, and, above all, learning. If you’re reading this, thank you. – Joe MacDonald

I graduated last Saturday from Bowdoin. That fact has not really sunk in, but it’s an inescapable reality. As I say goodbye to my physical home for the past four years, I wanted to write some thoughts down about my experiences with Nothing but NESCAC and general thoughts about NESCAC sports. Consider this an open diary entry, and remember that all thoughts are my own, so you can take them with a giant grain of salt.

First, I want to thank everyone who has helped make this website possible. Thanks to the readers and people that told us how much they appreciated what we were doing. Hearing from people that they enjoyed our work was so rewarding. I especially loved to hear from players that they were reading us, even if they thought that our opinions were garbage. Another special shoutout to the members of the NESCAC DIII Boards. Knowing that the most rabid fans in the NESCAC respected our opinions – sometimes – was nice.

Thanks to all the players and coaches who let us talk to them. Those interactions made the writing so much better. The work that all NESCAC coaches and players put in behind the scenes for their sport is remarkable, but the best thing about everyone that I got to talk to was how nice everybody always was. NESCAC sports are filled with great people.

Thanks to Damon Hatheway and Jeff Hetzel for creating PantherNation and serving as our inspiration for Nothing but NESCAC. Being able to get started writing for you was the best possible way to wet our feet. You set the bar high in terms of quality NESCAC sports writing, and I think that we were at least able to approach that level at times.

Thanks to all of the writers, from the ones who wrote just one time to those that wrote as much as we did. The website would not have been what it was if not for all of you – Chad Martin, Colby Morris, Colin Tiernan, Connor Colombo, Dave Peck, Josh Moss, Nate Courville, Oliver Goodman, Pat English, Rob Erickson and Sean Meekins. You guys were never under any type of obligation to write for us, but you did anyways because you had a genuine interest in the same stuff we did. An even bigger thanks to some of our MVPs. Carson Kenney was a huge asset for us last year, writing articles, competing in fantasy football and basketball, and serving as an ear on the ground at Trinity. Even this year, as he was working in the Trinity Athletic Department, he was always happy to help out when possible. Pete Lindholm has been there since the start of NbN, and has always brought a unique style to our pages. No one writes quite like Pete, and eventually we learned that it was futile to expect his work to come back to us with the format or tone that we asked for, but usually it was far superior than anything we could have done. This year, three new contributors jumped on board with a previously unseen eagerness. Nick DiBenedetto accepted every assignment thrown his way, and though “deadlines” seem to be a fluid concept to him, we loved him for it. Kaitlin McCabe came on board last fall, but she really shouldered the load for us this spring as Joe was in season and I suffered from a severe case of senioritis. Kaitlin has just graduated from Hamilton and will be working in sports journalism. Lastly, Rory Ziomek, a baseball player from Tufts, was always there for us this year, so much so that we feel confident in handing Rory the keys to NbN next year. Joe and I both will miss our interactions with these people, who are truly incredible, like all NESCAC students and student-athletes, at everything they do.

And finally, a huge thanks to my partner in crime, Joe MacDonald. There is no one else that I would have ever wanted to do this with. When I approached you with the idea of doing this, you were smart enough to make me pump the brakes and think through completely how we could actually do this. That was just the first time that you saved my butt from my terrible decision-making. I remember when I heard that you were going to spend junior fall abroad in Australia being upset because I thought you weren’t going to do anything for NbN. Instead, you did as much as I could have asked for, even though you were having the time of your life halfway around the world. I always infuriated you with my refusal to use standard grammar and a tendency to not finish sentences in my writing. All the best ideas for the site came from you. Thanks for letting me come along for the ride.

People call me cynical, so I’ll include some negatives. I have a lot of regrets concerning the website. I wish that the site had been able to grow more and to cover more sports than just the three on which we focused. Such a project would have necessitated many more writers, as Joe and I certainly did not have the time to devote learning about other sports. We concentrated on the few sports we did because we felt otherwise our writing would not add anything of value. I hope that in the future more students with deep interests in other sports will decide to be part of NbN.

I wish that I had done more research and reached out to coaches and players more than I did. Lack of preparation and sometimes social anxiety too often made me not want to go out on a limb and ask somebody to talk, but whenever I did it was very rewarding.

We were always terrible about getting out articles on time for them to be relevant, and I always would feel bad on Monday when I hadn’t done the Stock Report like I was supposed to. Being a college student with plenty of other things going on made it so that the website would be something that I would put on the backburner at times.

There were a lot of articles that I wish that I had undertaken which would have required much more legwork on my end. There are a lot of things related to NESCAC sports that require a different approach than what the student newspapers are capable of, but I never quite got around to doing them. I would have loved to examine the demographics of NESCAC athletes a little bit. This lack of research made me feel like I wasn’t doing a good enough job of presenting the stories that you can’t understand from just watching the games and looking at game recaps.

Despite all those regrets, I look back with immense pride at everything that we were able to accomplish over the past two and a half years. I’m also so excited that there is a plan in place for next year when Joe and I will be doing other things besides obsessing over DIII athletics.

Doing this was not easy, but it was a ton of fun and a little addicting. Knowing that some people actually cared about what we wrote was a little scary, and we tried our best to not let those people down. I also got really invested in Bowdoin teams because of it, with basketball being the one sport that I went above and beyond in my fanhood. I meant to write a long piece after the end of basketball season ended detailing my love for the team and why I fell so hard for NESCAC basketball, but I never got around to that. So I’ll write just a little about the team that I rooted harder for than any other.

I didn’t really discover the basketball team until the beginning of sophomore year. I went with a bunch of friends to a meaningless November non-conference game against St. Joseph’s. This was my sophomore year, the beginning of the 2013-2014 regular season when Lucas Hausman ’16 was nothing more than a reserve guard fighting for playing time behind an experience starting backcourt. The game was a 69-65 Bowdoin win and Hausman scored 19 points, though that would end up being his season high. The win took place in front of a few hundred people, and I along with some friends was one of the few students in attendance.

However, the attractions of a NESCAC home game were apparent to me even then. First of all, the lack of fans was a downside because of the bad atmosphere, but it did allow us to easily sit courtside. That ability to sit so close to the game meant it was possible for us to have an outsized effect on it, and I made sure to be as loud as possible at any games. The second thing that got me hooked was just the quality of play that I was only able to appreciate up close. NESCAC basketball players are really good. Like, really good. The success of Duncan Robinson at Michigan and all the players that have successful runs overseas prove that, but people still don’t realize it. The quality of the players made the games FUN to watch. Thanks to Lucas Hausman, Matt Palecki and Jake Donnelly for four years of great basketball.

There were a lot of great moments that I was able to watch in Morrell Gym, but my favorite was junior year when Bowdoin destroyed Bates. I had gone to Bates for the non-conference game when the Bobcats blew out the Polar Bears in front of a raucous crowd. Because it was a Friday night and both teams were good, a better than normal student crowd showed up. And boy did the team give the crowd a treat. From start to finish, Bowdoin was the aggressor, and I have never seen them play close to that level over 40 minutes. Hausman was the headliner of course with his record-setting 44 points, but my favorite comes around the one minute mark of the highlight video when Palecki falls down and then scrambles his way back to the three point line to hit a three.

Those moments watching Bowdoin basketball were some of my favorite as a college student. I’ll keep my final point brief, but beware that this is going to come off as very preachy.

The NESCAC likes to think of itself as different with regards to sports than other places. The first time I ever heard of the NESCAC was a Sports Illustrated article about the conference, praising the NESCAC for doing things ‘the right way.’ The Amherst President is quoted in the second paragraph as saying “I don’t have much trouble justifying them, but that’s only in this kind of setting. It seems everywhere else, sports are a distorting force.” The article basically reads as one big advertisement for the way that the NESCAC operates. The article makes it seem as if the NESCAC has perfected the athletic and academic balance. Maybe it had. I don’t know, I wasn’t there.

However, much of the article is no longer true, and it is a useful reminder that things aren’t as peachy as Sports Illustrated would have you believe. For one, unlike what the article would have you believe, most NESCAC facilities are not ‘dumps’ and there have been substantial resources poured into them. Coaches were once not allowed to recruit off-campus, with Middlebury basketball coach Russ Reilly saying that “All colleges should do this.” Well, this article details how that same Middlebury program put in a LOT of off-campus recruiting in order to convince Zach Baines to go to Middlebury. Going on recruiting trips to camps and AAU tournaments is now normal practice for NESCAC coaches.

When talking about the old rule of NESCAC baseball teams only playing 20 games per season, Tufts baseball coach John Casey is quoted as saying, “Why are some schools playing 70 baseball games a year? I don’t know. But I do know the players are not going to class.” Well it wasn’t 70, but Tufts, still under the leadership of Casey, played 43 games this season. The article claims that firing a coach because of a lack of winning is ‘unthinkable’, but this year Williams let go of head football coach Aaron Kelton for that exact reason, and there have been other instances of this occurring, although the public reason is (almost?) never the W-L record.

The NESCAC is different, but no one should fool themselves into thinking that NESCAC sports are perfect. NESCAC presidents, coaches and alumni have to be careful in the role that sports play on campus because it is easy to deviate slightly from the intended course for a long period and then wake up one day realizing that you are in a completely different place than you intended to be. The ability for sports to be a positive for individuals and communities is a real one, but it is also a limited one. Sports can, and sometimes are, a ‘distorting force’ in the NESCAC, and we cannot bury our heads in the sand and insist that the NESCAC model is perfect.

That doesn’t discredit all the amazing things about NESCAC sports that has made me fall in love with them over the past four years. From the quality of the student-athletes to the sound of the referee blowing his whistle, NESCAC sports are special, and still closer to the right way than anywhere else in the country. I will miss it immensely.

They Are Who We Thought They Were … Barely: Stock Report 4/3

OF Ariel Kenney '18 is Amherst's top hitter with a .376/.445/.512 slash line, and helped the Purple & White clinch a playoff berth with their win in the final game of the series against Wesleyan. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
OF Ariel Kenney ’18 is Amherst’s top hitter with a .376/.445/.512 slash line, and helped the Purple & White clinch a playoff berth with their win in the final game of the series against Wesleyan. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

In years past, the NESCAC West Division has been lacking in any meaningful regular season drama outside of seeing whether Amherst or Wesleyan would finish first. The East has been the site of all the action with teams jumping in and out of the top two. Those roles were reversed this year with the East playing out their games without much consequence and the West up in the air until the bitter end.

In the end, though, Wesleyan and Amherst sit at the top yet again. However, they do so with identical 7-5 conference records. That’s a far cry from two teams that went a combined 58-14 over the past three years. The two played each other this weekend, and Wesleyan came into the weekend looking like they were the team in danger of missing the playoffs with a 5-4 record. Then, on Friday Wesleyan won over Amherst and beat Williams beat Hamilton. Entering Saturday the West standings looked like this:

  1. Wesleyan 6-4
  2. Amherst 6-4
  3. Middlebury 6-6
  4. Williams 5-5
  5. Hamilton 3-7

A Saturday sweep by Williams of Hamilton combined with either Amherst or Wesleyan sweeping the other doubleheader would have resulted in the Ephs making the playoffs. Heck, even if Williams split they could have snuck in with an Amherst sweep because the Ephs beat the Cardinals twice. A three-way tie scenario still would have favored the eventual playoff teams, but the point is that even though Wesleyan and Amherst made it back to the playoffs, things were close to going very differently.

Of course, they didn’t go differently. And I feel confident that the Cardinals and Amherst really are the two best teams in the West Division, though the gap has shrunk. They have much better overall records and are still more talented. But the divisional race was awesome to watch unfold in such a tight way. The playoffs don’t start for another 10 days, but we still have a lot of regular season baseball to enjoy before then.

Stock Up

Starting Pitcher Peter Rantz ’16 (Wesleyan)

Rantz clinched the Cardinals’ place in the playoffs by going all eight innings in the first game of the Saturday doubleheader. The ace had struggled his past two weekend starts, losing both games and throwing up a 6.35 ERA in them. Things looked bad as he allowed three runs in the bottom of the first. From there, he turned things on and scattered six hits over the next 7.0 innings without too many problem spots. Holding Amherst scoreless for seven innings is some pretty nifty stuff for the senior, and it is the type of resilient performance we have grown to expect from Wesleyan.


It’s a cliché at this point (see my last sentence about Rantz), but the Cardinals really do seem to have some sort of secret sauce or something for making things happen. They won the series opener for the first time this weekend by hitting four home runs. Then they rallied from that three run deficit to win in extra innings in the second game. That was their second extra inning win in a NESCAC game this year, and they have trailed late in a few of their wins. Marco Baratta ’16 has not slowed down from his scorching start, taking home NESCAC POTW honors and having a OBP of .538. Other big performances included that of first baseman Jordan Farber ’16, who hit four homers in conference and shortstop Guy Davidson ’16 who has been great at the plate again this year. The Cardinals ended up winning the West for the fourth straight year. Now that they are in, the two-time defending champions are the team that no one wants to play.

Centerfielder Cody McCallum ’16 (Tufts)

The senior has carried on the strong tradition of Tufts outfielders with a first name starting with C and a last name starting with Mc, which began with Connor McDavitt ’15. Seriously though, McCallum has been huge for the Jumbos this year, and he was great this weekend. He batted .400 in their four NESCAC games (the Jumbos had to makeup a game against Bates). He also had one RBI in each of them. He leads the league in walks with 25, making him the perfect leadoff hitter. That crazy walk rate is why he has a .455 OBP.

Stock Down


I think the stolen base is one of the most exciting plays in baseball, but this year the NESCAC basically has decided that stealing bases is stupid. The numbers for elite base stealers are way down. Trinity’s Nick Pezella ’16 leads the league with 15 stolen bases. Last year four players had more than that. Just four players are in double digits this year compared to 13 in 2015 (there are two guys at nine and a bunch at seven, though, so a few more should reach that plateau). However, it isn’t just the top guys stealing less. This is a league-wide change. Consider that Wesleyan has led the league with 46 steals this year, and yet five teams (half the league!) had more than that last year. Overall teams have stolen 27.8 percent less bases this year to date than a year ago. That is a huge drop, and while there’s still a lot of games to go, it would take Dee Gordon rediscovering his eligibility and playing the next few weeks for the Wesleyan Cardinals in order to get back to last year’s steal numbers (something that I bet Dee would be happy to do right now). I don’t know whether to give better catchers or slower runners the credit, but the evidence is there that managers had good reason to pull in the reins on their players this year. Teams got caught stealing 120 times last year; this season, already 118.

Maine Schools

It’s unfortunate for this trio of schools that they are all in the same state, because when things go bad for all of them we almost have to write about it. Bowdoin, Colby and Bates all finished 4-8, far away from the playoffs. Is baseball harder in Maine? I kid, of course. What killed all of them was their inability to hit. The three teams finished last in the NESCAC in both OPB and SLG. We expected that it was going to be tough sledding for all these teams, and they showed a good amount of fight. The problem going forward is that all of them are graduating a lot of talent. Bates is probably the best positioned for next year in terms of making the playoffs, but in the longer term I like the youngsters on Bowdoin to return the Polar Bears to real prominence.

The Suddenly Wild West: Stock Report 4/19

Middlebury catcher and co-captain Max Araya '16 had some kind of weekend, going 6-12 with three walks, three RBIs and his first career home run while tallying his 100th game and 100th hit in a Middlebury uniform. And he did all of this while the Panthers positioned themselves with a shot at the NESCAC Tournament for the first time since 2011. (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)
Middlebury catcher and co-captain Max Araya ’16 had some kind of weekend, going 6-12 with three walks, three RBIs and his first career home run while tallying his 100th game and 100th hit in a Middlebury uniform. And he did all of this while the Panthers positioned themselves with a shot at the NESCAC Tournament for the first time since 2011 by beating Hamilton in two out of three games. (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

I titled the weekend preview a few days ago “Separation Weekend” because I was expecting the usual suspects to make a statement that the status quo was still very much in place. Well, I was dead wrong, as Williams rocked Wesleyan to win two of three. On Friday, starting pitcher Luke Rodino ’17 worked around five walks to pitch seven innings, and the Ephs got production up and down the lineup to get the win. Then in Game 1 of the doubleheader Saturday, shortstop Kellen Hatheway ’19 dropped a three-run homer in the bottom of the seventh and the Ephs walked off with the win. Wesleyan battled back to win the third game handily, but they are still just 3-3 halfway through their conference schedule

Want to know something crazy? Middlebury has as many conference wins as any other NESCAC team. Sure, they also have four losses, but this has still been an incredible run for the Panthers. They took two of three from Hamilton in a sloppy series that was filled with runs. The Friday game in particular was a doozy. Hamilton raced out to a 7-2 lead and seemed to be in control until Middlebury took advantage of a bajillion (it was five but whatever) errors by Hamilton in the 5th inning and scored 10 runs. Hamilton almost came back to win in large part because Chris Collins ’17 was a man possessed at the plate going 5-5 with four runs, seven RBI, and two home runs. That wasn’t enough though, and the Continentals are now 2-4 in conference while Collins left the Saturday twinbill with an injury and he could be affected going forward.

It is still entirely possible that Amherst and Wesleyan emerge from the West, but the two still have to play each other in their series so the math isn’t easy. Considering that Amherst didn’t even play a NESCAC series, they had a great weekend watching the rest of the division beat up on each other. The Amherst-Middlebury series suddenly has serious playoff implications on both sides, a sentence that I didn’t think I was ever going to write. Two wins from the Panthers locks them into a NESCAC Tournament spot. Williams is feeling great after taking two of three from Wesleyan, but they are still just 4-5 with Hamilton still on their docket. The Ephs likely need to sweep Hamilton to have a hope of making the playoffs. For years, the West has been a boring time, and I’m glad that this year has proved to be different.

Stock Up

Relief Pitcher Ian Kinney ’18 (Tufts)

In the final game of their series, Tufts grabbed a 7-0 lead after the first inning, but starting pitcher Andrew David ’16 could last only 2+ innings on the mound. So Kinney, seldom used in high leverage situations this year, had to come on with the score 7-4, runners on first and second, and nobody out. Kinney got out of the inning by getting a strikeout and double play ground out. He then held the Bantams scoreless for the next four innings, and Tufts came away with the victory 11-4. The win completed the sweep of Trinity and moved Tufts to 5-0 now in the NESCAC. The Jumbos are three losses clear of anybody in the East, and they are now virtual locks for the playoffs.With the top teams in the West not looking as strong as usual, this could be the year that the Jumbos convert their domination of the East into a NESCAC championship.

P/DH Joe MacDonald ’16 (Middlebury)

Let me give dear friend of the program and Nothing But NESCAC’s co-founder a little love here. MacDonald has moved over the past two years from playing primarily at third base to now being a weekend starting pitcher and occasional DH, too. On Friday at DH he went 3-6 and had four RBI as a big part of the Panthers comeback. Then on Saturday, he pitched five innings and kept Hamilton in check allowing three runs (two earned). Middlebury has now won two of his three conference starts. He isn’t overpowering many hitters and has a very low strikeout rate, but also only one walk in 18.2 IP. He is doing a good enough job of mixing up his pitches to keep hitters off balance. We have focused mostly on the impact of young players in improving Middlebury’s fortunes, but a large part can also be attributed to contributions from old standbys like MacDonald and John Luke ’16. Max Araya ’16 has also been sensational with a .447 OBP.

3B Zach Ellenthal ’16 (Colby)

Ellenthal hit a not too shabby .667 (8-12) over the three games against Bowdoin. Four of those hits were doubles, and the senior had five RBI. Ellenthal has been in and out of the lineup a little bit this spring, but I’m guessing he is going to get plenty of playing time the rest of the way given that he has a .526 OBP in conference games. Colby’s offense has been much better of late, and they blitzed Bowdoin in the first two games of their series. There isn’t a ton of power on the roster (just four home runs as a team), but they can still hurt you because of the ability for the entire lineup to get on base. I know it sounds cliché, but I saw Bowdoin lose to the Mules in part because Colby put the Polar Bears into situations where they had to make a lot of plays.

Stock Down


There is nothing terrible about losing to Tufts, but getting swept by them has put the Bantams into a much more precarious position. Trinity had chances to win each of the three games, and that makes the losses even harder in a way. They led 3-1 in the first game, forced the second game to extra innings, and threatened for a brief moment in that third game as mentioned above. Trinity didn’t play particularly bad in any aspect, but if you have to pin the sweep on any one thing, it would be the inability of the offense to string together hits. They scored four runs in each of the three games, an almost frustrating consistency that allows you to be in every game but have a hard time winning one of them. The Bantams still very much hold their own destiny, and they get a chance at Bates this weekend. Trinity was in basically the same situation last year: 4-5 with only their series against Bates left. The Bantams lost all three of those games to finish in last in the East. A repeat performance of that would be devastating.

Bowdoin’s Veteran Hitters

The Polar Bears offense has ground almost to a complete halt, and the biggest reason is that the guys expected to carry the lineup have instead been huge drags on it. Be warned, some of these conference numbers are tough to swallow. Shortstop Sean Mullaney ’17, who was batting well above .400 for a while, has a .094 BA in conference. Chad Martin ’16, the big bopper in the middle, has a .111 BA and just one extra base hit. Peter Cimini ’16 has a .233 average in conference. Along with Trinity, the Polar Bears are well below every other team in BA for NESCAC games at .217. In fairness to Bowdoin, they do have a much better OBP than Trinity does, but the Bantams have slugged the ball better. Bottomline, nobody on Bowdoin is really hitting the ball that well, and the team has now lost three consecutive series against teams in the East not named Tufts.

Hamilton Defense

The old Bull Durham quote goes, “This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.” Well, Hamilton has been failing in the catching department, and it really bit them badly on Saturday. We noted already that they had five errors in one inning against Middlebury. They had eight total in that game. For the weekend series, the Continentals had 13 errors. Hamilton is good, but it is hard to win when you keep giving the other team extra outs and opportunities to score. The weekend was a frustrating one for Hamilton because they played well enough in areas to win. And they could see the window of opportunity for making the playoffs open with Williams beating Wesleyan twice. However, they couldn’t capitalize and get it done on their home field. They can still get hot and make a miracle run to the playoffs, but they are going to have to field a lot better to do so.

Things Change, but People Stay the Same: Power Rankings 4/13

Get on your horse, Brandon Lopez! (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)
Get on your horse, Brandon Lopez! (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

After a little bit of a break from Power Rankings while we waited for things to sort themselves out so we’d look less stupid, the most powerful of NESCAC Power Rankings are back. We haven’t had a rankings since the NESCAC conference season began, so now is a good chance to reorder the teams as the next few weekends are the meat of the NESCAC schedule.

1. Wesleyan (15-4, 2-1), Last Rankings: #2

Kaitlin McCabe ranked Wesleyan second last time, and you might be questioning whether the Cardinals have done enough to make them worthy of moving up. Well, know that it’s close between the top teams. I put Wesleyan tops because I think they have the highest ceiling, even with everything they lost last year. They are 9-1 in their last 10 games, and after dropping their conference opener to Middlebury, they responded with two convincing wins in the doubleheader Saturday. Nick Miceli ’17 got his league-leading fifth win this weekend, and he has a miniscule 1.49 ERA to boot. For a guy that pitched just 13 innings last year, those are some real solid numbers. Wesleyan is not as good as a year ago, but they have done a sensational job to this point and seem to be getting better each week.

2. Amherst (14-4, 4-2), Last Rankings: #1

I drop Amherst a spot because of their inability to sweep Hamilton or Williams in their first two weekend series. They haven’t lost a combined two games to those two teams in a season since 2010. I now am not 100 percent confident that they make the playoffs because Wesleyan still looms on the schedule. If Amherst gets swept in that series, the potential is there for someone (dare we say Middlebury!) to steal that second spot. Offensively Amherst is their typical selves, being among the best in the league at both hitting for power and stealing bases. The defense has been really bad in their conference games though with a fielding percentage of .911. It hasn’t really cost them big yet, but it makes me nervous.

3. Tufts (12-4, 2-0), Last Rankings: #4

The Jumbos haven’t done that much to move a spot, but Bowdoin has fallen off in conference so Tufts is the clear choice here. I don’t want to disparage Tufts; they were on a eight-game winning streak after all until losing to Roger Williams last night. Their team batting average is a really bad .282, but that is all part of their team philosophy. Their OBP is a more robust .418, the third best number in the league. Andrew David ’16 has proven beyond a doubt that he is a top of the line ace, and Speros Varinos ’18 isn’t far behind. The jury is still out on R.J Hall ’19, owner of a 1.09 ERA, and Tim Superko ’17 had his best start of the season last week. The rotation is not as deep as it has been in years past, and that leaves them somewhat vulnerable.

4. Hamilton (11-7, 1-2), Last Rankings: 5

I know I mentioned Middlebury when talking about Amherst’s potential to miss the playoffs, but Hamilton to me is the third-best team in the West right now. The problem for them is that they already lost two of three to Amherst, and the final game of that series was a heartbreaking loss in extra innings. That lineup really is not a joke. Five of their every game starters have an OBP better than .400, and guys like Brett Mele ’17 and Kenny Collins ’17 are still getting on-base at a rate better than 50 percent. The Continentals can get back on track for making an upset run if they sweep the Panthers. Anything less than that and they will need a lot of things to go right for them to have a good chance.

5. Bates (9-12, 2-3), Last Rankings: #7

I put Bates here above Trinity because I have more respect for the Bobcats track record over the past few years. I also have to give credit for them sweeping the doubleheader against Bowdoin on Saturday after the Bobcats came completely unraveled in a 13-1 loss on Friday. Connor Speed ’18 took home NESCAC Pitcher of the Week honors because of his six shutout innings as Bowdoin could not figure out the funky motion of the right-hander. There is no doubt that Bates got lucky in the second game of the doubleheader when Bowdoin had five errors that led to all nine runs being unearned in the 9-5 game. Their series against Trinity next weekend looms large.

6. Trinity (9-11, 4-2), Last Rankings: #6

Trinity, long a NESCAC powerhouse, is back, baby! No, the Bantams, a team that used to strike fear into teams because of their slugging ability, is certainly not anywhere close to the team they were years ago. They have gotten back-to-back series wins over Bowdoin and Colby to put themselves in position to make the playoffs, but they have to prove they can beat Bates or Tufts before I have full faith in them. I loved how Trinity looked in the first game on Saturday as Anthony Egeln ’18 went all seven innings and a Scott Cullinane ’16 hit a three run homer in the first that gave them a commanding lead early. That lineup can still be shut down by really good pitching, though.

7. Middlebury (6-11, 3-3), Last Week: #8

When do we start to believe in the Panthers? Not quite yet, especially because they are in the West and not the East division. That win over Wesleyan which I sort of glossed over when talking about the Cardinals was an impressive one. Middlebury played Wesleyan close in some games last year so it isn’t a total surprise. Wesleyan didn’t play terribly; the Panthers simply came ready to play. They did get some lucky breaks, though. At one point an errant back pick attempt careened off the noggin of 2B Jake Turtel ’18 and went out of play, immediately allowing two runs to score, and Turtel later scored on a bloopy double. Friend of the program Colby Morris ’19 pitched great to get the win, and the offense put up two different crooked numbers against Ethan Rode ’17. The Panthers need to win just one more conference game to match their wins in ALL games a season ago.

8. Bowdoin (12-8, 2-4), Last Week: #3

No team has seen their fortunes fall more than Bowdoin’s in the past two weeks as the Polar Bears have not kept up their strong play. We warned about that possibility given how much youth they have. Ben Osterholtz ’19, who had been sensational in his first few starts, finally got roughed up against Bates. The real problem, though, is the lineup is hitting worse and worse. Nobody on the team ranks in the top-25 for either BA or OBP, and as a group they are hitting below the Mendoza line in conference games. That production is not going to be enough for Bowdoin to make a late push to make the playoffs.

9. Williams (6-13, 2-4), Last Ranking: #10

The Ephs kept their slim playoff hopes alive by taking the last game of their series against Amherst because of two runs in the 9th inning. The Amherst starting pitchers shut down Williams in every game, and when their offense struggles, things are extremely difficult for them. Their run differential is much better than that of a 6-13 team, but those types of things are only so helpful at this point in the year. One does have to keep in mind that this is a relatively young team with the every pitcher of importance slated to return next season. Things are frustrating right now for Ephs fans, considering the strength of so many other programs at Williams, but they should be better soon.

10. Colby (5-13, 1-2), Last Ranking: #9

It is impressive that every team in the NESCAC already has a win in conference even though many teams have only played one series. The Mules actually missed a golden opportunity to win the series against Trinity. Tom Forese ’16 outdueled Jed Robinson ’16 in the first game of the series, but ace Soren Hanson ’16 got knocked around in the first game of the doubleheader in what was their best chance to win. If Forese can pitch that well in other weekends then the Mules have the makings of a very dangerous team. I still don’t think they have enough talent on the roster to make any serious noise, but you certainly can’t sleep on them in any given game.

Wrapping Up March: Stock Report 3/29

The Amherst baseball diamond looks oh so fine. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
The Amherst baseball diamond looks oh so fine. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

I have been somewhat out of the loop during the beginning of the NESCAC baseball season because I was traveling for school, and so I have been unable to write anything recently. I want to thank Kaitlin McCabe who has taken on the lion’s share of writing to make up for my deficiencies. For the rest of the spring, you can expect at least one article a week from both Kaitlin and me, if not more.

Alright, onto baseball now. Conventional wisdom entering the year was that despite heavy losses, the trio of Wesleyan, Amherst and Tufts remained the class of the league. Those three teams have dominated the NESCAC the past couple of years. There has been nothing in the early portion of the year to suggest that those three are going to experience a huge drop off. Wesleyan is 10-3 behind a powerful lineup that is averaging better than 10 runs per game. Amherst is 9-2 because of their strong rotation. Tufts is 6-3, and two of those losses are by a single run.

Bowdoin and Hamilton have been early surprises, but it is way too early to put too much into their success. At this point, every team except for Middlebury and Williams has completed their spring break trip and has returned to the norther hinterlands of New England. That pretty much sums things up, right? Well no, not really. Let’s dive in a little deeper.

Stock Up

Bowdoin’s Youth Movement

Forget the loss of ace Henry Van Zant ’15 from the rotation, Bowdoin’s biggest hole entering the season was the need to replace the majority of their lineup. Seven of the 10 players with the most plate appearances on the team in 2015 have graduated. What remained was Chad Martin ’16, Peter Cimini ’16, Sean Mullaney ’17 and a whole lot of question marks. Again, it’s early, but the offense has been pretty decent even as Martin has had a slow start. The Polar Bears rank near the bottom of the league in OBP, AVG, SLG, and runs scored, but honestly that is better than I thought they would be at this point. Now, the question is whether hot starts for guys like Luke Cappellano ’19 (.381/.435/.476) and Sawyer Billings ’18 (.455/.500/.636) mean anything or if they are the result of a small sample size. Also, the unconscious hitting of Sean Mullaney, owner of a .588 OBP so far, is unlikely to continue at quite the same astronomic levels. Manager Mike Connolly always plays a lot of guys during the Florida trip, and so some of the spots are still being played out.

Bates Pitchers Named Connor

The duo of Connor Speed ’18 and Connor Colombo ’16 has anchored the rotation thus far, starting a combined eight of the 14 games for Bates. The two are pretty much picking up from where they ended last season as the two pitchers with the most IP on Bates. Speed’s numbers are almost exactly the same from a year ago. While a 3.63 ERA isn’t anything spectacular, Speed has upped his K rate to 9.67 K/9, a close to elite level. Even better is Speed’s 24:4 K:BB ratio so far. Colombo has a gaudy ERA of 1.74, but that is a little misleading since nine of his 13 runs allowed have been unearned. Together with Anthony Telesca ’17, the Bobcats have a weekend rotation pretty much set, and they can also bring talented reliever Rob DiFranco ’16 out of the bullpen.

Wesleyan Outfielder Marco Baratta ’16

It is going to be a theme for us to talk about Wesleyan players that are stepping up from last season to keep the Cardinals great. Last week it was Nick Miceli ’17, and now it’s Baratta, the transfer from Skidmore. Baratta only gained consistent playing time at the very end of 2015, but he has been a stud so far this year. The slashline is impressive obviously at .438/.558/.813. That slugging percentage is tops in the NESCAC, and it’s because he has 11 extra base hits, including two homers. He has a hit in 12 of the 13 games Wesleyan has played so far, and he has reached base in every single one. That type of production is one of the reasons why the Wesleyan offense is better so far than a year ago, despite the loss of some big pieces. The only downside is his K rate of 29.2 percent, a number that could mean a drop in production is on the horizon.

Stock Down

Williams Pitching

It feels like a yearly tradition at this point for me to write about how Williams has talent but they can’t get over their Achilles heel of bad pitching. Things are no different in 2016. The team ERA for the Ephs is 10.97, a terrible number. To be fair, Tucson, Arizona is where Division-III ERAs go to die, but still. I think even more damning is that in their nine games this year, Williams has allowed six runs or more in every game. That puts a lot of pressure on the offense. The Ephs got two wins yesterday, but they came with scores of 12-11 and 9-8. Another thing that really worries me is the team’s K/9 rate is a measly 4.19, easily the lowest in the league. That means that their pitchers aren’t missing many bats, and no pitcher has been a standout in that area at all. One of the positives is that Luke Rodino ’17 has pitched reasonably well in his two starts and has a 3.86 ERA. He emerged as the best pitcher on Williams down the stretch last year, and he gives Williams at least one pitcher they can start to build with.

Middlebury Team Speed

Middlebury has played six games so far. Their steal total as a team: a big fat zero. Twice the Panthers have attempted to steal a base, but both times that ended with them being gunned down. To not steal a base over a few games is not that unusual, but to have no steals through six games is a tad disconcerting. It also makes me wonder if it’s just something in that Vermont water that slows them down. Now the question is, when does Middlebury finally steal a base, and who does it? Keep in mind that last year they had only seven steals all season and nobody had more than two individually. My money would be on Ryan Rizzo ’17 usually, but he is also coming back from a football knee injury and may be unwilling to test it too much. The Panthers have five games left in Arizona. Let’s hope that they get at least one by then.

Why You Should Care about NESCAC Baseball in 2016

Peter Rantz '16 will try to fill the gaping whole left in the Wesleyan rotation. (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)
Peter Rantz ’16 will try to fill the gaping whole left in the Wesleyan rotation. (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

Editor’s Note: Our baseball coverage this spring is not going to be as comprehensive as in the past two seasons. Blame senior spring and most of our writers also being baseball players.

Every year February sneaks up on me because I’m busy not freezing to death while being caught up in the excitement of NESCAC basketball. So every year Bates begins their season and I’m blindsided. Players have been hard at work getting in practices either late at night or early in the morning. The season really gets going this Saturday with five NESCAC teams playing games, but the NESCAC regular season doesn’t begin until April 1 so you (and us too) have plenty of time to get up to speed.

The 2015 baseball senior class was a loaded one, and the additional loss of the two most talented underclassmen (more on them later) to Major League Baseball makes the returning talent pool even smaller. A lot of new names are going to make a major impact on this season, and it is unlikely the predictability of last season holds again. Wesleyan has reigned supreme for the past two years. They dominated last season going undefeated in the regular season and winning the NESCAC tournament, and they won the NESCAC tournament in 2014 as heavy underdogs.

Brief aside: we began this site in the spring of 2014 with coverage of baseball. For some reason, I had illusions that when we started the blog that it would spread quickly and our readership would quickly develop. That didn’t quite happen, and it took us a LONG time just to get 100 Twitter followers. I was a little discouraged by the end of the spring, but then something happened after Wesleyan won the NESCAC championship. I had been writing all spring about how I didn’t think the Cardinals were that good and had picked them to lose early in the tournament. After they won, one of the Wesleyan players (I’m pretty sure they’ve deleted their Twitter since then) tweeted at the blog handle saying something to the effect of, “How you like us now?” A ton of other guys on the Wesleyan team retweeted and favorited it, and that was when I knew that things were going to be all right.

Back to this year. Wesleyan is going to look a lot different this season. They have already started their season in Arizona, and boy did things go badly in the first game Sunday. Wesleyan went down 24-0 after the third inning in a game that was an unmitigated disaster. You shouldn’t read too much into it, though. The first game of a baseball season, especially for a team that has barely been able to practice outdoors because of the New England weather, is notoriously fickle. Trips down south count on the official record, but they are still viewed as glorified spring training games by most. Anyways, Wesleyan swept a doubleheader the next day.

Wesleyan loses Donnie Cimino ’15 and Andrew Yin ’15, their two hitters at the top of the lineup, and three other positional starters. That doesn’t hurt as badly as the losses in the rotation where Sam Elias ’15, Nick Cooney ’15, and Gavin Pittore ’16 are all gone. That trio threw basically all of the high leverage innings a season ago, and the rotation is a mystery behind Peter Rantz ’16 who threw 60.2 innings with a 2.97 ERA in 2015. The good news is that slugging shortstop Guy Davidson ’16 is back and is mashing the ball so far. Guys like Robby Harbison ’17, who had a great freshman year but didn’t play much last year, and Marco Baratta ’16 need to have huge years offensively. Their best bet for winning a third consecutive NESCAC title is by mashing their way there, a very different story from their first two titles.

The two teams most likely to knock Wesleyan from their perch are Amherst and Tufts, traditional powers that also lost a good amount from last season. The loss of Mike Odenwaelder ’16 a year early is a major blow to Amherst, but they return a lot of other pieces in their lineup including Harry Roberson ’18 who is looking to build on a freshman year when he had an OBP of .429. The rotation was young a year ago, and guys like Sam Schneider ’18 have the chance to be cornerstone pieces now. Amherst pushed Wesleyan all the way to extra innings in a winner-take-all NESCAC championship game, and I think the presence of Odenwaelder overshadowed some of the other phenomenal players on the team.

The Jumbos meanwhile are in a similar spot with the loss of some big lineup pieces like Connor McDavitt ’15 and Bryan Egan ’15. That hurts, but the duo of Tim Superko ’17 and Andrew David ’16 gives them two legitimate frontline starters to trot out every weekend. In a wide open league, that is a luxury. The possibility of strikeout wizards Speros Varinos ’17 or Zach Brown ’18 replicating that ability over a larger amount of innings is intriguing. The other playoff team from the East, Bates, has a chance to be very good on the mound. Guys like Connor Colombo ’16 and Rob DiFranco ’16 have proven themselves to be above-average pitchers. I’m worried about the lineup because their three best hitters are all gone, but I had the same worry last year and guys stepped up then.

When looking for a team that could jump into the playoffs, no single team jumps out, honestly. The East was so even last year with every team having at least four wins that you would expect one of those teams to jump out. The problem is Trinity loses their three top hitters and ace, Sean Meekins ’15, leaving some big gaps to replace. Then Bowdoin has to find a way to win games without Henry Van Zant ’15 pitching them to it. A strong senior class featuring Chad Martin ’16 and Harry Ridge ’16 gives the Polar Bears hope, but like so many others, freshmen and sophomores have to step way up. Colby has nobody primed to replace Greg Ladd ’15 or Scott Goldberg ’15 in the weekend rotation, but their lineup should be improved.

Williams has a chance to make a big jump behind their young bats, but getting over the two giants in the West is so hard to do. The pitching for the Ephs was better a year ago, but it coincided with a drop in offensive production. Hamilton and Middlebury both look to be deeper than they were last season, but I think it’s a long shot for one of them to make such a big jump.

Overall, the season has a lot of uncertainty. The junior class is a weak one overall (more 2018 grads than 2017 grads made All-NESCAC teams last season), and that is the primary reason why so many young players are going to see playing time. I expect the talent bases of the elite teams to be strong enough to keep the status quo in place. But again, it’s March 9, and not even coaches really know what they have.

I’m still a few weeks away from being able to watch NESCAC games in person, but I’m excited for when I do get to watch some baseball. A NESCAC doubleheader can be over in a brisk four hours, and the large college rosters makes for a lively atmosphere even if not many fans besides parents show. We will get there eventually folks, just hang in there.

NCAA First Round Preview: #15 Amherst vs. Husson

Connor Green '16 isn't ready to stop shooting just yet. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
Connor Green ’16 isn’t ready to stop shooting just yet. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Making the NCAA tournament is nothing new for Amherst’s long-time head coach Dave Hixon, and this weekend marks the sixth straight year that the mascotless team from Central Massachusetts is in the Little Division’s Big Dance. Amherst enters the tournament feeling a little deja vu after losing the NESCAC championship game for the second straight year to a young, hungry team that needed to win the game in order to make the NCAA tournament.

The rotation for Amherst is exactly the same as it was last season, and so it is a fair question to ask if there is anything different about the team this season compared to last. The team has not changed their style of play much, but Hixon insists that things have changed.

A lot of guys have gotten a little bit better. Racy is a more consistent player. The trip to Italy over the summer all by ourselves for a week helped with our consistency and chemistry. Trust me, we are better than we were last year – Coach Dave Hixon

Husson Overview

Husson is not a complete unknown since the Bangor, Maine team played all of Colby, Bowdoin, and Bates. They went 2-1 against them, getting blown out by Bates in December, beating Colby in overtime in January, and blowing out Bowdoin late in January. They finished first in the regular season for their conference and won their conference tournament. The tempo that Husson plays at is FAST, as they average 88.9 PPG and have two players averaging over 20 PPG. Guard Trevon Butler ’16 averages 21.7 PPG and forward Raheem Anderson pours in 21.0 PPG. Husson shoots a ton of threes too, 25.0 per game, which puts them just below Amherst in terms of shooting threes. Husson is nothing special defensively allowing close to 80 PPG, and teams are shooting 42.7 percent from the field against them. Husson is a power in their conference making the NCAA tournament 17 times before, but they are dreadful in the NCAAs with a record of 1-17.

Amherst X-Factor: Center Eric Conklin ’17

A theme of NCAA tournament games is that NESCAC teams usually have a size advantage inside that they can exploit. For Amherst, Conklin is a much more adept player than David George ’17 at scoring by using positioning and strength. Conklin, the Arizona transfer, is listed at 6’6″ 235 lbs, and Husson has only one player, 6’5″ 225 lbs Zach Curran ’17, that can match that size. George’s strength is on the defensive end where he is a menace in the lane, but against a team that shoots so many threes, that matters much less. Hixon might go to Conklin for extended stretches to try to get easy buckets in the half-court offense. Conklin has scored in every game this year, an impressive feat for a player that has averaged just 16.1 MPG. He could score a bunch tonight.

Husson X-Factor: Guard Eli Itkin ’17

I believe for Husson to win that they have to beat Amherst at their own game which means the Eagles need to make a lot of threes. Itkin is the best pure shooter on the roster shooting 50.0 percent on 3.2 threes per game. Two weeks ago he exploded for 27 much needed points in large part because he shot 7-9 from three point land. Of course,

Three Questions

1. Does a track meet develop?

Amherst is no slouch either on the offensive end of course, and Hixon admitted that he is not going to slow his team down on the offensive end. He acknowledged that Amherst is best offensively when going fast in transition and emphasized that slowing down Husson would have to happen on the defensive end. Amherst’s ability to have so many players guard multiple positions makes it possible for them to play great transition defense when matchups frequently get mixed up. When you throw in how many threes both teams take and how those tend to lead to long rebounds and runouts… odds are this one becomes a track meet.

2. Does another Husson player step up?

Remember in the NESCAC quarterfinal when Amherst played Bowdoin and Jack Simonds ’19 and Lucas Hausman ’16 went off for a combined 54 points but it wasn’t enough to bring down the team from Central Mass. Anderson and Bulter are great players, but a couple other players will need to score double-digits for Husson to keep up. Husson plays a lot of players between 15-20 MPG, so it could be any number of players that step up. The Eagles definitely need one of their big men to do a good job on the boards too.

3. Who makes their threes?

If you like old school basketball where the game is won and lost in the paint, then this is not the game for you. Both coaches are fine with their teams letting it go from deep. Hixon insists that “I don’t count how many threes we shot.” And I believe him considering how much Amherst does shoot the ball. Of course, neither of these teams have Steph Curry or Klay Thompson on their teams (Jeff Racy ’17 has been doing a fine impression though), and so some games the shots simply don’t fall. Amherst’s ability to switch onto anybody is to Hixon the biggest reason why other teams shoot so poorly against them. Being at home also helps Amherst somewhat.

What to Expect

From a sheer talent standpoint, Amherst is a clearly better team than Husson. At the same time, Amherst is the more talented team practically every time they step onto the court. They have a big size advantage at every position. I’m interested in how they balance getting after it on the offensive boards with focusing on getting guys back on defense to slow down Husson.

It feels crazy that I’ve made it this far in the preview and not made mention of Connor Green ’16, Johnny McCarthy ’18, and Michael Riopel ’18. These are going to be the guys that slow down the two Husson stars on one end and provide a lot of the offensive punch too. You never know what you are going to get from these guys, and Hixon admits that it is always a balancing act trying to figure out which guys are playing on any given night. That extends to the point guard position too of course. Amherst needs to limit their turnovers, a potential Achilles heel against a quicker Husson team.

Amherst catches a break getting to host the first weekend even though they didn’t win the NESCAC tournament. Yet when I asked Hixon if it mattered he responded, “doesn’t make a difference to me to be playing at home.” Now I’m guessing his players would disagree with him on that. Another thing that Amherst has been dealing with behind the scenes is a lot of nagging injuries. Green, Riopel, and McCarthy all missed time in the week leading up to the NESCAC semifinals, but Amherst has been able to have full practices this week to get ready. That could make a big difference as players should be in a better rhythm.

Hixon acknowledged that March is different. “It’s about telling guys about how it is one and done if you let down for just a second.” That urgency is something that Amherst seems to lack in some games, but they will have plenty of it now. This team did not develop into the juggernaut that I thought they were capable of being at the beginning of the season. The pieces don’t fit quite right, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of making a deep run in the tournament. I like their matchup a lot tonight and think they get through the first round relatively easily.

Amherst over Husson 85-74

Eye on Saturday

Things look to be harder if Amherst gets through to Saturday, but neither of WPI or Cortland State are dominant. WPI went 20-6 overall and 10-4 in the NEWMAC. They got an at-large bid after losing to MIT in the NEWMAC seimfinals. They started the season really well going 16-2 including wins over Bates and Tufts. They have stumbled a bit since then. One WPI fan on the D3boards described his team by saying, “But to borrow a baseball analogy – the batters keep muttering to themselves after grounding out to 2nd base 3 times in a row.  Hard to brag about the boys – but all they do is win.” They play at a slow pace averaging less than 70.0 PPG, and their best scorer is forward Clyde Niba ’17, a big man with a smooth jump shot.

Cortland State is more of an unknown since they haven’t played any NESCAC team this year. They got in because they won their conference tournament, the SUNYAC. However, they barely won both of those games, and they got lucky in not having to play the top seed Plattsburgh State. Guard Blair Estarfaa ’17 is their leading scorer, and he is dangerous when he gets going from downtown. JP Reagan ’16, a Cortland native, is their leading big man inside and is second on the team in PPG. All in all, this is a pretty favorable route to the Sweet Sixteen for Amherst, but you can never be sure in the NCAA tournament.

Gone But Not Forgotten: NESCAC Transfers in Division-I

Duncan Robinson is making the NESCAC proud. (Courtesy of the Union Leader)
Duncan Robinson is making the NESCAC proud. (Courtesy of The Union Leader)

Over the years, NESCAC fans have gotten used to transfers coming into the NESCAC for sports. The strong academics make it an attractive destination for higher level student-athletes who have not had success at a D-I or D-II level. However, the transfer of NESCAC student-athletes out of the league to pursue D-I careers is a rare occurrence. So, the fact that four NESCAC players have left the league in the past three seasons is notable. A fifth, Dylan Sinnickson ’15, is a graduate transfer. I took a look at how they have been doing in their new careers. Hunter Sabety ’17, who transferred from Tufts to Hofstra, is sitting this season out so we’ll skip over him.

Duncan Robinson (Michigan)

Robinson has always been the headliner in terms of NESCAC transfers. He had one of the best freshman seasons in NESCAC history, earning Rookie of the Year laurels, and he did what seemed unthinkable to many: get a scholarship spot right off the bat from a high D-I school. The Robinson story is well-told so no need to rehash it further here. Suffice to say that in his first year back playing, Robinson has been a stud, making NESCAC fans everywhere proud.

Let’s start with the statistics. The first impressive thing is just how much he is playing; he is averaging 27.9 mpg. Robinson is fourth on Michigan averaging 11.2 ppg. He is pulling in 3.2 rpg and handing out 1.7 apg. And as you might expect, his shooting percentages look pretty nice:  47.3/46.6/96.4. Also as expected, most of his shots are coming from distance with 73.7 percent of his made shots from the field being three pointers.

But it isn’t about the numbers, man. What is making Robinson’s season so awesome is the moments he has had where people think to themselves, “How did this guy play Division-III basketball?” It was Robinson announcing himself to a national TV audience with 19 points and 5-5 from three. It was Dickie V losing his composure on live TV while talking about how good of a shooter Robinson is. It’s that the Big Ten Network made a nine minute feature on Robinson that you can and should watch.

Things have been a struggle as of late for Robinson, though In his eight February games, Robinson is averaging 7.75 ppg as teams have keyed more and more on him out on the perimeter. At this stage, Robinson is a very good three point specialist with the ability to take somebody off the bounce every once in a while.

Still, nobody (except Robinson himself maybe) saw this success coming. Lest anyone forget, it was center Michael Mayer ’14 and not Robinson who was the go-to player for the Ephs in the 2014 NCAA tournament. Even when he was playing in the NESCAC, teams weren’t game planning just for him. Personally, the Duncan Robinson story so far is one about how development arcs are different. For example, Robinson is 10 months OLDER than Andrew Wiggins, the Rookie of the Year last year in the NBA. Just because of his advanced age for a college sophomore, do not assume Robinson is done developing as a player. He is going to keep adding pieces to his game over the next two seasons.

Robinson took a big gamble leaving the number one liberal arts school in the country to pursue his athletic goals, but at least from a basketball standpoint, things are working out well so far. And, the question of what Williams would look like if Robinson was still there is probably the biggest what-if in modern NESCAC history.

Matt Hart (George Washington)

Matt Hart has become a role player for a potential NCAA Tournament team in George Washington. (Courtesy of the San Diego Union Tribune)
Matt Hart has become a role player for a potential NCAA Tournament team in George Washington. (Courtesy of the San Diego Union Tribune)

Poor Hart. Without Duncan Robinson, we would all be wowed at the story of Hart from an undersized shooting guard to the NESCAC leading scorer and subsequently a spot in the George Washington rotation. He traded the Continentals for the Colonials. Hart has been getting solid minutes as one of the reserve guards averaging 4.4 ppg. He had a couple of big games like a 17-point performance in a 92-81 win over Army back in November, but playing time has been hard to come by recently. Hart did have a nice 11 point game against Duquesne two weeks ago, but he has not had any significant uptick in playing time since then.

While Hart hasn’t lit up Division-I, George Washington is a very good team in the Atlantic 10 that is on the bubble for the NCAA tournament. Some senior guards are graduating which could open more time up for Hart next year. The bad news for Hart is that since he transferred after his sophomore year, he has only one year of eligibility remaining once this season finishes out. The other big news is that Hart, who transferred as a walk-on, won a scholarship for this season.

Varun Ram (Maryland)

Varun Ram is a tenacious defender off the Terrapins bench. (Courtesy of the Washington Times)
Varun Ram is a tenacious defender off the Terrapins bench. (Courtesy of the Washington Times)

What if I told you that on the same night the Duncan Robinson feature ran on the Big Ten Network, another, completely independent segment featuring a different NESCAC transfer ran? Well, it happened with Ram who followed a dream and became one of the few Indian-Americans to be playing Division-I basketball. Ram didn’t make much of an impact on the NESCAC, playing for just one season. He started 21 games for the Bantams as a freshman scoring 7.8 ppg and tallying 2.46 apg: solid numbers but nothing that would make most people transfer to a Division-I school. Ram transferred to play as a walk-on at Maryland, his home state, and he hasn’t gotten a lot of playing time. However, he has emerged as somewhat of a defensive specialist for the Terps. He was crucial in forcing a turnover for Maryland in the NCAA tournament last year, and according to the Washington Post, he guards Melo Trimble (one of the best players in the country and a future NBA player) every day in practice. Ram is a unique story, and he has had a good run away from the NESCAC.

Dylan Sinnickson (Vermont)

Dylan Sinnickson hasn't gotten much run with the Catamounts. (Courtesy of UVM Athletics)
Dylan Sinnickson hasn’t gotten much run with the Catamounts. (Courtesy of UVM Athletics)

After missing his sophomore year at Middlebury with a forearm injury, Sinnickson felt like he had some still left in the tank and took advantage of the ability to play immediately as a graduate student at the University of Vermont. Unfortunately, Sinnickson has not been able to get a lot of playing time. He has gotten double digits just one time this season: a blowout win for the Catamounts. Sinnickson played well in that time scoring 11 points and pulling in 12 rebounds, but he has not been able to get onto the court regularly. There weren’t great expectations for Sinnickson, but it’s a little bit surprising that an athlete of his caliber hasn’t gotten to a point where he can carve out a role.

I wouldn’t expect the recent crop of NESCAC transfers to start a greater trend. The academics are hard to leave, and special circumstances surrounded many of the above players. Just keep in mind when you are watching the NESCAC games this weekend or next that some of these guys can play beyond just the Division-III confines. For some players, the dream of playing big time basketball doesn’t die once they put on the jersey of a small liberal arts college, and it’s an incredible accomplishment for these players just to have made it into a D-I program.

NESCAC Semifinal Preview: #2 Amherst vs. #3 Tufts


A rematch of a NESCAC quarterfinal from last season, this game promises to be a game dominated by both offenses. These are the two best offenses in the NESCAC in terms of points per game. They can both hurt you in a variety of ways, but both teams have also become much more reliant on their starting group as the season has gone along. That quarterfinal from a year ago doesn’t mean anything either. Amherst laid a beatdown on the Jumbos in that one, leading by 16 points at halftime and winning 92-66. Connor Green ’16 was hot, shooting 10-16 from the floor to score 29 points. That win was revenge for Tufts destroying Amherst earlier in the year during conference play.

Both teams only boasted one senior last season (Ben Ferris ’15 on Tufts and Alex Levine ’15 for Amherst), but still a lot has changed. For one, Jayde Dawson ’18 and Jeff Racy ’17 are starting now for Amherst while Reid Berman ’17 and Jacob Nabatoff ’17 have become bit players. On Tufts, Hunter Sabety ’17 transferred and all three of Tarik Smith ’17, Vincent Pace ’18, and Stephen Haladyna ’16 have started every game for Tufts after coming off the bench for the Jumbos last year.

Last time they played: Tufts 84 – Amherst 73, Feb. 5 at Tufts

The Jumbos led this one basically from wire to wire, and they threatened to blow out Amherst at points. An 18-3 run fueled by three 3s from three different players put Tufts up 34-18 in the first half. On his senior day, seldom used Zach Roswold ’16 had two big three pointers in the half. The second half saw Amherst continuously try and fail to cut into the lead, but they could never get the lead below seven points. Green had 28 points in the game and 17 in the half, but it wasn’t enough. Racy had his worst game of the year going 0-6 from three, turning the ball over twice, and fouling out. Tufts had their typical balanced scoring from the starting five, and Tom Palleschi ’17 led the way with 20 points, nine rebounds, and four big blocks. The loss cost Amherst the number one overall seed and is why we are in Hartford and not Amherst this weekend.

Amherst X-Factor: Point Guard Jayde Dawson ’18

I could easily put Green or Racy in this spot, but Dawson gets the nod because of how he has struggled recently. In the past four games vs. NESCAC opponents he has averaged 6.75 ppg and 2.25 apg after averaging 20.3 ppg and 4.7 apg in the three games before that. It hasn’t affected the team from Central Massachusetts very much given that they are 6-1 in that stretch. Still, an Amherst team where Dawson is locked in, making shots, and not committing stupid turnovers is a tough one. He pounds the ball way too much for no reason, and he certainly is not a true point guard, but Dawson has undoubtedly been much better this season than last. Amherst doesn’t need him to play well in order to win, but if he does then it’s hard to imagine them losing.

Tufts X-Factor: Center Tom Palleschi ’17

Little bit of a cop out putting the Jumbos best player as their X-Factor, but I believe that away from the friendly confines of Cousens Gym Palleschi needs to be a monster on both ends of the floor for Tufts to win. The big center has been putting up big points numbers in recent weeks, averaging 20.6 ppg over his last seven games as Tufts has shown a renewed commitment to working the ball through him. He has also only gotten better at blocking shots, averaging an absurd 4.3 bpg over that same span. Palleschi allows the Tufts perimeter defenders to take away the three point lines and not worry about the opponent getting easy points inside. Against as good of a three point shooting team as Amherst, the luxury of Palleschi protecting the rim means the Jumbos can sell out on the perimeter, just so long as they make sure to weak side rebound if Palleschi goes for any blocks.

Three Questions

1. Which sophomore plays better: Vincent Pace ’18 or Johnny McCarthy ’18?

These are the two best sophomores in the league, and they both happen to be long-armed shooting guards. I’m hoping that they guard each other for most of the game tomorrow to see who’s game gets the upper hand. Their strengths lie on opposite ends of the floor: Pace is better offensively and McCarthy plays best defensively. That doesn’t mean that they are slouches on the other end, of course. Pace went through a brief three-game slump in late January, but he has been way better in February even as his shot has struggled from deep. Driving against McCarthy is tough, but if Pace gets someone else switched onto him on a pick and roll then he will go to work. McCarthy, meanwhile, hits that step back jumper once or twice a game and makes you think he is the most talented player in the league. Still, he remains just a cog in the offensive attack for Amherst.

2. Does Amherst hit threes?

Amherst shoots so many threes that it can drive you crazy when they don’t go down. In the regular season they shot 79 more threes than any other team, or 12.8 percent more threes than anyone else. When those shots don’t go in against a good opponent, Amherst tends to lose. They shot 7-25 (28 percent) from three against Tufts in the first meeting this year. There is no question that Amherst is capable of burying opponents in a flurry of long-distance shots, but an Amherst team that shoots exclusively from the three point line is a one-dimensional and beatable one.

3. Which bench shows up?

Both of these teams are very reliant on their starting five, which is funny because last year they would both regularly go 10 deep in their rotation. However, the upside for the Amherst bench is much higher. Michael Riopel ’18 can affect the game in a number of ways, and Eric Conklin ’17 is nearly a guarantee to score a few baskets every game. On the Tufts side, Ben Engvall ’18 or Stefon Duvivier ’18 is capable of swinging the game by canning a couple of threes from deep. At the end of the day, I trust the ability of the Amherst bench to change the game more than I do Tufts. I do expect the starters on both sides to get heavy minutes, but the ability of Amherst to replace one of their starters who isn’t playing well with someone replicable could be the difference.

Everything Else

I mentioned at the top that offense is the strength of both teams. That means either team is fully capable of ripping off a game-changing run at any time. String a few three pointers together and suddenly a double digit lead almost disappears. The winner of this game is unlikely to score less than 80 points, but the ability of Amherst to shut down teams from deep could be a difference maker. On the season, Amherst is the best in the COUNTRY in defensive 3 point field goal percentage, but Tufts was able to shoot 8-20 (40 percent) from deep in their first meeting. The length of the Amherst perimeter defenders and the change in scenery makes it unlikely that the Jumbos find a way to replicate that type of shooting.

Tufts won the first matchup this year, but that game was in Medford on a Saturday which favors the home team even more than a Friday night game. I don’t think either school is going to bring a big crowd to the game Saturday. If it’s anyone, it would be Amherst, but I was at their semifinal game last year at Trinity and there were literally zero students at that one. The Jumbos have lost only two games at home this season, and they tend to shoot worse from distance away from Medford, MA.

Amherst is the better team overall, and on a neutral floor I think they get the best of the Jumbos. These are two very talented teams, and it is going to be a treat to watch them go up against each other. At the end of the day, I think that Amherst gets and converts more looks from three than the Jumbos do in a close battle. One thing that could keep things interesting at the end: Amherst is shooting under 70 percent from the free throw line. If the Jumbos are down late but put the right players on the foul line, anything could happen.

Prediction: Amherst 87 over Tufts 78

Home Teams Sweep Weekend: Stock Report 2/22

Connor Green '16 played like a superstar with 29 points in Amherst's Quarterfinal victory on Saturday. (Courtesy of
Connor Green ’16 played like a superstar with 29 points in Amherst’s Quarterfinal victory on Saturday. (Courtesy of

What has appeared to be a pretty chaotic NESCAC season suddenly got a lot more clear when the top four teams all pulled out wins in the NESCAC quarterfinals. It wasn’t that clear cut, considering that Colby led Trinity for a good 30 minutes of their game and Bowdoin was down three points with under six minutes to play. Still, the top four teams won, and a big reason for that is the impact of home court advantage.

Trinity, Amherst, Tufts and Middlebury combined to go 18-2 in their NESCAC home games. And those two losses both came at the hands of a fellow top four team with the Bantams knocking off the Jumbos in Medford and Amherst beating Trinity in Hartford. The biggest upsets of the regular season all came on the road: Middlebury falling to Hamilton, Colby topping Amherst, and Bowdoin getting the best of Wesleyan (not that big of an upset in hindsight but still).

Winning on the road is hard, even when there aren’t big raucous crowds to deal with. Athletes are creatures of comfort, and whether it’s the ability to have the same pregame routine or the familiarity of shooting in your home gym, teams undoubtedly do better at home at this level. As an aside, this makes Wesleyan’s championship run last year with two road and one neutral site wins all the more impressive.

Stock Up

SG Matt St. Amour ’17 and PF Adisa Majors ’18 (Middlebury)

Pepin Gymnasium was ROCKING on Saturday, and these two were supplying a lot of the fuel for the crowd to feed off of. After two subpar shooting performances last weekend, St. Amour did not hesitate from long distance early scoring 19 points in the first half as the Panthers built a substantial lead. As he cooled off in the first half, Majors took over, scoring 16 enormous second half points. Eleven of those points came in the final 5:30 of the game. After Nathan Krill ’18 pulled Wesleyan to within five points at 68-63, Majors scored the next six points for the Panthers to get the lead back up to 74-65. The difference in play from Majors this season from last year when he was a seldom used backup has been incredible. The sophomore works his butt off, has a really nice touch around the rim, and is a great mid-range shooter.

Forward Connor Green ’16 (Amherst)

Green has OWNED the Polar Bears over the past two seasons. In four games against Bowdoin, he averaged 24.0 ppg. That includes a clunker in the NESCAC semifinals last year when he had just seven points on 3-14 shooting. That didn’t matter though as Amherst won that game easily 76-56. In the other three games, Green has been sizzling hot from deep, going 19-36 (52.8 percent) on what have been very high difficulty shots. On Saturday, Green finished with 29 points, four rebounds, three assists and no turnovers. His big performance helped Amherst overcome subpar games from Jayde Dawson ’18 and Jeff Racy ’17. I have no idea how Green is going to play next weekend: he could either shoot Amherst out of the tournament or carry them to a NESCAC title. Regardless, I think that Saturday reminded us that he is still Amherst’s best scorer, and it clinched Green’s spot on the All-NESCAC First Team.

Tufts’ Offensive Balance

It is no secret that the Jumbos work their offense through Tom Palleschi ’17, but the junior center is not capable of being the scoring threat that some of the perimeter scorers in the league can be. The offense for Tufts works because all five starters are capable of creating their own shot. And even though Palleschi doesn’t shoot threes very often, he is shooting 45.5 percent from three this season. That means that every Tufts starter is also capable of hitting the three. That puts a lot of strain on a defense. On Saturday, four of the five Jumbo starters were in double figures (the other, Ryan Spadaford ’16, had 8 points), and each of them made a three pointer to boot. The downside for Tufts is that their bench has become somewhat of a non-factor down the stretch. That starting five will have to carry them next weekend.

Stock Down

Wesleyan Cardinals

What a weird season for Wesleyan. They were great against an admittedly soft non-conference schedule to rip off an 11-game winning streak heading into the conference season. Then they started 1-3 in NESCAC before winning their next five games (all vs. NESCAC teams) at home. Would it surprise you if I told you the Cardinals losses in their final three games were all on the road? Wesleyan was #7 in the last regional rankings, and it’s extremely unlikely they get an at-large bid.

On Saturday the fight that Wesleyan possesses was clear even though they fell short. They got a big performance from Harry Rafferty ’17 to come back in the second half. The game looked to be over with just over a minute left and Middlebury holding a nine-point lead. Then BJ Davis ’16 and Jack Mackey ’16 hit two absolutely ridiculous threes to pull the lead back to five points. However, that was as close as Wesleyan would get. The season didn’t go quite as planned for the defending champions, but you have to admit that they went down fighting.

Williams Passing

Some fans of the Ephs have been bemoaning the combined inability of Williams to get assists and not turn the ball over for much of the season. And I haven’t bought into those complaints until Saturday. In the second half, there was a stretch when Williams seemed to be turning the ball over on every possession. And when they didn’t, they weren’t able to generate any good shots. The Ephs finished the game with 15 turnovers and 10 assists. For the season, Williams finished last in the NESCAC averaging as a team 13.4 apg. The offense that Coach Kevin App runs is one predicated on constant cutting and screening, but it wasn’t great at creating good looks inside. The Ephs instead took a lot of threes, the second most in the NESCAC. The return of PG Mike Greenman ’17 from injury next season will do this offense a lot of good.

Colby Seniors

Expectations for Colby were high entering the season. The six Colby seniors were all good NESCAC players, and Chris Hudnut ’16 is one of the five best players in the league when healthy. On the other hand, all this class has to show on a NESCAC level is four consecutive eighth place finishes and subsequent first round exits. A bunch of factors held the Mules back the last two seasons, and there is no denying that Colby was a good team this year capable of knocking off anybody. On the other hand, the Mules failed to ever really deliver on their promise as a team. Now that this group of seniors is graduating, the Mules are going to be in deep trouble next season.

The game against Trinity was a microcosm of that promise. They were in control for much of the game, leading by as many as 12 points. Ultimately, the Bantams came back and enforced their will in the second half. Colby was bothered by the defensive intensity of Trinity, and on the other end they forced just one turnover from the Bantams in the half. What doomed the Mules was that Trinity went back to what works for them: being physical and getting inside. In the first half Trinity shot zero free throws (neither did Colby which is somewhat incredible). However, in the second half the Bantams got to the line 20 times and made 16 of them.