The Last Football Show: Week 9 Weekend Preview

As always, make sure you check out Matt’s excellent piece on the Game of the Week, Amherst @ Williams. But that is far from the only good game here on the last weekend of the season. Middlebury @ Tufts has major championship implications, as does, of course, Trinity vs Wesleyan. And the other games feature young teams battling it out for pride and confidence, which can often produce the best games. This is how the season ends, not with a whimper, but with a bang.

Middlebury (6-2) @ Tufts (5-3), 12:30 PM, Medford, MA

It would take a good deal of help from Wesleyan and Williams for this game to have championship ramifications but it could. If Wesleyan beats Trinity, Williams beats Amherst, and Middlebury beats Tufts, then the Panthers would be one of four teams (Trinity, Wesleyan, Amherst and them) who finish at 7-2. Additionally, Middlebury would have the head to head tiebreaker over Wesleyan and Amherst. There’s a lot of moving parts to that equation, but all of them are very possible, so Middlebury has quite a bit to play for in this game. Tufts has no championship hopes, but they;d love to play spoiler and grab a win over an elite team.

As has been the case for Middlebury for the last two weeks, the big key is the play of Jack Meservy ‘19. He got knocked around by Trinity (the best secondary in the league) and did some  knocking of his own against Hamilton (arguably the worst.) Against the Continentals he flashed a nice touch on deep balls, throwing two deep touchdowns to speed merchant Jimmy Martinez ‘19. Tufts ranks somewhere in the middle of the spectrum of NESCAC secondaries (with Hamilton and Trinity as the two ends.) Tim Preston ‘18 is a threat, but he hasn’t gotten a ton of help this year, and Tufts defensive numbers are middling at best. A good showing here could cement Meservy’s spot as next year’s starter… or Lebowitz could come back. We shall see.

Ryan McDonald ’19 is made to attack the Middlebury defense.

Middlebury’s defense has been really excellent since Lebowitz went down, allowing the offense many chances to put it together. But they haven’t faced an attack quite like Tufts yet. Ryan McDonald ‘19 challenges defenses with his legs even more than Puzzo and Maimaron, two quarterbacks whom Middlebury often allowed to escape the pocket and move the chains through scrambling. And plus, the Jumbos’ run game is starting to look more like last year’s albeit without one star. In their last three weeks, which feature a win over Williams and an impressive loss to amherst (31-26,) Tufts has used a committee of talented backs to beat teams on the ground and set up play action throws on the run for McDonald. It’s hard to predict which back will be the lead, but Mike Pedrini ‘21 and Andrew Sanders have both played well. Run defense has killed Middlebury in both of their losses, particularly containing quarterbacks. I think it hurts them again this week.

Score Prediction

Tufts 20, Middlebury 15

Wesleyan (6-2) @ Trinity (7-1), 12:00 PM, Hartford, CT

This classic offense-defense matchup features Trinity fighting to keep the solo championship which was all but guaranteed for much of the season. They’ll need help from Williams, of course, but nothing happens unless they win here. And boy do they have their work cut out for them. Wesleyan may well have played the best all-around game of any team this season last week, pasting Williams 35-0. They held the Ephs to just 127 total yards, and phenom QB Bobby Maimaron to just 51, with two interceptions. And on the other side of the ball, QB Mark Piccirillo ‘18 stuck his namely firmly at the front of the POY race. He has now not thrown an interception in three games after throwing seven in the first five, and has five passing touchdowns in the last two. He also has four rushing touchdowns on the year (with no fumbles in the last five games) and is in the top five in the country in completion percentage at over 70%. With Lebowitz possibly done, Piccirillo is the best QB in the conference, and a win over the Bantams would cement his legacy and secure his hardware.

Trinity has to be pretty steamed following a pretty severe beatdown at the hands of the Mammoths. The final score of 28-20 is misleading–Amherst dominated the whole way, and the Bantams scored a touchdown with 24 seconds left to make it more respectable. Much of Trinity’s offense is created by their defense; takeaways set them up in great field position and force opposing defense back onto the field quickly tiring them out and allowing Max Chipouras ‘19 to find the holes. Amherst didn’t turn the ball over once, and as such was able to dominate time of possession 36:22 to 23:07. As I said above, Wesleyan has not been turning the ball over at all lately. Piccirillo has cleaned it up, and they have a pen of sure-handed running backs, like Sean Penney ‘21 and Glenn Smith ‘21, who hold onto the ball and can run out the clock or set up Piccirillo scrambles. Trinity has to force turnovers in this game, and they may have to look outside of Dominique Seagears ‘18, who will have his hands full with Mike Breuler ‘18. The linebacking corps of Dago Picon-Roura ‘19, Liam Kenneally ‘18 and Carty Campbell ‘18 may make the difference. If they can pick of a slant pass or force a fumble from one of those young running backs, Trinity is back in business.

Predicted Score: Trinity 27, Wesleyan 20

Bates (2-6) @ Hamilton (2-6)

The “Best of the Rest” championship could actually be a pretty thrilling game. Both teams are high octane offenses with bad defenses. That’s the recipe for a lot of points, and in a hurry. Bates’ offense is more of a recent development. QB Brendan Costa ‘21 has found the easier half of the schedule to his liking, turning into ‘08 Madden Michael Vick before our eyes. He leads all NESCAC players in rushing yards over the last four weeks, and has made some big throws as well. Bates is inverting the NESCAC offensive trend of the season, by using passes as a change of pace for a run-heavy offense. Mickey Nichol, Brian Daly and Jaason Lopez are all receivers who can make big plays out of short, dump-off passes in between Costa’s electrifying runs. Against bad defenses, this offense is very fun to watch, and tremendously successful.

Jaason Lopez ’21 is a big play threat for the Bobcats due to his incredible speed.

Hamilton is a more traditional offense, but can also light up weak defenses. QB Kenny Gray ‘20 is underrated, and he has legit set of weapons in Joe Schmidt ‘20, Christian Donohoe ‘20, and RB Mitch Bierman ‘21. Gray missed their game against Middlebury last week, and his status for this game is up in the air. If he doesn’t play, Bates should have an easy path to victory. But even if he does, the porous hamilton defense should let Costa do whatever he wants in leading the Bobcats to victory.

Predicted Score: Bates 35, Hamilton 28

Colby (0-8) @ Bowdoin (0-8), 12:30 PM, Brunswick, ME

If you remember Season Four of Friday Night Lights, the “Toilet Bowl” was a huge moment of team bonding for East Dillon Lions. It was their first win, and for a team that had to forfeit their home opener due to injury concerns, the importance of that win could not be overstated. For one of these teams, that will also be the case. Bowdoin has enjoyed some offensive success as of late. Promising first year QB Griff Stalcup played a great game against Wesleyan, but missed last week’s loss to Bates. But Noah Nelson ‘19 was able to step in against Bates and put up a very effective performance, throwing for 302 yards and two touchdowns. Bowdoin has the weapons to be an effective offense with consistent QB play. RB Nate Richam ‘18 is injured, but Gregory Olsen ‘21 looked like his NFL counterpart last week, catching two touchdowns. WR Nick Vailas ‘18 and TE Bryan Porter ‘18 have long been underrated based on playing in Bowdoin. The Polar Bears have the offense to make this a laugher.

Colby doesn’t have nearly the offensive firepower of Bowdoin, but they have real difference-makers on defense. LB Sebastian Philemon ‘19 (69 tackles) and S Don Vivian ‘19 (3 INT)  are legit All-League candidates. Against Bowdoin’s precariously good offense, the two of them should be real difference makers. Add in versatile RB Jake Schwern ‘19, who should get a ton of touches, and this really is anybody’s game. I’ll take the Polar Bears at home.

Predicted Score: Bowdoin 24, Colby 14

Congratu-EPHING-Lations: Women’s Soccer NESCAC Finals Recap

Sunday afternoon’s Williams versus Tufts game was one for the ages. The favored Williams College Ephs came into the game against Tufts with pure confidence after a 3-0 trouncing of the Jumbos in October. The game, however, did not start out in the Ephs’ favor. The key to the game for Williams was to establish an early lead, and rely on their stellar defense that carried them all year.

Nature, on the other hand, had a different idea. High winds blew both teams off their game, but it seems like the conditions affected Williams more. Coaches will always tell their players when they’re making excuses about the weather that both teams are playing in the same conditions. The team that best adapts to the unfortunate conditions is normally the one that capitalizes. Tufts was that team. At the very beginning of the second half, it was the Jumbos who tallied the first goal. Alessandra Sadler’s ‘18 goal put Tufts in the driver’s seat early in the second half. The minutes that followed stunned me: the Ephs looked like a deer caught in the headlights. They’re so used to playing with a lead that the 1-0 deficit made them reminisce about the collapse against Trinity last year in the playoffs.

Nevertheless, in any time of distress, you will turn to people whom you depend on. Natasha Albaneze ‘18 took control of the game, and kept the ball from the Eph’s defensive side of the field. This action allowed the Ephs to put the peddle to the metal, and register many shots on goal on the Jumbo keeper Emily Bowers ‘19. One of the fundamental principles of soccer is that shots on goal is one of the most important aspects of the game. In football, a team that goes 0-2 in the redzone is deemed a team that can’t execute in the clutch. In soccer, the shots on goal wear down a keeper and a defense–even if they don’t initially go in. It didn’t seem early on that the shots were wearing down Bowers at all. Finally, Natalie Turner-Wyatt ‘19 evened the game near the end of the second half off a Bowers’ rebound. Again, this goal was a product of shots on net. Bowers’ rebound control was stellar all game, but there’re some shots that a keeper has to make a desperation save on. Turner-Wyatt controlled the rebound, and potted a goal to tie the game up.

Natasha Albaneze ’18 controlled the game from midfield and allowed the Ephs to finally break through.

With only nine minutes left in regulation time, the Jumbos were on their heels. Out of the nine minutes left, at least seventy-five percent of them were in the Jumbos’ defensive side of the field. Of that seventy-five percent, there was a good minute that the ball danced around the goal line, only to be cleared by the defenders. Then, this one sequence of events was one of the greatest sports moments I’ve seen in my life. This moment goes up with Jordan’s crossover game winner against Utah, Julian Edelman’s catch against Atlanta in the Super Bowl, and Jeter’s flip to nail Giambi at the plate in the 2001 ALDS in Oakland.

Tufts keeper Emily Bowers ’19 played an unbelievable game, keeping the vaunted Ephs offense at bay as long as she could.

The ball was being played in the box by the Ephs, and the Jumbo defenders seemed like they couldn’t clear it. Bowers made a save on an Eph shot, but gave up a juicy rebound. Bowers and the majority of the Jumbo defenders were cut off the left of my computer screen, while the ball trickled to a Albaneze with a wide open cage. She planted her left foot, swung her hips, and the inside of her right foot crushed the soccer ball and the Ephs into what seemed like a NESCAC championship and an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. Like Sinon climbing out of the Trojan horse, Bowers  magically reappeared on my computer screen to make the save of the year with her outstretched left arm. Regulation came to a close, and overtime started with Williams still holding the momentum. Alison Lu ‘20 received a pass from Albaneze only four minutes into the overtime period and calmly chipped in a goal past Bowers to crown the Ephs NESCAC champions. An anticlimactic ending to a fantastic game.

I would personally like to thank all the women playing soccer in the NESCAC this year. Without them, there would be no game. They’ve proved that any team can win on any given day. Congratulations to the Ephs (ugh from a Wesleyan perspective). They truly deserve the title as league champions. Good luck Williams in the DIII tournament, and to any other NESCAC team that gets a bid! Again, thank you for such an incredible season, and I can’t wait for the 2018 campaign.

Time to Punch Some Tickets: Men’s Soccer Semifinal Preview

Tufts (13-1-2, 7-1-2) vs. Hamilton (4-5-1, 8-6-2), 11:00 AM, Medford, MA

Tufts has absolutely steamrolled through the NESCAC this season, and with a merciless 3-0 victory over Bates last week, the Jumbos showed no signs of nerves when it comes to playing championship soccer. Superb play from last Saturday’s goal scorers Conor Coleman ’18, Dexter Eichorst ’18, and Sterling Weatherbie ’19 proved that their defensive players can get it done all over the pitch. Tufts’ defense is as talented a group of players as you’ll see on a NESCAC field together. Responsible for all three goals last weekend, and having still conceded only one goal this season, it’s hard to draw up a feasible scenario in which their squad could actually lose, not just this game, but any game.

Gavin Tasker ’20 is just one of many scoring threats on the Tufts roster.

HOWEVER, do not sleep on the Hamilton College Continentals. Hamilton lost narrowly to Tufts 1-0 during the regular season, and is coming off their best game in recent memory. After falling behind 2-0 last week to the defending champion Amherst Mammoths, the Continentals came storming back with 4 unanswered goals in the second half. Aidan Wood ’20 led the charge with a second half hat trick, truly the stuff of legends, and if he’s in top form again this weekend, Hamilton could pull off the unthinkable. Yes, everyone loves a Cinderella, but even a Hamilton squad in top form may not be enough to put an end to Tufts’ incomprehensible season.

Prediction: Tufts 3- Hamilton 2 (Penalties)

Bowdoin (10-3-3, 6-2-2) vs. Middlebury (11-5-0, 5-5-0), 1:30 PM, Medford, MA

Middlebury (11-5), a team that does not believe in ties, is coming off a huge overtime win against perennial powerhouse Connecticut College. Everybody loves a game that ends in dramatic fashion, and that’s exactly what Brandon Reid ’21 provided us with last week, when he connected on a pass from a man familiar with the score sheet himself, Drew Goulart ’20 in the 95th minute of play. Not to be outdone, Bowdoin (10-3-3) pulled out a win in penalties last week, as Stevie Van Siclen ’18 showed he just may be the best keeper on the planet, saving multiple penalties in the shootout.

Moctar Niang ’19 killed Middlebury in the regular season, and will be looking to do the same in the playoffs.

When the Panthers and the Polar Bears met earlier this season, Moctar Niang ’19 slotted a pair of goals for the Bears, en route to a 3-1 victory. Bowdoin won’t have it as easy in this match though, as they face a Middlebury squad that’s won 6 of its last 8 matches. It’s worth noting that every single one of these victories has been a 1-0 result, meaning that if the Panthers can keep the Bears off the board early, they have what it takes to sweat out a low scoring affair. If Niang and company catch the Panthers on their heals though, they could run away with the one, just as they did in late September. One more thing, if you’re looking for an X-factor, Bowdoin’s Drake Byrd ’21 would be happy to oblige. The super-sub has found the score sheet just twice this year, both for 1-0 victories against conference opponents. Don’t be surprised if he’s got his footprints all over this one, too.

Prediction: Bowdoin 1- Middlebury 0 (OT)  

Is This the One?!: Trinity @ Amherst Game of the Week Preview

Overview:

 As Pete mentioned last week, and as we have really mentioned all fall, the pros that come with the incredibly backloaded NESCAC schedule this season—the one that gave us about 3 games worth watching through October, is that there is always a really big game down the stretch that decides the league champion. From the get go, Trinity and Middlebury’s Week 7 matchup was always slated to be this matchup as they flexed their muscles through the first 6 games of the season. But this year’s lopsided schedule means that we have been gifted with a second unofficial championship game this Saturday, when undefeated Trinity travels once again to face a one loss team, this time in the form of Amherst at Pratt Field.

Have we run out of things to say about Trinity? It certainly feels like it. Every week they just chug along and take care of their business. Jared Lebowitz ’18’s absence for Middlebury took almost all the fun out of that game, as it was as ugly as the 27-5 scoreline would indicate, but the Bantams continue to impress. They passed a tough road test against a Tufts team that is much better than their 4-3 record would indicate, and although we didn’t know it at the time, their 17-9 win against Williams in Week 2 was indicative of their ability to do whatever it takes to win. There isn’t really much else to add: they’re the reigning league champs, winners of 16 in a row, with the best offense and best defense in the league. They are a great football team, and it is going to be really hard to beat them on Saturday.

Enough about Trinity. Everyone is sick of hearing about Trinity. In fact, everyone is so sick of hearing about Trinity that people want to hear about Amherst, which might be the Bantams’ most impressive accomplishment of the year. Amherst has gotten absolutely no love from everyone all year, and I would put myself at the top of that list. Two weeks ago I had them at 5th in the Power Rankings, citing the fact that their 4 wins at the time were against the four worst teams in the league, and writing that they could be “anywhere from a 4-5 team to an 8-1 team”. Well following statement wins at home versus Wesleyan, and on the road at Tufts, it’s safe to say they have much more 8-1 in them than 4-5. They have flown under the radar week after week, but this week they share the spotlight with a chance to take the wheel in the race for the NESCAC championship. They have a defense with the potential to give Sonny Puzzo ’18 and Max Chipouras ’19 fits, and a balanced offense that is right behind Trinity’s with 33 points per game. They don’t have any one or two go to guys on offense to rely on that most of the top NESCAC offenses have, i.e. a Puzzo and Chipouras, or Wesleyan’s Mark Picarillo and Mike Breuler, and Williams’ Bobby Maimaron and Frank Stola, but they have consistently put points up on the board, only scoring less than 31 points in a gritty 21-17 win against Wesleyan. They have the guys to hang with Trinity for 60 minutes, but will they?

X-Factor for Trinity: QB Sonny Puzzo ’18

Not exactly taking a big leap here—for Trinity to win, especially in a game of this magnitude, their quarterback has to play well. Puzzo has had a bit of a weird season. He’s only 6th in the league in passing yards per game with 208, and tied for 3rd in touchdowns with 13, which isn’t as good as it sounds when you consider there are only really 6 quarterbacks in the league capable of airing it out, but only Jared Lebowitz ’18 has thrown less interceptions amongst starting QBs. He also just turned in arguably the worst passing game of his career, completely just 9 of 20 passes for 114 yards against Middlebury, but he picked up 76 yards and 2 touchdowns with his feet, showing the balance that makes him so dangerous.

Amherst is better suited to lock down Max Chipouras than anyone, so Sonny Puzzo ’18 may have to air it out.

Max Chipouras is going to show up on Saturday, and that is just a cold, hard fact. Amherst has spent all week game planning and scheming for him, but he’s still going to produce because that is all he has done all year. His “worst” statistical game of the season was 80 yards and a TD against Williams, and the only game all year he hasn’t found the end zone was last week against Middlebury and he rushed for 182 yards. A dominant performance from him is already penciled in as a given for this week, which is what makes Puzzo’s game all that much more important. If Puzzo can be his normal self, which means having success in obvious passing situations, extending plays and converting short yardage plays with his feet, and taking care of the ball, which are three things he has done excellently all year, there really isn’t a lot Amherst can do in this game. If Puzzo and Chipouras are clicking, then there probably isn’t a high probability of them pulling the upset, as it’s going to have to be a low scoring game (if you’re counting on Amherst winning 45-38 you should probably check a couple of Trinity defensive box scores first).

X-Factor for Amherst: LBs Andrew Sommer ’19 and Andrew Yamin ’19

Andrew Yamin
Andrew Yamin ’19 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Again, in a big game, the stars need to shine. Pete highlighted Aaron Slodowitz ’18 and the rest of the Middlebury linebacking corps’ importance in their game against Trinity, and their ability to tackle—a somewhat important skill when it comes to facing the best running back in the league. I’m choosing Sommer ’19 and Yamin ’19 for slightly similar but ultimately different reasons this week. These two have traded off monster weeks the last two Saturdays. Yamin’s 11 tackle, 5.5 sack performance against Wesleyan is still fresh in everyone’s (especially Mark Picarillo’s ) minds, and Sommer ’19’s 10 tackles and 2 sacks against Ryan McDonald ’19 and Tufts would’ve earned him DPOTW honors from me, but they’re going to have to find a way to do it at the same time this week.

Andrew Sommer
Andrew Sommer ’19 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

As indicated by Sommer’s team lead in tackles and Yamin’s team (and league) lead in sacks, they play two different styles of linebacker, and that is why I think they have a chance to really disrupt Trinity. Their best chance of stopping them will be not by stopping Max Chipouras’ 19, because like I said I find that a little unrealistic, but by getting the ball out of his hands. If they can put Trinity in a lot of 2nd and 8-11 situations and 3rd and 5+, the Bantams might be forced to pass more than they want. A combination of Sommer ’19 stopping the run early and Yamin ’19 getting to Puzzo is how they neutralize Chipouras. This Trinity offense is legit, no doubt about that. But if Amherst can put them in longer yardage situations and keep Puzzo in the pocket, they’ll take their chances against Koby Schofer ’20 and an otherwise below average group of receivers. It will be difficult, and quite frankly, unlikely, but if they’re going to limit Trinity, this is how it’s going to have to happen, and it starts with these two.

Everything Else:

A lot of things need to happen for Amherst to win this game, and they’ll need to do a lot of things they haven’t done much of this year. I could sit here and write about their top ranked rushing duo of Jack Hickey ’19 and Hasani Figueroa ’18, how Ollie Eberth ’20 is really coming into his own, or how Amherst’s home-field advantage could play a huge role (it won’t—Trinity went on the road to both Tufts and Middlebury and came away just fine, they’re used to it at this point). But I’m not going to lie to you and talk you into Amherst winning this game, because Trinity is the better football team, and they’ve been on the receiving end of the entire league’s best effort every week for almost three years now, yet they continue to win. If Amherst wants to win this game, they are going to need to force turnovers on the defensive side of the ball, and hit a couple of home run plays on offense. The logic is the same for both of these factors—Trinity will have the better offense and the better defense in this game, the longer a drive lasts, the more opportunities for them to show this. While Amherst relies on their running attack, they can’t expect to have any 14 play, 85 yard, 8 minute drives on this Trinity defense.

As Middlebury found out last week, the most threatening part of the Bantam’s attack is their swarming defense.

They can’t hope to survive many of those drives from Trinity either. The more touches for Chipouras, the more chances to break one open. They’ve turned teams over 9 teams in 6 games, and all of WR James O’Regan ’20, WR Craig Carmilani,, and RB Hasani Figueroa ’18 have broken plays for 75 yards or more. A big play like that early would force Trinity to play from behind and rely on Puzzo more than Chipouras, and forcing turnovers would supply them with a short field more conducive to their running game. It could happen if Amherst can do the aforementioned, all of which they’ve done before. But you wouldn’t get very rich betting against Trinity, and I’m not going to start trying now.

Final Score: Trinity 27, Amherst 13

Well Eph You, Then! : Women’s Soccer Semifinals Preview

Last weekend’s quarterfinal matchups produced some shockers. High seeded teams such as Conn College and Middlebury fell. Amherst and Hamilton shocked the NESCAC world by coming into the playoffs as low seeds, and pulling off those upsets. And in less shocking news, Tufts and Williams continued their dominance. All but one game had a 1-0 score. This semifinal weekend will be just as exciting as the quarter final weekend with dominant teams playing the underdogs. As we saw last weekend, never count any team out. Here is a preview of the semifinal matchups:

#7 Amherst vs #1 Williams (Williamstown, MA, 11:00 AM)

As fate would have it, Amherst and Williams will meet in the playoffs. Similar to Yankees/Red Sox, Lakers/Celtics, Alabama/Auburn rivalries, the Amherst and Williams rivalry is one of the most storied rivalries not only in college sports, but in sports altogether. In a late September game, Williams narrowly defeated Amherst by a 3-2 margin. November soccer, however, is a lot different than September soccer. These are two different teams from the ones that met in September.

Aspen Pierson ’21 will be the key to Williams’ continued dominance.

Williams kept rolling with an almost perfect record–albeit with a loss to Middlebury. One major boost for Williams is Aspen Pierson ‘21. Pierson is coming off offseason hip surgery that has limited her playing time. She made her Eph debut in an October game against Wesleyan, and has steadily been logging increasing minutes. She’s a dynamic playmaker with great field vision. Her anticipation and soccer IQ only adds to Williams’ already potent arsenal.

Amherst also is a much improved team since that September game. I’ll admit, I wrote them off in the mid season power rankings because of their lack of defensive discipline even though they compiled impressive offensive statistics. It looks like the team has completely righted that ship. Amherst knocked off the second seeded Conn College Camels in a cinderella 1-0 win. I don’t think Amherst had the discipline earlier in the year to win a 1-0 game against a very strong team like the Camels. This win, nevertheless, shows the improvement Amherst has made. Rubii Tamen ‘19 scored the lone Amherst goal. Tamen has been one of the best offensive players for Amherst, and will be looked upon if the team wants to pull off the upset. There’s no doubt Williams is the more talented team. Williams and Amherst matchups, however, are almost always a coin flip. However, I believe that it is Williams’ year:

Prediction: Williams 2-1

#6 Hamilton vs #4 Tufts (Williamstown, MA, 1:30 PM)

The Hamilton Continentals’ road to the finals has not been easy. First, they had to defeat a team [Middlebury] that accomplished something no other team in the country could do: beat Williams. Middlebury’s loss to Hamilton was truly a shocker. Emily Dumont ‘18 stood on her head in net all day–making a few desperation saves to keep Hamilton in the game. Maddie Dale ‘20 scored her first goal of the season at the most opportune time. Once Hamilton got the lead, the Continentals never looked back. I would say that everything had to go the way it did for Hamilton to secure the win. Dumont had to not let anything past her, and someone had to step up for the Continentals. Similar to Amherst, the Continentals are steamrolling into this semifinal matchup.

Maddie Dale ’20 scored the clutch game winner against Middlebury.

If I were Tufts, I wouldn’t want to play a hot team. In the NESCAC, however, there are no easy matchups–especially during the playoffs. Tufts’ road to the semifinals had to go through Trinity; the Bantams put up a real fight, but Tufts’ composure that they’ve showed all season carried them to a win. After that embarrassing loss to Williams in October, it seems like Tufts has turned the page, and gone back to what they do best: defense and Sophie Lloyd ’21. Lloyd has carried the Jumbos all season. Her lone goal was the difference maker in the game against Trinity. The freshman sensation’s sixteen points on the season is one of the major reasons of the team’s success. This game will be played after the Amherst/Williams game, so both teams will know which team they could possibly face in the finals. Like in all sports, Hamilton and Tufts need to remember to take one game at a time, and not worry about Williams/Amherst. I’m going to go with the upset here:

Prediction: Hamilton 1-0 OT

No Gimmees: Men’s Soccer Quarterfinals Preview

Time for the worthy to shine and the hesitant to stumble. We are now down to eight of the finest squads in the country to battle it out for ‘Cac supremacy, and there will be no cakewalks for any team from here on out (looking at you, Tufts). This quarterfinal round presents some appealing and somewhat dangerous matchups, producing an element of added pressure that so often cripples a team’s fate in playoff soccer.

Williams (6) at Bowdoin (3), 12:30 PM

Bowdoin opens up their playoffs at home against a solid Williams team. In their first game matching up in September, the Polar Bears were able to secure a win with a late goal in the second half at home; that being said, these two teams match up very closely together. Despite Bowdoin being higher ranked in the playoff seedings, these two squads have had eerily similar seasons from a statistical point of view. They each have scored 18 goals while Bowdoin has conceded 8 compared to Williams’ 9. Despite the substance of their overall campaigns being almost identical, Bowdoin has managed to score almost two goals for every goal conceded in conference, while Williams scored one for every one against in NESCAC play. What I can garner from this is that Bowdoin has, to this point in the season, performed better against the higher quality teams compared to their Ephs opponent.

Bowdoin will have to keep relying on their stalwart defense, led by recent conference player of the week and goalkeeper Stevie Van Siclen ’18. The senior keeper has continued to be a reliable force in the net and will look to get a clean sheet in front of his home crowd. Offensively, senior Ethan Ellsworth ’18 will attempt to generate the offense for the Polar Bears, leading the team in points in the regular season.

The Ephs need to find a way to create some chances on Saturday, looking to senior Mark Sisco-Tomoleo ’18 and sophomore Bobby Fabricant ’20 to open up the play for this Williams side. In order for the Ephs to truly take advantage of Bowdoin in hostile Brunswick territory, they must take the game to the Polar Bears and pounce on them early.

Prediction: Williams 1 – Bowdoin 2

Hamilton (7) at Amherst (2), 1:00 PM

The defending conference champion Mammoths will seek to open up their title defense in the opening round of the playoffs this upcoming Saturday. Up to this point in the season, Amherst has put on an offensive display, scoring 31 goals in their 15 games played. What they will need to be cautious of is their sometimes vulnerable defense, as they were only fifth in fewest goals allowed in the conference. On the other side, the Continentals come into this game having let up the ninth fewest goals per game, meaning that if Amherst is executing their plays, the Mammoths could easily take advantage of the at-times frail Hamilton defense. In their opening matchup, and to the surprise of many, the Continentals were able to squeak out a tie against the Amherst squad. However, I bet the Mammoths will be looking to get their revenge, especially on their home turf.

Sebastian Derby
Sebastian Derby ’21

For Amherst, they will need to look to standout freshman Sebastian Derby ’21, who leads the team in goals and overall points. This matchup is a good chance for Derby to get a taste of his first collegiate playoff run.

On the other side, Hamilton will call on sophomore Aidan Wood ’20 to direct this offense. If the Continentals want to make a statement in these playoffs, knocking off the defending champs would be a good start.

Prediction: Hamilton 0 – Amherst 2

Middlebury (5) at Connecticut College (4), 2:00 PM

The #4 and #5 seeds square off in this opening round of the playoffs in New London this upcoming Saturday. The Camels will look to prove why they are one of the most dominant forces in the conference, and according to their regular season stats, they are statistical stars. Conn lets in an average of about 1 goal every 2 games, while scoring about 2 times for every single game played; they are also tied for second in the conference in goals scored. I see an issue for the Panthers in this matchup, seeing as they usually give up as many goals as they score, which is definitely not a recipe for success entering the playoffs with these powerful opposing teams. In their meeting during the regular season, Conn beat the Panthers 2-1 in Vermont. If they were able to beat Middlebury away in their NESCAC opener, I have no reason to doubt that they will bring an even fiercer gameplay to the Panthers on their home field in front of a playoff crowd.

For Conn, Ben Manoogian ’19 will look to continue his exceptional play, with his team-leading 17 points. Defensively, the Camels stick freshman A.J. Marcucci ’21 between the posts, as he ranks third in the conference in saves.

Drew Goulart
Drew Goulart ’20

As for Middlebury, the key to their offense will be sophomore Drew Goulart ’20, who leads the team in both assists (3) and goals (4). He will need to step up and try to score in front of a raucous Camel crowd.

Score Prediction: Middlebury 0 – Conn. College 2

Bates (8) at Tufts (1), 2:30 PM

The last matchup we have for you this weekend is between top-seeded Tufts and eighth-seeded Bates. Looking at the numbers, Tufts has been unstoppable this year. They have let up 1 goal the whole season, and are also leading the conference in goals per game. Their only hiccup this season came against a stingy Amherst squad, but they stepped on the throttle only harder for the second half of the season. For Bates, I think they are just enjoying the ride up to this point. They had an unbelievable win in double OT (scoring with less than 30 seconds left) against Colby to squeak into the playoffs. Hopefully they can ride that excitement into the quarterfinals and try to put up a fight against this extremely talented Jumbos squad. In their matchup during the regular season, Bates managed to put up a good fight, but lost 1-0 on their home field.

For Tufts, it is hard to name just one player that will be the key to their success. They have senior Dexter Eichhorst ’18, sophomore Gavin Tasker ’20, and senior keeper Bruce Johnson ’18, who has yet to let in a goal all season.

As for the Bates squad, they have the conference leader in points in Nate Merchant ’21, and also defensive lockdown stud Morgan Dewdney ’19. Hopefully these two can will this Bobcats team to a strong effort against this Tufts powerhouse.

Score Prediction: Bates 0 – Tufts 3

Where’s JT!?: Trinity @ Middlebury Game of the Week Preview

Trinity (6-0) @ Middlebury (5-1), 1:00 PM, Middlebury, VT

Overview:

One of the results of the lack of parity in the NESCAC football (and of course the lack of a playoff system) is that every year there is a regular season game that serves as a de facto “Super Bowl” for the league. The two best teams in the league meet in a game that pretty much decides who will finish with the best record in the league. The 2017 iteration of that game is this weekend, when 6-0 Trinity travels down to Alumni Field to take on 5-1 Middlebury.

Trinity has spent the whole season as the best team in the league. They have gutted out defensive battles against the two high quality opponents they’ve played (Williams and Tufts) and have absolutely blasted lower tier teams, including a 63 point performance against Bowdoin last weekend. However, Williams was able to make their offense look very fallible. They did this by using a strong defensive front to shut down star RB Max Chipouras ’19. Chipouras only had 80 yards on 28 carries against the Ephs, by far his least efficient performance of the season. Shutting down Chipouras forces QB Sonny Puzzo ’18 to play more traditionally, instead of running outside the pocket and making big plays. Puzzo is easily good enough to do this and win (as Williams saw,) but it eliminates a huge part of their offense.

Unfortunately, the Trinity defense has yet to look fallible. They have forced 16 turnovers on the season, and have players all over the field who are threats to turn those turnovers into touchdowns. They don’t have any real statistical standouts on the defensive end–although that is in large part due to the fact that their starters rarely play fourth quarters–but LB Liam Kenneally ’18 is terrific in coverage and in stopping the run game. And more importantly for the match up with Jared Lebowitz ’18 and the pass-happy Panthers is their dominant secondary. Dominique Seagears ’18 is one of the most dangerous coverage men in the league, with two interception return touchdowns to his credit. He and Samier Madden ’19 form a duo that should give Lebowitz trouble like Lionel Richie would–all night long.

Dominique Seagears ’18 is deadly in the secondary, with two return touchdowns already this season.

As dominant as Trinity has been, Middlebury has been equally so, except for a fatal five minute stretch in the fourth quarter against Williams. Middlebury’s offense is based around Lebowitz and his squadron of speedy, tall receivers, and it is a well oiled machine when all the pieces are healthy. Middlebury averages the second most points and yards per game (second to Trinity, but still,) and that is despite a mediocre rushing attack. That is also despite a schedule that has included Williams and Amherst, two of the three best defenses in the league by any statistical measure. Against Amherst, who leads the league in sacks and is second in yards per game, Lebowitz threw three touchdowns and was only sacked twice. That is what makes this game so exciting; these two teams are both best suited to beat each other. Just as it should be in the Super Bowl.

Key Player for Middlebury: LB Aaron Slodowitz ’18

Aaron Slodowitz
Happiest Player in the CAC Aaron Slodowitz ’18 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

This pick is a very optimistic one. Lebowitz left the Bates game halfway through with an ankle injury, forcing backup Jack Meservy ’19 to fill in, which he did admirably. If Lebowitz is out, Meservy immediately becomes the key, as Middlebury cannot win this game without a great QB performance. But on the assumption that Lebowitz will play, Slodowitz and the rest of the linebackers become the key. Much of Middlebury’s defensive success rests on the backs of the three star senior linebackers; Slodowitz, Wesley Becton ’18 and John Jackson ’18. Becton and Jackson are particularly valuable in coverage, leaving Slodowitz free to crush running backs. Which he does with aplomb. Having fully recovered from a knee injury last season, Slodowitz had 18 tackles against the run-dominant Bates and leads the team with 46 overall. He doesn’t get in the backfield much, with 0 sacks on the year, but Becton and DL Alex Norton ’20 handle that. Slodowitz simply tackles dudes, and as Williams showed the league, the way to hang with Trinity is tackle one dude; Max Chipouras.

Key Player for Trinity: WR Koby Schofer ’20

Koby Schofer
Koby Schofer ’20 (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)

Assuming that Middlebury succeeds in slowing down Chipouras considerably, Trinity will have to throw the ball, especially to keep up with the Panthers breathless, pass-heavy scheme. This brings up the closest thing that Trinity has to a weakness; they really only have one weapon in the passing game, and that is Schofer. He is quite a weapon, however. Despite playing very little in the blowout of Bowdoin (as was the case with several Bantam starters,) Schofer is still fourth in the league in receptions with 35 and fifth in yards with 508. Schofer is actually quite similar to Middlebury WR Conrado Banky ’19. They are both smaller receivers who beat often larger defenders with quickness and terrific hands. The difference is that Middlebury has other receivers to pick up the slack from Banky (or replace him if he’s injured.) Schofer is so far and away Trinity’s best pass catcher that Middlebury will most likely double team him. In a game that is shaping up to be an aerial affair, Schofer is going to have to get around those double teams and give Puzzo a solid target.

Everything Else:

Conrado Banky has missed two games in a row, and his status for this one is very much in doubt. If he misses the game, Middlebury will be again looking for big performances from Maxwell Rye ’20 and Jimmy Martinez ’19, two large, fast targets for Lebowitz. Additionally, TE Frank Cosolito ’20 will be a big part of the passing attack. Cosolito has improved every week, and has a knack for showing up in big games. He had six catches for 58 yards and TD against Amherst. If Banky does play, all these guys will be key supplementary targets, and the Middlebury offense may well be unstoppable.

Conrado Banky ’19 adds yet another dimension to the Middlebury offense.

Special teams are going to be a key part of this game. Trinity K Eric Sachse ’19 is one of the best in the league (5/8 FG and 26/28 XP,) giving their offense a dimension in close games that many other teams don’t have. Additionally, Colin Beaulieu ’21 is a dangerous return man whom Middlebury has to watch out for. Of course, he is nowhere near as dangerous as Jimmy Martinez. Martinez has two of the four return touchdowns in the whole league this year, and the only kickoff return touchdown. Even when he doesn’t score, Martinez is constantly putting Middlebury in terrific field position, either through returns or by forcing bad kicks due to teams trying to avoid him. On the other end, P/WR Maxwell Rye has a huge leg, and often pinned Williams deep in their own territory. He will have to do this against Trinity, as giving them a short field is a death sentence. This is the kind of game that should come down to a single play, and that play may well be on special teams. In case you couldn’t tell, I’m very excited. I hope you all are as well.

Predicted Score:*  Middlebury 27, Trinity 24

*This prediction is made with the assumption that Lebowitz is healthy and will play.

We’re Talking About________: Women’s Soccer Quarterfinals Preview

As the GOAT of all GOATs Herm Edwards once said, “Playoffs?!?!?” Indeed, the season of single elimination is upon us. This time last year Williams was heading into the playoffs as the dominant force in the league only to lose in cinderella fashion to Trinity. There’s a definitive answer as to why the NFL playoffs, World Cup, and March Madness are more fun to watch than other playoff games: they’re single elimination. Anything can happen. The NESCAC is such a strong conference that any one of these teams can make a bid at a national championship. Let’s look at this weekend’s quarter final match ups.

Here is the schedule for the first round of the playoffs this weekend.

Amherst College (7) vs. Connecticut College (2), 11:30 AM

Connecticut College was shocked by Bowdoin last Saturday in an abysmal 2-0 loss. The high powered offense of the Camels just couldn’t get going. A loss going into the playoffs doesn’t bode well for the team because of shaken confidence. However, the Camels are the number two seed for a reason. All year they’ve proved to the league why they’re one of its best teams. The opponent, however, should scare the Camels. Amherst is 3-1 in its past three games. In any time of struggle or doubt, individuals turn to people they can depend on. Conn’s Michelle Medina ‘18 and Lauren Steele ‘18 are those people. The senior midfielders lead their team in scoring, while providing leadership as well. As noted in earlier articles, Conn is a diverse team filled with young playmakers and veterans. Look for the seniors to set the tone for the Camels. Hannah Guzzi ‘18 barely squeaked Amherst into the playoffs. A disappointing regular season almost kept Amherst out of it all together. Guzzi’s astonishing eleven goals allowed Amherst to obtain a coveted playoff spot. Now that they’re here, the team can’t fully rely on Guzzi if she’s shutdown. I think Conn will be too much for Amherst.

Prediction: Connecticut College 1-0.

Hamilton (6) vs. Middlebury (3), 12:00 PM

Middlebury did what Conn and Tufts couldn’t: beat Williams. The shocker gives Middlebury all the confidence in the world. Midd isn’t a flashy team that depends on scoring at a high rate. In fact, its offensive metrics are mediocre at best. The team simply wins games, however. Beating Wesleyan on a late cross in overtime and squeaking out a tight win against Williams show that Midd is a force to be reckon with because it plays a full ninety minutes. Eliza Van Voorhis ‘21, Virginia Charman ‘20, and Sabrina Glaser ‘20 are tied with a team leading eleven points thus far in the season. Hamilton is 4-2-1 in its last seven games. The team’s strong play is a result of stellar goalkeeping by Emily Dumont ‘18. Dumont’s 0.57 GAA is outstanding, and is a major reason why the team has played so well. Similar to Midd, Hamilton doesn’t have one player that dominates the offensive output. Therefore, it’s tough as an opponent to focus on whom to shut down. I like the way both teams are playing, but Midd is just too strong down the stretch.

Prediction: Middlebury College 2-1

Middlebury’s penchant for clutch play continued with a late goal by Anna Glovin to hand Williams their first loss.

Bowdoin College (8) vs. Williams College (1), 12:00 PM

Bowdoin has been a sleeper the entire season. Many people, including myself, wrote the team off at the halfway point. The Polar Bears handily beat Conn in a 2-0 fashion. This fact should scare Williams. Earlier in the year, the Camels almost pulled off the upset against the Ephs, only to be denied by an Eph corner kick in overtime. The Polar Bears are led by Morgen Gallagher ‘20, who has eleven points on the season. The sophomore F/M is a playmaker, dishing out five assists and scoring four goals. Williams doesn’t want last year repeating itself. Like I said in the introduction, single game elimination scares the Ephs. Like Herb Brooks stated, “If we play them [Soviets] ten times, they may win nine. But not this game. Not tonight.” Any team playing the Ephs know that they could pull off the miracle. Williams has to stick to its game plan and play its game. That being strong defensive play with aggressive steps by defenders and crisp passing. The Ephs generally don’t make too many mistakes, but they can’t start the game flat. Building a lead early on in a playoff game is a necessity and confidence builder. Alison Lu ‘20 and Natasha Albaneze ‘18 lead the team with sixteen points. I don’t see the Ephs letting last year or last Saturday against Midd repeat itself.

Prediction: Williams 2-0

Trinity (5) vs Tufts (4), 12:00 PM

Tricia Pollock
Tricia Pollack ’21 (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)

I picked Tufts to beat Williams last week because the Jumbos were hot. Instead, they got trounced by the Ephs in an embarrassing fashion. The Jumbos had all the momentum in the world until they ran into the Ephs. The Bo’s need to remember that they’re still a really strong team. A 1-0 win against Bowdoin on Tuesday should remind them that. Like all year, Emily Bowers ‘19 has led the team; she continues to be at the top of the league in all goalkeeper metrics, along with Williams’ Olivia Barnhill. Bowers must continue to be the best Jumbo on the field if they want to make a deep run into the playoffs. After a shaky start to the season, the Bantams are coming into the playoffs hot. 4-1-1 in their last six games is a great accomplishment with playoffs starting right now. Tricia Pollock ‘20 has been the woman I’ve mentioned in all Trinity articles as the key to the Bantam’s success. She’s the leader in points for the Bantams, and will be the difference maker for them down the stretch. Picking the hot team in the playoffs is the smart choice, however. I’m going with the Bantams.

Prediction: Trinity 2-1 OT

Clash of the Titans: Tufts vs Amherst Playoff Preview

Overview:

NESCAC East Division Winner Tufts takes on number two seeded Amherst in the first round of the NESCAC Playoffs. Tufts finished the season at an outstanding 26-7-1 (9-3 in conference) with a total run differential of +163. In conference, the Jumbos put up double the amount of runs as their opponents (92 compared to 46). However, all this success has not come easy. Tufts’ dominant weekend performances have often been accompanied by a poorly played game occasionally.  In the highly-contested playoff format, the Jumbos cannot afford to dig themselves in a hole with a sloppy game to start off the postseason. Amherst, on the other hand, has been in playoff mode for two weeks now. The winner of their final weekend series against Wesleyan decided the two seed in the West Division, and Amherst prevailed. They finished the season at 19-14 overall but a solid 8-4 in conference. Interestingly enough though, their home record stood at 7-8 compared to their incredible away record at 9-1. Nonetheless, the playoffs represent the start of a new season and Amherst looks to ride their NESCAC hot streak into them. Having won the last 3 NESCAC series, the team proved to recover from the rough start and look for a win to start the postseason.

Likely Pitching Matchup: Speros Varinos ’17 (8-1, 1.60 ERA, 68 K) vs Jackson Volle ‘17 (5-1, 2.74,

Speros Varinos
Speros Varinos ’17 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)
Jackson Volle
Jackson Volle ’17 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Both teams will likely throw their aces in game one of the postseason. Coincidently, these players were the two chosen as First-Team All-NESCAC last season. Speros Varinos ’17 throughout the season has proven again and again that he is the best pitcher in the NESCAC hands down. Finishing the season at 8-1 in 9 starts, Varinos led the league in wins, ERA at 1.60 and strikeouts, 68. He is our pick to win NESCACPitcher of the Year and likely will do just that, defending his title. All season, Varinos has shown his dominance and is ready to take on the Amherst lineup. Jackson Volle ’17 has put together an excellent season himself. In 7 starts, he went 5-1 with a 2.74 ERA. However, this number was weighed down by one poor start against Wesleyan in which Volle allowed 6 earned runs in his only loss. Take that start out and his ERA sits at roughly a full point lower around 1.76. Amherst looks for Volle to put together another strong performance against a talented Tufts offense.

Tufts X-Factor: Nick Falkson ‘18

Nick Falkson
Nick Falkson ’18 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

Player of the Year candidate Nick Falkson has put together a phenomenal year. With depth in the infield, Coach Casey often rides the hot bat which explains why Falkson leads the team in such a category. Hitting .394/.468/.504, Falkson has consistently been one of Tufts’ best and most clutch hitters. Sitting in the heart of the lineup, he has hit in 34 runs and scored another 29. However, what stands out most about his season is the correlation between his success at the plate and team wins. In the 25 wins this season, Falkson has hit .430/.516/.540 with 31 of his 34 RBIs. In the team’s 7 losses, his averages drop significantly to .250/.240/.250. The Jumbos will look for Falkson to lead the offense in this first round matchup. If the trend continues, a big game from him could mean a Tufts win.

Amherst X-Factor: Harry Roberson ‘18

Harry Roberson
Harry Roberson ’18 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

While slightly overshadowed by teammate Yanni Thanopoulos ’17, Harry Roberson has been a crucial part of this Amherst lineup. Leading the team with 135 at-bats, the shortstop has hit .363/.418/.548. These hits have led to a conference leading 38 runs scored. When facing a pitcher like Varinos, runs are hard to come by, so Roberson must continue to be aggressive on the base paths. He is 8 for 8 on stolen base attempts, but has additionally hit for power. Of the seasons 49 hits, 17 have been for extra bases including 11 doubles and 4 triples. Amherst will continue to rely on Roberson for these extra base hits as they will not be able to win leaving men on base. Roberson will likely need a big game for Amherst to beat Varinos and the Tufts staff.

Final Thoughts:

Despite the powerful offenses from both teams, this game will likely be a pitchers’ duel. Tufts will look to get Volle’s pitch count up and get to the bullpen while Amherst will have the same approach on their side. Either way, both teams are capable of not only winning this game, but making a run deep in the postseason. However, getting a win with their respective ace would prove to be a huge advantage in this two loss elimination format. After the grind of the regular season, both teams are ready for playoff action to get underway.

Prediction:

Varinos will put up another outstanding performance, but Volle will keep it close with a strong effort of his own. The Tufts lineup will then get to the Amherst bullpen late and come out on top in game one of the postseason.

Tufts 5 Amherst 2

Coaches Come and Coaches Go: Middlebury vs Bates Playoff Preview

Overview:

This match-up has Mike Leonard’s fingerprints all over it. The former coach of Bates has reshaped the Middlebury program with the kind of efficiency usually reserved for college students with a final due the next morning. But, as evidenced by their playoff spot, Leonard didn’t leave Bates wanting for talent. Both teams are loaded with good young players, and have seen those players lead them to playoff spots that no one predicted before the season began. The teams are trending in different directions though. After a scorching 7-0 start in league play, Bates has dropped their last five, while Middlebury has played well the whole second half and finished at 8-4 in NESCAC play.

Bates’ strength all year has been their pitching. The have the second best team ERA in the league at 3.60, and during league play that number has dropped to 2.65, best in the league. They also are the third best fielding team in the league, with a .962 fielding percentage and 41 errors in 31 games. Bates doesn’t beat themselves, and is well suited to shut down the best offenses in the league. However, the Bobcats simply can’t score. They are last in the league in batting average and slugging percentage (.229 and .275 respectively.) Four of their five losses in league play have been by one run, and that trend is entirely due to an inability to get a big hit, particularly with runners in scoring position.

Middlebury has been a far more consistent team this season, but offense is certainly their strong suit. They have a .302 team average and a .434 slugging percentage, good for second and third in the league. Ryan Rizzo ‘17 sets the table at the top of the order and is a terror on the basepaths with 19 steals. And then fellow senior Jason Lock ‘17 knocks him in (30 RBI on the season.) Justin Han ‘20 provides good power with four home runs, and Sam Graf ‘19 rounds the lineup out with a combination of power, contact and speed that is rare in the league. The Panthers’ pitching was a problem early in the season, but has come together of late. Colby Morris ‘19 is coming off a Pitcher of the Week award, and Spencer Shores ‘20 has been stellar all throughout league play with a 2.29 ERA.

(Likely) Pitching Matchup:

Bates: Connor Speed ‘19 (1-5, 2.17 ERA, 40 K in 49.2 innings)

Connor Speed
Connor Speed ’19 (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)

Speed gets two awards here. He is the runaway winner of the “Most Appropriate Name” award, and also the “Unluckiest Pitcher” award. He has gotten miniscule run support all season, finishing with only one win despite a 2.17 ERA. He also has gotten weirdly poor defensive effort behind him. He has allowed 25 runs on the year, and only 12 of them have been earned. All this to say that Speed is an ace; he just doesn’t have the won-loss record to back it up. He strikes out a fair amount of batters (over seven per nine innings) and has good control. Speed is one of the few pitchers in the league who have the ability to shut down an excellent Middlebury lineup.

Middlebury: Spencer Shores ‘20 (4-0, 4.25 ERA, 42 IP, 39 K)

Spencer Shores
Spencer Shores ’20 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

The Panthers have a tough decision to make here. Colby Morris has had several rough performances in league play, but is the reigning Pitcher of the Week after out-dueling Tufts ace Speros Varinos ‘17 4-0 last weekend. Shores, on the other hand, has peaked in league play and has been more consistent throughout the season. But he is a first year, and starting an inexperienced pitcher in such a big game would give any coach pause. The thing that I think puts Shores over the top (in addition to the fact that he’s earned it by pitching very well) is that he is well rested. He hasn’t pitched since a rain shortened game against Bowdoin two weekends ago. Unfortunately, he did not pitch well in that game, giving up four runs in just 2.2 innings. Middlebury will have to choose between these two young starters.

Middlebury X-Factor: RP Connor Himstead ‘19 (1.56 ERA, 7 SV)

Conor Himstead
Connor Himstead ’19 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

Middlebury’s starting pitching inconsistencies have been mitigated by having maybe the best closer in the league. Middlebury, like Bates, has the tendency to end up in a lot of close games, so having a closer who they can rely to hold a lead has been one of the most important parts of their season. He  strikes guys out (17 in 17 innings) and only gave up 12 hits in those 17 innings as well. Bates’ terrific pitching signals a potential close game here; meaning that Himstead will get some work. He will be called on to hold a lead for Middlebury, or possibly to keep the game close to give the offense a chance to come back. Either way, he will be very important come Friday.

Bates X-Factor: OF Will Sylvia ‘20 (.306/.457/.389, 18 BB)

Will Sylvia
Will Sylvia ’20 (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)

As I said above, Bates’ offense has been mediocre (to put it lightly) all season. Sylvia has been one bright spot. Despite being a freshman, he has shown incredible plate discipline all year and has had a hand in most of Bates’ rallies on the year. His role in the lineup in primarily as a table setter due to his ability to get on base. Unfortunately, he is often stranded on base because Bates doesn’t have a run producer who is a threat to knock him in. To score in this series, Bates will have to manufacture runs, and they certainly won’t do that without Sylvia having a big series.

Final Thoughts:

The location of the game (Colby College) would seem to benefit Bates. They should bring a fairly good crowd with them, and should have less travel fatigue than the Panthers, who have a five hour drive.

The coaching change, however, should benefit the Panthers. Leonard might be able to give scouting reports on his former players, including likely starter Connor Speed. Middlebury’s reliance on first years may help them as well, as Bates will not have as much information on them as they do on the older players.

Prediction:

I think the game will remain close the whole time, as the strong pitching of both teams should keep the offenses at bay. However, Bates does not have the offense to break the game open, while Middlebury does.

Middlebury 3 – Bates 1