The Turning Points

My favorite analogy to how a baseball season plays out is a long Dickensian novel with a constantly rotating cast of characters. Some players are critical to the development of the story while others stay hidden in the background most of the time. The NESCAC season is more like a novella when compared to the monstrosity that is the 162 MLB game season, but the idea still holds. Crunched into just more than two months (besides Bates who played a very early spring trip), the season is so compact with most teams playing about four games a week for most of March and April. As the season goes on themes begin to emerge. A team’s strengths and weaknesses become apparent, but certain things also change. A few games and moments stick out when thinking about how we got from the cold depths of winter to where we are now, the playoffs. Below are five that we think were formative moments in the season.



But first, a disclaimer. While the games listed below coincided with a change in fortunes for these teams, they are in no way evidence of the hot-hand myth. These are moments that we believe one could point to and say either that they had a major impact on the postseason or that a team played much better after this game, but the result of one game is not the cause of an extended run of success.

March 21 in Tucson, Arizona: Gustavus Adolphus 24 – Wesleyan 0

The 24-run defeat was the worst margin suffered by any NESCAC team this season, and knowing what we do now the result is even more shocking. Wesleyan is arguably the best team in the NESCAC while Gustavus Adolphus, from Minnesota, has gone 4-18 since that game. After the result Wesleyan stood at 8-5 and looked to be a team that was going to struggle in NESCAC play because their pitching was so bad. The best pitcher to that date had been Peter Rantz ’16 who started this very game and got tagged for five runs in 2.1 innings.  That helped prompt a change in the rotation with Gavin Pittore ’16 becoming the number three in stead of Rantz. Since that game the Wesleyan pitching has improved leaps and bounds to the point where the staff out-dueled Amherst this weekend. This is also a case of the final scoring making things look even worse. Nobody who pitched in that game should see meaningful innings in the playoffs. Regardless, Wesleyan clearly turned it around after this game when they promptly went on a 12-game winning streak.

2. March 29 in Medford, Massachusetts: Tufts 2 – Bates 0

Way back on March 29, Tufts and Bates opened up conference play in a game moved to Massachusetts because of the weather. This game is not significant for Tufts, though we did see Kyle Slinger ’15 show off how dominant he would be in conference when he struck out 11 in seven scoreless innings. Instead, the real meaning came in the pitching performance of Bates’ Brad Reynolds ’14. The big lefty had struggled mightily to begin the season in part because of a shaky defense. Yes, he took the loss by allowing two earned runs, but both of those runs came in the first inning. He shut down Tufts for the next six innings and then carried that into next week when he struck out 10 Bowdoin hitters in a Bates rout. Reynolds has turned into a bona fide ace winning his two other conference starts as well. His magnum opus came last Friday when he went all nine innings without allowing one run and striking out 12. Without Reynolds, Bates’ pitching would not have sniffed the playoffs, but he wasn’t that guy until that start against Tufts.

3. April 11 Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan 4 – Williams 1

Williams came into the weekend at 4-2 in the NESCAC after losing their previous series to Amherst, and Wesleyan was 3-0. This was the first game of the weekend, and Williams entered the bottom of the seventh with a 1-0 lead. Nobody had expected these two teams to be locked in a low-scoring battle, but the pitching by both teams was excellent. Williams’ Steve Marino ’14 allowed hits to Donnie Cimino ’15 and Sam Goodwin-Boyd ’15 before a sacrifice bunt moved both into scoring position. After an error allowed the tying run to score and runners to be on the corners, Robby Harbison ’17 delivered a huge double to right field to score both runners and break the 1-1 tie. Williams couldn’t get anything going in the eighth or ninth and just like that they faced must win games the next two games. The next two games weren’t nearly as close, and so by the end of April 12 it was already apparent that Amherst and Wesleyan would be the two teams coming out of the West.

4. April 12 Brunswick, Maine: Colby 4 – Bowdoin 2

The teams split the first two games of the series so that entering the second game of the doubleheader Colby was 3-2 and Bowdoin was 4-4 in the NESCAC. The game was scoreless going into the top of the six because of great pitching by Greg Ladd ’15 for Colby and Jay Loughlin ’14 for Bowdoin. With the heart of Colby’s order coming up in the sixth, Bowdoin Manager Mike Connolly decided to turn to his left-hander Christian Martin ’14. After a fantastic 2013, Martin had pitched sparingly so far because of injury. The inning got off to a terrible start for him when he hit Jason Buco ’14. Three batters later the bases were loaded with one out and Daniel Csaplar ’16 at the plate. Csaplar didn’t shrink from the pressure, hitting a two-run double. The next batter, Jack Galvin ’14, hit a two-run single to chase Martin and put the game out of reach. The loss basically knocked Bowdoin out of the East race and momentarily elevated Colby to tied for first in the East at 4-2.

5. April 27 Waterville, Maine: Bates 6 – Colby 2

One of the final games in the NESCAC season decided the final playoff spot. This was a must win for Colby (started the game at 5-6) while conceivably Bates (started the game at 5-4) could have lost and then won their final two games against Tufts. The Bobcats clearly did not want to be in that situation, and they made sure it didn’t happen, led by clutch pitching from Chris Fusco ’14. Colby stranding 11 runners over the course of the game ultimately doomed them. The Bates offense came from a lot of different spots in the lineup with Sam Warren ’16 leading the way with three hits. A lot of players have stepped up to take the load off of the senior duo of Kevin Davis ’14 and Griffin Tewksbury ’14. Those two carried the team for much of the season, but near the end other Bates players came through to make the difference.



Stock Report April 29

We recapped the action of what went down this weekend last night in our roundup. Now it is time to look at the people who were the biggest movers this weekend. For the playoffs, it’s often better to be hot than good, so take that to heart as teams gear up for the playoffs which are still two weekends away.

Stock Up:

1. Sam Goodwin-Boyd ’15 – First Baseman (Wesleyan) – Goodwin-Boyd has been absolutely mashing since conference play got started. He didn’t let up this weekend hitting a huge home run in the first game against Amherst before topping that by hitting another one in the next game that was the only damage Wesleyan could do against Amherst’s John Cook ’15. That was enough, though, as great pitching on both teams led to a 1-1 tie entering the bottom of the ninth. Wesleyan pushed across a run to walk-off with the win, they’re second in conference play, and the West division title. Goodwin-Boyd owns a tidy .566 slugging percentage which goes a long way towards explaining how he has a league-leading 32 RBIs. Wesleyan was the first team that really got to Amherst’s pitching even though Amherst still pitched very well overall. Winning the division is huge for the Cardinals because Wesleyan should get to avoid Tufts and instead get a much weaker (though hot) Bates.

2. Christian Sbily ’14 – Starting Pitcher (Tufts) – We have dedicated most of our virtual ink to talking about Tufts’ top two of Kyle Slinger ’15 and Tim Superko ’17, but the number three has been so good that he merits equal credit for Tufts’ success. Like so many others, Sbily has been at his best in recent weeks. He shut out Colby for seven innings last week and yesterday he scattered five hits for the complete game shutout. Sbily isn’t the same type of power pitcher the other two are, but he goes deep into games because he is able to have consistently low pitch counts. He is a huge advantage for Tufts because while many NESCAC teams have aces comparable to Slinger and Superko, Sbily is almost unmatched as a third starter. Sbily could be the difference-maker for Tufts in the NESCAC Championship.

3. Thomas Murphy ’15 and Steve Marino ’14 – Starting Pitchers (Williams) – This has not been a banner season for the Williams pitching staff, but this duo really came through yesterday as Williams swept Hamilton. Murphy went all seven innings to win a duel between him and Jjay Lane ’15.  Williams pushed across the winning run in the bottom of the seventh to come away with the victory. Marino was just as good going all nine innings, striking out nine, and limiting Hamilton to three earned runs. For Marino, it was an especially high note in his final conference game. Williams wasn’t good enough to hang with the big boys, but if they pitch this well consistently they will have more than a fighter’s chance next year.

4. Chris Fusco ’14 – Starting Pitcher (Bates) – We saw a lot of great pitching performances this weekend, and the love we’ve been doling out in this section is well-deserved. Fusco didn’t have a great day, but he came through to toss 5.2 innings of two-run ball in the deciding game of the Bates-Colby series. Fusco has a tendency to give up homers (five on the season), and Jason Buco ’15 hit another one against him yesterday, but Fusco was very good besides that. Bates had already gotten a PHENOMENAL start by Brad Reynolds ’14, but that alone wasn’t going to be enough. Bates didn’t look like a playoff team way back in February when they were making errors all over the place, but their best players have carried them this far. In a short series they are dangerous.

Stock Down:

1. Ryder Arsenault ’17 – Center Fielder (Colby) – Arsenault has been a enormous part of Colby’s surprise run in the East, but he, like the team, ran out of steam at the end. In the first game Arsenault struck out three times, contributing to the 12 Colby strikouts on the day. Yesterday he saw only one plate appearance, pinch hitting at the end of the third game. We don’t know if his benching was purely performance-related or if he has some type of injury that hindered his play, but the Colby offense really sputtered this weekend. Getting shut down by Bates’ ace Reynolds wasn’t a huge surprise, but they barely got anything going the other two games as well. Arsenault is one of many talented players coming back next year for Colby.

2. Erik Jacobsen ’15 Starting Pitcher/Infielder (Bowdoin) – Bowdoin knew going into the weekend that they needed to sweep Tufts to have a chance at the postseason. The Polar Bears were the first team to give Kyle Slinger ’15 issues as they won the first game of the series. Jacobsen has been solid all season, but Tufts jumped on him early and he didn’t make it out of the third inning in Game Two. The Bowdoin bullpen limited the damage, but the Tufts pitching is too good to make up an early deficit. An offense that has seen some players step up, but other more established ones struggle, couldn’t muster much of a comeback in the eventual 5-1 loss. Understandably after that disappointment, Bowdoin didn’t muster much of a challenge in the third game, losing 14-0.

Weekend Roundup

The final full weekend of NESCAC play was disrupted by the weather, but ultimately it was able to answer all of the questions that we had entering Friday. Wesleyan showed they are the best in the West while Bates continued their strong play to clinch the final playoff spot. The stock report will be up tomorrow morning, but for now here is a quick look around the league.

After a win in the first game of the series behind another great start by Brad Reynolds ’14, Bates dropped the middle game to Colby before Chris Fusco ’14 came up huge on the mound. His start and Sam Warren’s ’16 home run were the difference in the 6-2 victory that clinched a playoff berth for Bates. It is the first ever berth for the Bobcats.

In the other East Division series, Tufts dropped the first game before sweeping the Sunday doubleheader against Bowdoin. As usual, great pitching performances by Christian Sbily ’15 and Tim Superko ’17 were the difference along with the offense going off in the second game.  With the losses, Bowdoin drops out of the playoff race.

Out west Williams and Hamilton played an enjoyable weekend series without any playoff implications. Williams swept the doubleheader today as their pitching looked as good as it has all season. Williams now sits at 6-5 and will look to finish above .500 in conference when the teams meet a final time on May 9.

Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 9.08.28 PM

(Courtesy of Williams Sports Information)

And then in the most anticipated matchup, Wesleyan jumped all over Amherst winning the first two games of the series to clinch the West title.   Sam Goodwin-Boyd ’15 was the star for the offense while the Wesleyan pitching completed their turnaround by shutting down the vaunted Jeffs offense. The teams could meet again next weekend as both teams had already sewn up playoff spots.

With the playoffs set you can read up on the Championship weekend schedule here. Congrats to Tufts, Bates, Wesleyan, and Amherst for making the playoffs, and keep coming back this week for the best preview of the upcoming action.

Steve Hauschka Comes Back to Middlebury to Talk about Life as a Champion

Middlebury alumnus Steve Hauschka ’07 returned to campus just over a week ago on Thursday, April 17, to speak in front of hundreds of current students and faculty. The former Panther recently kicked for the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks and inked a new three-year contract worth more than $9 million. After a brief introduction from Director of Communications Brad Nadeau, Hauschka took the stage, ostensibly with the intention of telling his audience a little about himself. After approximately 60 nervous seconds, during which Hauschka thanked the community for bringing him back about a dozen times, Nadeau came to the placekicker’s rescue and welcomed Sports Illustrated Senior Writer Alex Wolff to the stage to begin the interview. Apparently, Hauschka forgot for a moment that he was the star of the show. He looked more skittish in front of 450 college kids than he did on the turf in MetLife Stadium last February in front of a crowd of more than 82,000.

How could that be, I wondered. How could a multi-million dollar professional athlete seize up so obviously with so little on the line, and kick an oblong ball right down the middle of two uprights placed 18 feet 6 inches apart with all of America watching?

Steve Hauschka and SI Senior Writer Alex Wolff talked about Hauschka's Middlebury career, his move to NC State, and life in the NFL. Courtesy of Rachel Frank
Steve Hauschka and SI Senior Writer Alex Wolff talked about Hauschka’s Middlebury career, his move to NC State, and life in the NFL.
Courtesy of Rachel Frank


Wolff started out by asking Hauschka about his years at Middlebury, and for a little while Hauschka sounded like any one of the slightly cocky, but ultimately genuine senior football players around campus with their contagious laughs and sly grins. Momentarily, Hauschka almost seemed like a kid to me, and I forgot just how great the separation between us is. For a second, he was a student again, worried about his thesis and what he was going to do that weekend.

Wolff and Hauschka talked about the kicker’s athletic achievements – or should I say “failures” – and the result was hilariously comical. Hauschka was “too slow” for the soccer team his freshman year at Middlebury, and was relegated to the JV squad. Come springtime, Hauschka was among the final cuts from the lacrosse team. While Hauschka made light of these disappointments, keeping the audience chuckling while telling the tale, it was obvious in his self-deprecating tone that the man making more than anyone else in the room just to kick a football still feels a pang of disappointment when he thinks about how he was cut from two teams in one year.

“It was one of those moments, it tested you deep down, because I put a lot into that,” Hauschka said of being cut from lacrosse, “and loved the game. And you cut me,” he said, speaking directly to former head lacrosse coach Erin Quinn, who was in attendance.

Hauschka eventually recovered from these setbacks, earning his BA in neuroscience from Middlebury with a 3.59 GPA and passing up dental school in order to kick for a year at NC State. As it turned out, missing out on varsity athletics his freshman year became a blessing in disguise for Hauschka, who still had one year of NCAA eligibility. Despite setting the record for most career field goals in a Panther uniform in just three seasons, Hauschka had few Division-I offers. He could have gone to punt at Northwestern, but instead opted for the chance to kick for the Wolfpack, where he had an “(Almost) Perfect Season.” Living next to him was a freshman with a natural ability to lead, a diminutive quarterback named Russell Wilson, who would captain Hauschka and the Seahawks to the title five years later. (“[Wilson and lineman JR Sweezy] were on the hallway, and I got to know them well. Even though I was 21 and they were 18. They may have asked me once or twice to buy them some beer. I obviously said no,” Hauschka joked). In that season at NC State, Hauschka went 25-25 on extra points and 16-18 on field goals, including the game-winner in the Orange Bowl over Miami.

“The reason I did this was so that I wouldn’t regret not pursuing it 40 years from now,” Hauschka said at the time. “I didn’t want to regret having a chance to play on the Division-I level and never pursuing it….It’s really turned out to be the coolest thing I have ever done in my life.”

Well, over five years later, Hauschka has finally done something cooler than kick in the Orange Bowl. He has won a Super Bowl championship.

But the life of a kicker never comes easy. In the kicking game, it is often a matter of timing, both on and off the field. Hauschka’s father knew this. The elder Hauschka earned a tryout with the Dallas Cowboys, but before he even showed up to training camp the Cowboys had traded him to the Chicago Bears, who then proceeded to sign another kicker, unbeknownst to Hauschka. And so one Hauschka kicking career ended.

As for Steve, he has worn six different NFL uniforms, and even won a United Football League championship with the Las Vegas Locomotives in 2010, which he called a “low point” in his life. All of his wardrobe changes occurred within a span of three years, until the Seahawks claimed him off waivers on September 4, 2011. In three years with the Seattle organization, Hauschka has improved his field goal percentage every season, posting a career-best 94.3 percent rage last year, and knocking in all eight of his attempts during the playoffs. Hauschka credited his experiences being cut at Middlebury as helping him move past all of the ups and downs in his NFL career.

Possibly the most incredible part of the hour-and-a-half session was the sneak peek of the GoPro video that Hauschka put together with raw footage from Super Bowl week. The kicker wore a camera on his head from the moment the plane landed in New York to the celebration in the locker room after the game (he did take it off to kick, of course). While TV cameras can zoom in to the action on the field during and after the game, they cannot capture every personal moment the way Hauschka did. Though the video condensed more than a week into a few minutes, I felt the anticipation and the nerves and the calm before the storm, the storm itself and the lull during the second half when the game was decided, the jubilation during the celebration after the final whistle, and the letdown that came after it was all over, almost as if I had been there myself.

Usually, I roll my eyes and scoff when I hear professional athletes say that grit and determination is all that is needed to make it to the highest level. The fact of the matter is that there are thousands of kids who work themselves to the brink of collapsing, in every sport, who can never make it to the next level because they lack the talent needed to do so. And yet, here is the story of an athletic failure, a kid that was “too slow,” a self-proclaimed late-bloomer, who went from JV soccer player to Super Bowl champion. Perhaps kicking is one of those few specialized positions in sports where that evolution is possible. Or perhaps not. Hauschka’s story gives hope to every young adult toiling away on a low-level college team somewhere. Not every athlete is a phenom as a 16-year old. Not every kid can be recruited to play football in the SEC. But thanks to Hauschka, whose sports journey materialized later than most, there remains a glimmer of hope that for the rest of us it’s not too late.

The Weekend Preview April 25

The Overview:

This weekend is shaping up to be the best kind of weekend New England can offer. There’s some beautiful spring weather on the horizon, I might not have a massive paper to write, and of course, there’s a full slate of NESCAC baseball games to enjoy. Every NESCAC team is in action this weekend, and every in-conference series has implications for playoff seeding. So, without further ado, let’s dig into these match-ups.

The Marquee Matchup: Wesleyan at Amherst

There is a clear series that stands out as the pivotal battle of the weekend, and that would be Amherst versus Wesleyan. The Jeffs and the Cardinals have been locked in a season-long battle for supremacy in the West, and they come into this series tied at 8-1 in the league, with Amherst holding a better record overall by one game (22-5 vs. 21-6). The winner of this series is assured of a number one seed from the West, and has a very good shot of reaching the NESCAC final.

Wesleyan can attribute much of their success to a wonderfully efficient offense, which has posted a league leading batting average (.321) and one base percentage (.416). Their pitching staff has come into its own during NESCAC play, posting a 1.70 ERA since league play began, making this team truly complete. The offense is spearheaded by freshman phenom Robby Harbison ’17 (league leader in hitting at .427), and Sam Goodwin-Boyd ’15, who paces the NESCAC with 29 RBI. The table is set for the solid hitters up and down the lineup by Andrew Yin ’14 and Donnie Cimino ’15, who get on base at .476 and .443 clips, and lead the league in runs with 31 and 32, respectively. The pitching staff is led by flame-throwing ace Nick Cooney ’15, who comes in at 5-1 and leads the league in strikeouts with 50 in 46 innings. Gavin Pittore ’16 and Jeff Blount ’14 round out the weekend starters.

Amherst comes in with an equally dangerous lineup. They are led by MVP-candidate Mike Odenwaelder ’16, who’s hitting .419 with a 1.057 OPS. He is flanked by shortstop Taiki Kasuga ’14, who’s hitting .392, and centerfielder Alex Hero ’14, who’s hitting .337 and is second in the league in steals. Like Wesleyan, Amherst’s table-setters, Kasuga and second baseman Andrew Vandini ’16 (.427 OBP) do a fantastic job getting on base in front of the sluggers in the middle of the order, making for a potent lineup. In the rotation, Dylan Driscoll ’16 continues to set the standard for NESCAC pitchers this season, with a 1.26 ERA and 6 wins. Fellow starter Jeff Cook ’15 has been great this season with 43 strikeouts and just 3 walks in 35 innings and earned NESCAC Pitcher of the Week honors last week. The big question for Amherst is whether SP Fred Shephard ’14, who tossed a no-hitter earlier this season, will be able to go. Shephard missed last week’s start against Middlebury with elbow pain. Keenan Szulik ’16 started in Shephard’s place against Middlebury and did an admirable job, but Wesleyan’s hitters should be licking their chops if they get a chance to face Szulik instead of Shephard.

Despite the offensive firepower that both teams possess, this series will be determined by the pitching. The two southpaws, Cook and Cooney, will likely meet up this afternoon. Driscoll and Blout are usually the seven-inning game starters for both squads, so look for them to pitch game one on Saturday, while the series finale should pit Pittore against Shephard or his replacement.

The race for best pitcher in the West:

While the East’s pitching is indisputably deeper than that in the West, Amherst and Wesleyan’s starting rotations can match up with anyone. That will be on display this weekend in Amherst, as Cooney, Driscoll and Cook battle for the ERA crown. All three pitchers have excellent stuff, and can strike out anyone in a big spot. The one wart on Cooney’s resume is his control issues (3.39 BB/9), which can sometimes get him into trouble. Driscoll very rarely hurts himself (5.57 K/BB), and that is the main explanation for his miniscule 1.26 ERA. However, Cook might have the best stuff of the group. He matches Cooney’s velocity with Driscoll’s accuracy. Cook has 43 K’s in 35 innings and just three walks (14.33 K/BB). He gets hit only because he is consistently in the strike zone. Right now, Driscoll leads the way in ERA, but Cooney (2.70) and Cook (2.83) are not far behind.

Around the League:

Bates, Bowdoin and Colby are all pretty close in the race for the second seed in the East, so this weekend will decide the race. Barring a major upset this weekend when Tufts travels to Brunswick to play Bowdoin, the winner of the Colby at Bates series will make the playoffs as the second seed in the East. Bates currently sits at 4-3, and has two games remaining with the Jumbos after this weekend. Colby and Bowdoin, meanwhile, are 4-5. With just two wins, Bates will secure their playoff spot because they hold the tiebreaker over Bowdoin (unless Bowdoin can sweep Tufts).

The series between Hamilton and Williams has no implications for the postseason, but the two squads are fighting for the third seed in the West.

Trinity and Middlebury have no more playoff hopes going into this East vs. West matchup, but pride is still a motivating factor in these games, which is part of what makes sports so great. Both teams have been disappointing to this point, and want to prove that they won’t roll over. I fully expect the games between Middlebury and Trinity to be hard fought, competitive and fun to watch, just like those between Amherst and Wesleyan.

Here’s a look at Friday’s schedule:
Tufts at Bowdoin 3 PM
Colby at Bates 3 PM
Wesleyan at Amherst 3 PM

Enjoy the final weekend of a full NESCAC slate.


Power Rankings

As always, all picks are made by a committee of one. If you have any complaints about where a certain team is then please feel free to comment. And no I did not put certain teams purposefully low in order to get you angry.

1. Amherst (21-5, 7-1) – They don’t have the best record in the conference, or even their own division, but no team is as complete or playing as good baseball as Amherst. While Tufts has better top-end talent in the pitching department, Amherst has the deepest pitching of anyone. And while Amherst is third in the league in runs scored, the difference between them, Wesleyan and Tufts is minimal. Of course Amherst could prove me completely wrong if they don’t show up against Wesleyan. One way in which that could happen during this weekend’s critical West series is if Amherst’s defense lets down its talented staff. While Taiki Kasuga ’14 is usually great up the middle, the Jeffs’ infield defense combined for four errors last weekend against a Middlebury team that did not hit the ball on the ground too often, striking out 19 times over the course of three games, and centerfielder Alex Hero ’14 had an ugly error on a line drive right at him, the product of a lapse in concentration. On the season, Amherst is tied for the fewest errors in the NESCAC, but one miscue can decide a game between two very talented teams.

2. Tufts (25-2, 6-1) – I predicted earlier in the year that Tufts would finish with less than eight wins. With only seven regular season games left that looks pretty good given they can lose a maximum of five games between the NESCAC and NCAA tournament (if they make it). We have talked at length about how good their pitching, but the concerns about their hitting are very real. Even though they roughed up Scott Goldberg ’15, the other Colby starters gave the Jumbos a tough time. At some point the time will come when the offense needs to pick up the staff, but will the bats be ready?

3. Wesleyan (21-6, 8-1) – Considering that they were the last team undefeated in conference and still hold the best record, Wesleyan fans are sure to take this ranking as disrespect. Know that the difference between the top three is razor thin. In a three game series I would not be surprised to see Wesleyan beat Tufts or Amherst, but I just have more questions about Wesleyan than I do the other teams. I am not sure if their pitching is going to hold up down the stretch or if their hitting is really as good as it seems given how they have struggeld at times in conference. This is the case of a team being great at many things, but not the best at any of them.

4. Bates (14-11, 4-3) – The gap between Wesleyan and Bates is big enough for an aircraft carrier to pass through. I almost left fourth place empty to make my point clear, but Bates has done enough in recent weeks to justify this spot. I don’t think they have a chance come playoffs, but I like them this weekend against Colby. Their senior class has been playing incredible, picking up the slack for a team that has otherwise underperformed preseason expectations.

5. Colby (14-9. 4-5) – Just a really tough weekend for Colby against Tufts. It was rough being swept, but losing two one run games is particularly heartbreaking. Now Colby falls right back into the mire in the middle of the East. Of course, if they win the series this weekend against Bates they make the playoffs, unless Bowdoin somehow sweeps Tufts, because Colby would own the tiebreaker against both Bates and Bowdoin.

6. Bowdoin (16-11-1, 4-5) – Most likely Bowdoin will finish the season without making the NESCAC tournament in what is a disappointing, albeit defensible, season. I say defensible because of all the injuries that occurred to the pitching staff. A lot of younger players stepped up, but it looks like it won’t be enough. You can count on Bowdoin fighting tooth and nail every pitch this weekend though.

7. Williams (8-13, 4-5) – The pitching just hasn’t been there for Williams all season to be competitive  in the West. Their team-wide 7.67 ERA is easily the worst in the NESCAC. The offense has been very, very good for most of the season, but was not quite as good when it really mattered against Wesleyan and Amherst. They still have a chance to finish above .500 if they sweep Hamilton, which would be a great finish for the Williams seniors who have had long successful individual careers.

8. Trinity (11-16, 4-8) – Trinity is the beginning of the bottom tier of the NESCAC (who would have guessed back in March that we’d be saying that now?), but the bottom three teams are much closer than they have been in years past. Trinity has shown that they are not far away from returning to the top of the league next season. They have lost a ton of close games in conference and are just one or two impact players away. Those players are most likely already on the roster, and the final weeks of the season will help the coaching staff identify those potential contributors.

9. Hamilton (2-6, 9-11) – Hamilton holds onto the ninth spot by virtue of handing Wesleyan their first conference loss in a comfortable 7-1 win. They showed they don’t have the depth to stay with the top teams, but they have a nice young core that is going to be coming back. A strong finish against Williams will move them up the rankings, but they could finish in the cellar because of how the last place team has been playing recently.

10. Middlebury (4-15, 2-10) – It pains me to put Middlebury last because they have been playing better than that in the last few weeks, but they haven’t garnered enough victories to justify moving them out of this spot. If they had stolen one from Amherst then they would have moved up. The good news is that the team is playing better and better and getting plenty of improvement from its young players. The pitching and infield defense have really been transformed since the team returned from Arizona, but the bats have yet to follow suit. Nevertheless, the future is looking a lot better than it was just three weeks ago.

Stock Report April 21

The playoff picture is beginning to solidify in both Divisions. In the West, Wesleyan and Amherst know that they will be playing tournament baseball this May, and the regular season West crown will be decided this weekend when Amherst travels to Middletown, CT. As for the East, the Jumbos remain on top, though with five games still to play in conference a slump would drop Tufts from the number one seed. Everyone but Trinity is still afloat on the East side of the ledger. We have one full weekend of NESCAC play remaining, and here we discuss who’s hot and cold heading into the final week of conference play.

Stock Up

1. Bates (13-11, 4-3) – No team had a better weekend than the Bobcats did. They took two out of three against Trinity to take care of business, but more importantly saw Colby lose three tight games to Tufts. Bates cruised in game one behind another great start from Brad Reynolds ’14, and won game two by mashing their way to 12 runs. Griffin Tewksbury ’14 hit his conference leading fifth homer of the season as well. The Mules and Bobcats will meet next weekend in a series that should finally decide who will get the second spot in the East. I say “should” because Bowdoin could surprise Tufts and win multiple games to give them a chance. Bates also has two games still to play against Tufts which have been rescheduled to May 3. This has the potential to be a huge help to Bates because Tufts will most likely have nothing to play for. They could rest a bunch of their regulars, or at least not play them the entire game. Even if they ended up losing both games to Tufts, Bates can all but assure a playoff spot if they win two games against Colby. 6-6 might be all it takes to make it in the East.

2. Nick Cooney ’15 Starting Pitcher (Wesleyan) – Hamilton had a hard time figuring out the junior southpaw as Cooney had 12 strikeouts on the way to his fifth win of the season. Last week he won NESCAC Pitcher of the Week, and his performance this week was just as impresive. He has put an uneven start behind him in conference play with three great starts against Middlebury, Williams and Wesleyan. The in-season improvement by the entire staff has been the big difference in the Cardinals’ play in conference. Cooney has emerged as an ace and workhorse by leading the conference in innings pitched this season.

3. John Cook ’15 Starting Pitcher (Amherst) – We admit that we wrote Cook off a little bit when he let up 11 runs to Southern Maine in the beginning of the year. Since then the junior has rebounded in a big way, but he saved his best for last weekend. Middlebury was keeping Amherst on the ropes with a great pitching performance by Eric Truss ’15, but Cook matched him every step of the way, holding Middlebury to one run as the game went to extras. After a Tyler Jacobs ’15 homer put the Jeffs up by one in the tenth inning, coach Brian Hamm showed his confidence in his pitcher by sending Cook back out to start the bottom of the tenth. Cook calmly delivered, going three up three down. Considering Cook allowed 11 runs in one game, his 2.83 ERA is almost a miracle, and a testament to his recent dominance.

Alex Kelly '14 was among the few bright spots for Middlebury against the Amherst staff, going 6-13 in his last NESCAC series atop the Panthers' lineup. Courtesy of Rachel Frank
Alex Kelly ’14 was among the few bright spots for Middlebury against the Amherst staff, going 6-13 in his last NESCAC series atop the Panthers’ lineup.
Courtesy of Rachel Frank

Stock Down

1. Colby Offense – First we should give credit to Soren Hanson ’16 and Greg Ladd ’15 for stepping up big time and giving the Mules a chance to win the last two games of the series after Tufts managed to rough up ace Scott Goldberg ’15 in the first game. The offense, however, could not get anything going which is why the weekend ended without any victories for Colby. Yes, Tufts has some of the best pitching in the league, but Colby missed two golden opportunities to grab a game. Their best chance was in the top of the sixth in the second game when a double left runners on second and third with one out. On a groundball to second Jason Buco ’15 was thrown out at home trying to score the go-ahead run, and a Tyler Starks ’16 strikeout ended the inning with two runners still on base. The offense needs to regroup before the weekend for Colby to reach the playoffs.
Check out this amazing catch by catcher Nick Cutsumpas ’14 that helped the Jumbos sweep the Mules.

2. Hamilton’s Supporting Cast – Again, we don’t intend to single out a certain player on Hamilton for their poor play, but we draw attention to this in order to shed light on Joe Jensen’s ’15 play. Over the weekend Jensen was his usual havoc-wreaking self with five stolen bases in three games. Hamilton has faded in conference play after we highlighted them as a potential spoiler in the West, but it hasn’t been because of Jensen. He now sits at 18 stolen bases and a .512 OBP on the season. With nine games remaining he has a chance to match the 29 he had in 2013. The problem is that he just hasn’t gotten any backup from his teammates. He has ten more hits than anyone else on the team, and Hamilton has nobody in the middle of the lineup hitting for extra bases that would move Jensen quickly around the bases.

3. Harry Ridge ’16 Starting Pitcher (Bowdoin) – Since he started conference play with a gem against Trinity, Ridge has struggled to be the number one starter Bowdoin needed him to be because of the injuries to Henry Van Zant ’15 and Christian Martin ’14. Against Bates and Colby, Ridge couldn’t manage more than three innings in each game, and while he pitched six innings against Williams, he allowed five runs (three earned). His ERA sits at a respectable 3.00, and it is true, like we wrote last week, that his defense has let him down. Still, whether it is fair or not, Bowdoin needed him to be more than that in order to contend. His season is sadly reminiscent of last year when he went through similar stretches of uneven pitching. All that being said, don’t count him out to have a rebound this weekend as Bowdoin prepares for their last stand against Tufts.
You can catch the highlights of Saturday’s Williams-Bowdoin doubleheader here, courtesy of Bowdoin athletics:


Friday Roundup

Really quick whip around the NESCAC to get you caught up on the action this afternoon. Please follow the links for full recaps and stats for games.

Kyle Slinger ’15 proved once again how dominant he is with eight innings of one run ball. Th offense got rolling as the game went on led by shortstop Matt Moser ’16. Tufts dominated in Game One against Colby in the pivotal East Division series.

In the West Wesleyan continued their strong play winning comfortably 10-4 over Hamilton. Nick Cooney ’15 had another great start, and Robby Harbison ’17 went yard twice. The Hamilton website has a complete recap.

Trinity’s defense let down their pitching with seven errors against Bates. The Bobcats capitalized scoring nine runs in the game. Brad Reynolds ’14 got his fourth win of the season as Bates moved to 3-2 in the NESCAC.

Amherst sweated out two wins against a Middlebury team that has seen their pitching and defense go through an enormous mid-season improvement. Dylan Driscoll ’14 went seven scoreless innings, but that wasn’t even the most impressive pitching performance of the day. John Cook went TEN innings in the second game. Amherst won in extras 2-1 on a Tyler Jacobs ’15 homer. No recap is available, but here are the stats and play by play.

In non-conference play, Bowdoin hung with D3 power Southern Maine before succumbing 5-3. Henry Van Zant ’15 had his longest outing of the season throwing five innings.

The Weekend Preview April 18

Two weekends of conference play remain, and a full weekend of games promises to sort the conference out further. In the West, it’s the calm before the storm of Wesleyan vs. Amherst next weekend. The East promises further clearing of the cluttered standings. Colby looks to prove it’s for real against Tufts while Bates hopes to start a late season run against Trinity. It promises to be another great weekend.

Marquee Matchup: Tufts (20-2, 3-1) vs Colby (13-6, 4-2)

Not many people expected this to be a matchup of the two top teams in the East at the start of the season, but Colby showed its hot start was for real when they went to Brunswick and took two out three. Meanwhile, Tufts showed its first signs of weakness against a Trinity team that came out inspired to beat them. Colby isn’t going to surprise Tufts like they might have if they played earlier in the season. The winner of this weekend is almost assured of hosting the NESCAC championships so both teams are sure to give everything they have.

Expect every game in this series to be a low scoring affair given the quality of pitching both teams possess. Nobody has a better trump card than Tufts does in Kyle Slinger ’15, and Tim Superko ’17 is no slouch either. The Friday matchup of Goldberg vs. Slinger is the best pitching matchup of the season, bar none. The big righty, Goldberg, has come into his own this season while Slinger has taken his game to another level. The rest of a surging Colby staff will look to continue their success. Soren Hanson ’16 got the loss against Bowdoin despite striking out ten, and Greg Ladd ’15 has been spectacular locating pitches and forcing weak contact.

Both teams have questions of depth behind their top starters. What cost the Jumbos against Trinity was their bullpen allowing seven runs in the first game of the doubleheader. While Tufts has a ton of talent, there are real questions on how deep their pitching staff is. Last year, Andrew David ’16 had a stellar season and took home one NESCAC Pitcher of the Week award, but he has pitched sparingly in the last couple of weeks. Matt Moser ’16 and Tom Ryan ’15 are good pitchers, but Moser has only pitched seven innings and Ryan gave up the losing run against Trinity. Superko never goes late in games, and if Slinger struggles for the first time this year then the bullpen will be stretched. Tufts has seen top relievers Lucas Geoghegan ’14 and Dakota Rabbitt ’14 struggle in recent weeks as well. They don’t usually get the headlines, but bullpens are vital in close games. As Lee Corso famously says about it ‘coming down to special teams!,’ the same is true for the bullpen.

On the offensive side Colby needs its stars Jason Buco ’15 and Kevin Galvin ’14 to come up with big hits. Ryder Arsenault ’17 has to continue getting on-base in front of them at a torrid pace as well.  After that there is a pretty big drop off in production. This has forced Hanson to become a two way player with great results in limited at-bats so far. His .448 AVG and .500 OBP are tops for the Mules. Tufts has a more balanced attack with six players boasting an OBP north of .400 and at least 50 plate appearances. Another good measure of their depth is that six different players have hit homers, though nobody has more than one. Despite all that fire power Colby has a decent chance at slowing down the Tufts offense. In four conference games the Jumbos have yet to bust out averaging 4.25 runs per game.

We don’t usually make predictions because the NESCAC can be so unpredictable, but expect Tufts to win two of three. Slinger is too dominant to be beat, but after that it is a tossup in the other two games. Trinity proved Tufts is just another NESCAC team despite their gaudy record, but the Jumbos will still finish at the top of the East.

Three to Watch

1. Andrew Vandini ’16 Third Baseman (Amherst) – We gave Amherst a lot of love in our Mid-season Awards earlier this week, but Vandini didn’t get a lot of ink, besides an Honorable Mention for Most Improved. In general, the sophomore has flown under the radar overshadowed by his ultra-talented classmate Mike Odenwaelder ’16 and the stellar Amherst pitching, but Vandini is the engine at the top of the Amherst offense. He isn’t flashy with only one extra-base hit and three stolen bases, but his .471 OBP makes it pretty clear why he bats lead-off. He has more walks (11) than strikeouts (10) and is tied for fourth in the league for hits. His defense has also been good with only three errors at a difficult position. Vandini and Taiki Kasuga ’14 play great defense on the left side of the infield are a nasty duo at the top of the lineup that leaves opposing pitchers worn out when they get to the middle of the Amherst lineup.

2. Nate Pajka ’15 Outfielder (Bates) – The Bates offense has been a mess besides the stellar pair of Griffin Tewksbury ’14 and Kevin Davis ’14. While ideally an on-base machine would emerge in front of them, it doesn’t look like that guy is currently on the Bates roster. Pajka is instead a guy with a lot of power (three homers) but a below average batting average (.274). He had a good weekend against Bowdoin with two multi-hit games, and he will look to continue that hitting as Bates returns to conference play. Bates will have a difficult time with a still dangerous Trinity team, but they need a big weekend since they still have five games remaining against Tufts and Colby. If Pajka becomes a little more consistent, Bates will have a threesome of mashers in the lineup to give teams trouble.

3. Sam Goodwin-Boyd ’15 First Baseman (Wesleyan) – Your NESCAC RBI leader with 24 is none other than the junior from Florence, Massachusetts. His OBP of .396 and SLG% of .487 don’t jump out at you, but Goodwin-Boyd has reason for so many RBIs besides bountiful opportunities to accrue them. Eleven of his hits have gone for extra bases meaning runners on-base are able to advance multiple bases. The Cardinals offense was its usual self one weekend after they struggled to score against Middlebury. They can’t falter and give up a game in the standings to Amherst before they meet in their titanic matchup next weekend.

Here’s the schedule for this weekend:
Amherst at Middlebury (DH) 2 PM
Colby at Tufts 3 PM
Bates at Trinity 3 PM
Wesleyan at Hamilton 4 PM

Amherst at Middlebury 12 PM
Wesleyan at Hamilton (DH) 12 PM
Colby at Tufts (DH) 12 PM
Bates at Trinity (DH) 12 PM

Power Rankings April 18

1. Tufts (20-2, 3-1)

Not much has changed since we last put out power rankings, other than Queen Elsa reclaiming her icy hold on the NESCAC lands. Tufts is still dominating the league with their 70’s Orioles-like pitching staff, although Trinity did hand them their first NESCAC loss on Saturday in a 8-7 nail biter that took 9 innings. There does appear to be a chink in Tuft’s armor, however. They are only hitting .212 in NESCAC play, good for ninth in the league. This is probably just a slump, and their pitching is making up for it, but if it’s a bigger issue, it could set the Jumbos train off the tracks.

2. Wesleyan (18-5, 6-0)

In our previous power rankings, we put Amherst over Wesleyan, and clearly Wesleyan listened. They are the only undefeated team in league play, sitting at 6-0. Although it is true that their wins are over Williams and Middlebury, two struggling teams, the level of dominance that they’ve asserted cannot be ignored. The weekend of April 25 pits Wesleyan against Amherst, in a series that should settle the West supremacy debate, at least until the playoffs.

3. Amherst (18-5, 4-1)

Much like Wesleyan, Amherst has been playing very well, both before league play and in NESCAC. The Lord Jeffs are 4-1, the only blemish being the loss to Williams that puts them below Wesleyan in these rankings. Again, the Jeffs face off against Wesleyan on the 25, a series that is looking more and more like something ESPN should cover, based on it’s importance to the league.

4. Colby (13-6, 4-2)

The teams behind Tufts were locked in a tight battle for second for most of the season, but Colby has separated themselves from the pack with a strong showing in NESCAC play. The Mules are 4-2, including an impressive series win over Bowdoin last week. Colby doesn’t have many stars, but they are solid and play well as a team, which, as numerous sports movies can tell us, is usually more effective.

5. Bowdoin (13-9-1, 4-5)

While Colby has separated themselves with strong NESCAC play, Bowdoin has been struggling somewhat, after a strong start. They’ve lost 4 of 6, losing series to rivals Colby and Bates. The problems lie mainly in a struggling offense, which is performing far below preseason expectations. Like Tufts, Bowdoin’s offensive struggles could just be a slump, but it will have to end soon, as their pitching is not good enough to carry them through a prolonged drought.

6. Bates (11-10, 2-2)

Bates has been one of the more consistent teams throughout the year, sitting at 11-10 and 2-2 in NESCAC. Their team stats have remained remarkably the same, avoiding some of the offensive struggles that have plagued other teams. However, Bates’ consistency does not add up to enough talent for them to compete in the tough Eastern division.

7. Hamilton (8-9, 1-4)

Like the middle of the Eastern pack, the bottom of the West is a close race, although there is not quite as much talent. Although Hamilton is only 1-4 in the league, their overall “success” puts them barely above Middlebury and Williams. However, Middlebury seems to have found something of a rhythm, and if those two trends continue, Hamilton could easily sink to the bottom.

8. Trinity (9-14, 3-6)

This has been a tough year for Trinity, who came in to the year with very high expectations. First year coach Brian Adamski’s squad has struggled in most categories, translating to a last place ranking in the East. However, they were able to steal a game in the Tufts series, and if they can sweep their upcoming series’ against Bates, a playoff push could still be in the cards if everything breaks right.

9. Williams (7-11, 2-7)

Williams and Middlebury have become almost interchangeable at the bottom of the east, but they are trending in different directions. Williams has lost 4 in a row, and the pitching staff that has held them back all season has not improved in any measurable way.

10. Middlebury (4-12, 2-7)

The Panthers, on the other hand, seem to have found some small measure of rhythm in their season. They took two of three from Hamilton last weekend, and seem to be gaining confidence as the young players get more experience. A strong showing this coming weekend against Amherst, coupled with continued poor play from Williams and Hamilton, could catapult the Panthers out of the cellar and finally into the sun.