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.