Congratulations to the 2015 NESCAC Baseball Champion – Wesleyan pic.twitter.com/rHSqONZNlY
— NESCAC (@NESCAC) May 10, 2015
What an incredible weekend of NESCAC baseball. From Friday afternoon until Sunday evening, the boys left it all out on the field. Every game offered drama and intrigue right up until the end. In six of the seven games played at last weekend’s NESCAC Championship, the tying run was at-bat or on-base when the final out was made. Stellar pitching performances were the norm, but there was plenty of going yard, too. At some point I lost track of how many diving catches had been made because it seemed like there was at least one every other inning. All in all, nobody left Nashua, NH without some moment where their team was firing on all cylinders.
In the end, the Wesleyan Cardinals were again the last team left standing as they captured their second consecutive NESCAC title. Though it ended just as most expected it to, the tournament was an absolute nail-biter. The final game between Amherst and Wesleyan was one of the wildest baseball games I have watched at any level. Consider that Wesleyan entered the ninth down one run with the bottom of their lineup coming up and Amherst ace John Cook ’15 on the mound. Consider that Ethan Rode ’17, the winning pitcher, had thrown two innings since Wesleyan’s spring break trip before he took the mound in the 11th. Consider that the Cardinals had to escape bases loaded jams in back-to-back innings just to get to the 12th inning.
The Cardinals came into Sunday feeling comfortable in their one game advantage over Amherst, but just as in 2014, Wesleyan lost the first game of the day to set up a deciding final game. Entering the Bottom of the seventh, Wesleyan looked like they were in control up 2-0 with Peter Rantz ’16 allowing only two hits through six innings. Then Mike Odenwaelder ’16 hit a solo homer to lead off the inning. Whatever, Wesleyan still had the lead. They just needed to get out of the inning…
Then suddenly ecstasy for Amherst as the above Sam Ellinwood ’18 homer put the Jeffs up by one. Yet not one person in the Wesleyan dugout thought they were going to lose that game for a moment. According to captain Donnie Cimino ’15, ” There was no doubt in any of our minds. We are such a close team and have been through many victories and losses.” Pitcher Gavin Pittore ’16 echoed that sentiment citing the leadership of the seniors on this team. The Cardinals never stopped believing that they would find a way, any way. And in the ninth, when Amherst gave an inch, the Cardinals jumped. When Cook hit Ellis Schaefer ’17 with one out, Manager Mark Woodworth put on the hit and run for Andrew Yin ’15 and Schaefer. On an outside fastball, Yin just stuck his bat out and floated one down the right field line. Schaefer raced all the way around and the game was tied. Wesleyan would go on to win in 12 innings, and for a second consecutive year they piled out of the dugout for a victory dogpile.
If there is one characteristic to describe these Cardinals from the past two years, it is grittiness. After the Cards grabbed the 2014 NESCAC Championship, we wrote, “Wesleyan won games by never backing down in big spots.” The same is true for 2015, of course. The final game on Sunday was the perfect representation of a team that consistently finds a way to win close games. That it came against Amherst, their longtime rival and formerly a team that would regularly beat down on Wesleyan makes it all the sweeter for them. This team loves to show their confidence and celebrates with a swagger. At this point, they know they are special and want more. Pittore says a repeat NESCAC championship was just the beginning. In the 150th year of Wesleyan baseball, the Cards are hoping to add some more hardware to the University trophy case. Pittore says, “We’ve made it our mission not to settle. We know we have a special team and anything short of a World Series appearance is a disappointment. Our goal is to make Wesleyan University team 150 a team to remember.”
Now for a quick Stock Report.
Shortstop Guy Davidson ’16 (Wesleyan)
This is a Stock Down and then back Up in one weekend for Davidson. Because when you go 2-17 through 99 percent of the weekend in the three hole, you definitely can’t say you had a great weekend overall. However, Davidson made all of that go away with one huge swing to hit the eventual game winning home run in the top of the 12th. With Odenwaelder on the mound for the first time all season for Amherst, Davidson led off the 12th thinking one thing only: fastball. That was what he got and boy did Davidson not miss. The home run was a no doubter as soon as it left the bat. Sitting fastball for the first pitch of the inning was the right move all the way, but it is also easy in a situation like that to get too excited when you get your pitch and swing out of your shoes. Davidson stayed calm and delivered a NESCAC title with it.
Though the majority of this article is concentrating on Wesleyan and their victory, don’t forget how close Amherst came to the win. On Sunday they were eager to avenge their regular season sweep and loss in the second round of the tournament to the Cardinals. The knock on Amherst the last two years is that they haven’t been able to win the close games, but that was not the case this weekend, the final game notwithstanding. They got great pitching performances from guys up and down the roster from Sam Schneider ’18 to Keenan Szulik ’16. Their defense, long a problem, was good all weekend. They came as close as possible as you can to winning a league title, and they didn’t even have players like Odenwaelder and Andrew Vandini ’16 hit all that well. The Jeffs are heading to New York for their regional and should be able to make some noise.
Amherst Base Running
Of all the chances Amherst had to win (of which there were many) that final game, the bottom of the 10th was perhaps their best. Cooney was on the mound, but he was clearly struggling with his control and had barely gotten out of the ninth inning. After Yanni Thanopoulos ’17 singled and Anthony Spina ’17 got reached on a HBP, the Jeffs had runners on first and second with one out. Then Thanopoulos made the mistake of getting picked off second and getting caught in a rundown. Thanopoulos should have been more cautious in that situation, especially with Cooney so clearly struggling with his command. If Thanopoulos could have gotten a good read on a ball in the dirt and reached third with one out, Amherst almost certainly wins that game, but you don’t help out a pitcher who can’t get the ball over the plate consistently. As it was, Cooney walked the next two hitters to load the bases with two outs before getting a fly out to escape the inning. Thanopoulos had an excellent tournament batting .400 and stealing four bases, but that mistake was costly.
Those in Medford are fuming about missing out on making the NCAA tournament. That came after they had a tough weekend dropping two close games. The Bates game, especially, they feel like they gave away since the Bobcats scored eight runs in the first two innings before the Jumbos almost came all the way back and ended up leading them loaded in the eighth inning down one run. We warned a couple of weeks ago about the danger of Tufts or Amherst missing the tournament. Then, Tufts was left out of the Top-10 of the NCAA Regional Rankings before last weekend. They likely needed a win against Amherst and possibly one other win in the tournament to have a shot at the tournament. Their weekend performance left them well short of that goal. In the end, D3Baseball.com and others didn’t even consider the Jumbos on the bubble for the tournament despite their great overall record. They got no help from their NESCAC East counterparts as three of those four teams finished with records below .500. That hurt Tufts’ overall Strength of Schedule. Disappointing ending for a team that looked great entering the year but never was at full strength because of injuries to Kyle Slinger ’15.
Considering the weather NE schools had to face this spring the D3 regional and national committee had short memories #standupforyourregion
— john casey (@coachcase18) May 11, 2015