We’ve come to that time of the year folks, the time when the weather turns and NESCAC students are shifting their concerns from final exams to brand new internships or careers – an exciting time for most students – but one that is bitter sweet for college seniors who must say good bye to the comforts of their college dorm rooms and face the cruel, hard world out there. This time is especially difficult for the droves of college athletes (and let’s face it, this pertains to 99 percent of NESCAC athletes) who are regretfully retiring from competitive athletics.
In honor of the great efforts and performances that happened around the league almost every day this academic year, we’ve compiled our five (plus one bonus) favorite moments from the NESCAC football, men’s basketball and baseball seasons. And before we jump in, we just want to say a GIGANTIC thank you to all of the student-athletes for their hard work, and to all of you, our readers, be you students, parents, classmates, coaches, distant relatives or New England D-III athletic celebrity stalkers, for loyally coming back to Nothing but NESCAC. As most of you know, Adam and I started this blog a little over a year ago, and we’ve had some great writers contribute to the page over that time. We’re not making any money – trust me – and we we don’t do this because it will pad our resumes (though it’s not a bad bullet point). We’re just huge sports fans, and we love talking and writing about sports. We love it when we hear that Nothing but NESCAC is being read around the league. Personally, one of the moments from this past year that sticks out greatest for me – and this includes everything I did while on a semester abroad, in the classroom or on the baseball field – was when Jake Brown ’17 told me, face-to-face, that I made a mistake in leaving him out of my NESCAC Point Guard Power Rankings back in February. I loved that. And as Jake knows, and hopefully the rest of the kids we write about understand, we’re not professionals. We’re just doing the best we can. But most of all, we hope you get some enjoyment out of reading what we post here, because we sure have a good time putting it up.
Here are our favorite moments of the past year, in no particular order:
1. FOOT: Middlebury 27, Trinity 7, October 25 at Trinity
In case you hadn’t heard, Trinity was supposed to be unbeatable in Hartford. The Bants had not lost at home since September 29, 2001 – 53 straight games – and Trinity came into the matchup at 5-0 while Middlebury was 3-2. At that point in the season fans were just starting to believe that Matt Milano ’16 was a bona fide star in this league. With his four touchdown performance in a rout of the favored Bantams, Milano convinced any remaining doubters.
2. BASK: Wesleyan Wins Its First NESCAC Basketball Championship as the Sixth Seed, March 1 in Hartford, CT
The Cardinals squeaked into the playoffs by winning their final two NESCAC regular season games and finishing at 5-5 in the conference. Next, all that Wesleyan had to do was go on the road to Bates, into the toughest home gym in the NESCAC, and beat an NCAA Tournament team in the Bobcats, then go to the home of in-state rival Trinity and hang onto a three-point victory to topple the hosts – also an NCAA Tournament team – and THEN go to OT against three-time defending champion Amherst. There, an inexperienced Wesleyan team took down the heralded Lord Jeffs. Quite a turnaround for a program that was sub-.500 the past two years.
3. BASE: Wesleyan 4, Amherst 3 in the 12-Inning, Winner-Takes-All NESCAC Championship Game, May 10 in Nashua, NH
After losing four straight to the Cardinals, Amherst finally beat Wesleyan 3-1 in the first game of the day to set up the climactic final game. At this point, both teams were on their last legs in terms of pitching. Through 6.1 innings Wesleyan was up 2-0 behind great pitching from Peter Rantz ’16. Then two homers from Mike Odenwaelder ’16 and Sam Ellinwood ’18 put Amherst up 3-2, but Andrew Yin’s ’15 third double of the day brought around Ellis Schaefer ’17 for the tying run in the 9th. Nick Cooney ’15 worked around two straight bases loaded jams in the 9th and 10th inning. That set the stage for Guy Davidson ’16 to recognize that Odenwaelder was pitching for the first time all year. Davidson sat on a first pitch fastball, drove it out to left, and the Ethan Rode ’17 closed things out to give Wesleyan their second straight NESCAC title.
4. BASK: Trinity 79, Bates 62 in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, March 13 in Babson Park, MA
For contemporary fans of NESCAC men’s basketball, it’s not totally unusual to see a couple of NESCAC squads duke it out in the NCAA tournament (read: Amherst vs. Williams), but Trinity hadn’t been to the Big Dance since 2008, and Bates had never played in the D-III NCAA Tournament. And for those two to meet as late as the Elite Eight? Wow. The game was everything we hoped for for about 13 minutes – then Trinity went on an 11-3 run before the half and extended their lead after the break to finish off the Bobcats fairly easily. Nevertheless, a special moment for all NESCAC men’s basketball fans.
5. FOOT: Amherst 33, Wesleyan 30 in OT in the de facto NESCAC Championship Game, October 18 at Wesleyan
We didn’t realize it then, but this game decided the NESCAC championship, and it was a game more than worthy of its weight. In very wet conditions, these two teams went back and forth with neither team ever leading by more than a touchdown. The kicking game ended up being the difference. With Wesleyan up by three and under two minutes remaining, QB/P Jesse Warren ’15 botched a punt that went only 12 yards and set up Amherst at the Cardinal 49. Max Lippe ’15 completed a crucial 4th and 3 to Gene Garay ’15 to get the Jeffs in range for Phillip Nwosu ’15 to hit the game-tying field goal from 41 yards out. In overtime, the Amherst defense stuffed Wesleyan on 4th and 1, and Nwosu nailed the game winner from 35 yards out to give Amherst the stunning win. The Jeffs needed a missed Trinity 23 yard field goal to hold on and win two weeks later to keep their undefeated season alive. As the venerable Lee Corso always says, “this one is gonna come down to special teams.”
Caution, highlights below are not in the correct order.
BONUS. BASE: Tufts 3, Middlebury 2 on a Blown Call, May 3 at Tufts
Before you roll your eyes and close the tab, I’m not complaining about this loss, I just wanted to call attention to what might have been the most dramatic baseball game of the NESCAC regular season that went totally unnoticed.
Full disclosure, in case you didn’t know, I play for the Middlebury baseball team, so of course this is a bit of self-interest involved here, but hear me out. This game went to show that anyone can beat anyone in the game of baseball on any given day (even though Middlebury didn’t actually win), and that is especially true in the NESCAC, which is what makes this league so great. Tufts threw Tim Superko ’17, the team’s de facto ace after Kyle Slinger ’15 suffered the unluckiest season in NESCAC history, who did a very nice job, but Eric Truss ’15 matched him pitch-for-pitch.
Obviously, Tufts was the better ball club this year. Just look at the records. But it felt like a scene from a movie all day as the underdog Panthers clawed back from a first-inning deficit to go up 2-1 in the fifth, and for the Middlebury team there was hope of ending an abysmal season on the highest note possible. The drama mounted over six and a half innings and finally climaxed in the bottom of the seventh. Leading up to this game, Truss, a typical workhorse, started three games in an eight-day span from April 21-28, throwing 18.0 innings – and 245 pitches – before heading back to the bump on May 3 against Tufts. Truss struck out Tom Petry ’17 to get the first out of the seventh inning, but on that pitch, Truss’ 93rd of the game and 338th in the past two weeks, Truss partially tore the UCL in his pitching elbow, unbeknownst to all but the hurler. Miraculously, Will Glazier ’15 flew out to left field for the second out of the inning, but then the magic came to an end for Middlebury. A HBP, two roped singles and an IBB loaded the bases with the score tied and two outs.
The next at-bat was truly Hollywood-worthy. On a 1-0 count, Tufts SS Matt Moser ’16 hit a sharp two-hopper to the left of the Middlebury third baseman – yours truly. With the the subsequent throw apparently beating Moser to first, the Middlebury team took one step back towards the dugout to prepare for extra innings. Then the first base umpire signalled safe, and the ensuing scene was truly chaotic. Some choice words were used, tempers flared, and a stunned Tufts squad mauled Moser in celebration. Win or lose, it was an incredibly-played ball game. However, to describe just how wild of an ending it was, take a look at this still frame from the Tufts broadcast, on the play where Moser was called safe:
I’m not including this to whine about losing. Who knows what would have happened if the game went to extra innings. I just wanted to include what was for me, personally, the most exciting game that I was a part of all season, and among the most exciting games of my long baseball career, one that truly had one of those You-Couldn’t-Script-This-Any-Better endings. These are the types of games that make us love sports, and especially sports in the NESCAC.
That does it for our 2014-15 NESCAC coverage. Articles may be sparing over the summer months, as we focus our efforts on rebuilding our site a little bit, but stay tuned on Twitter (@CACSportsBlog) and on Facebook for news about NESCAC athletes and Nothing but NESCAC itself. Thanks again to all of our loyal readers, and good luck to all NESCAC athletes this summer!