I have been somewhat out of the loop during the beginning of the NESCAC baseball season because I was traveling for school, and so I have been unable to write anything recently. I want to thank Kaitlin McCabe who has taken on the lion’s share of writing to make up for my deficiencies. For the rest of the spring, you can expect at least one article a week from both Kaitlin and me, if not more.
Alright, onto baseball now. Conventional wisdom entering the year was that despite heavy losses, the trio of Wesleyan, Amherst and Tufts remained the class of the league. Those three teams have dominated the NESCAC the past couple of years. There has been nothing in the early portion of the year to suggest that those three are going to experience a huge drop off. Wesleyan is 10-3 behind a powerful lineup that is averaging better than 10 runs per game. Amherst is 9-2 because of their strong rotation. Tufts is 6-3, and two of those losses are by a single run.
Bowdoin and Hamilton have been early surprises, but it is way too early to put too much into their success. At this point, every team except for Middlebury and Williams has completed their spring break trip and has returned to the norther hinterlands of New England. That pretty much sums things up, right? Well no, not really. Let’s dive in a little deeper.
Bowdoin’s Youth Movement
Forget the loss of ace Henry Van Zant ’15 from the rotation, Bowdoin’s biggest hole entering the season was the need to replace the majority of their lineup. Seven of the 10 players with the most plate appearances on the team in 2015 have graduated. What remained was Chad Martin ’16, Peter Cimini ’16, Sean Mullaney ’17 and a whole lot of question marks. Again, it’s early, but the offense has been pretty decent even as Martin has had a slow start. The Polar Bears rank near the bottom of the league in OBP, AVG, SLG, and runs scored, but honestly that is better than I thought they would be at this point. Now, the question is whether hot starts for guys like Luke Cappellano ’19 (.381/.435/.476) and Sawyer Billings ’18 (.455/.500/.636) mean anything or if they are the result of a small sample size. Also, the unconscious hitting of Sean Mullaney, owner of a .588 OBP so far, is unlikely to continue at quite the same astronomic levels. Manager Mike Connolly always plays a lot of guys during the Florida trip, and so some of the spots are still being played out.
Bates Pitchers Named Connor
The duo of Connor Speed ’18 and Connor Colombo ’16 has anchored the rotation thus far, starting a combined eight of the 14 games for Bates. The two are pretty much picking up from where they ended last season as the two pitchers with the most IP on Bates. Speed’s numbers are almost exactly the same from a year ago. While a 3.63 ERA isn’t anything spectacular, Speed has upped his K rate to 9.67 K/9, a close to elite level. Even better is Speed’s 24:4 K:BB ratio so far. Colombo has a gaudy ERA of 1.74, but that is a little misleading since nine of his 13 runs allowed have been unearned. Together with Anthony Telesca ’17, the Bobcats have a weekend rotation pretty much set, and they can also bring talented reliever Rob DiFranco ’16 out of the bullpen.
Wesleyan Outfielder Marco Baratta ’16
It is going to be a theme for us to talk about Wesleyan players that are stepping up from last season to keep the Cardinals great. Last week it was Nick Miceli ’17, and now it’s Baratta, the transfer from Skidmore. Baratta only gained consistent playing time at the very end of 2015, but he has been a stud so far this year. The slashline is impressive obviously at .438/.558/.813. That slugging percentage is tops in the NESCAC, and it’s because he has 11 extra base hits, including two homers. He has a hit in 12 of the 13 games Wesleyan has played so far, and he has reached base in every single one. That type of production is one of the reasons why the Wesleyan offense is better so far than a year ago, despite the loss of some big pieces. The only downside is his K rate of 29.2 percent, a number that could mean a drop in production is on the horizon.
It feels like a yearly tradition at this point for me to write about how Williams has talent but they can’t get over their Achilles heel of bad pitching. Things are no different in 2016. The team ERA for the Ephs is 10.97, a terrible number. To be fair, Tucson, Arizona is where Division-III ERAs go to die, but still. I think even more damning is that in their nine games this year, Williams has allowed six runs or more in every game. That puts a lot of pressure on the offense. The Ephs got two wins yesterday, but they came with scores of 12-11 and 9-8. Another thing that really worries me is the team’s K/9 rate is a measly 4.19, easily the lowest in the league. That means that their pitchers aren’t missing many bats, and no pitcher has been a standout in that area at all. One of the positives is that Luke Rodino ’17 has pitched reasonably well in his two starts and has a 3.86 ERA. He emerged as the best pitcher on Williams down the stretch last year, and he gives Williams at least one pitcher they can start to build with.
Middlebury Team Speed
Middlebury has played six games so far. Their steal total as a team: a big fat zero. Twice the Panthers have attempted to steal a base, but both times that ended with them being gunned down. To not steal a base over a few games is not that unusual, but to have no steals through six games is a tad disconcerting. It also makes me wonder if it’s just something in that Vermont water that slows them down. Now the question is, when does Middlebury finally steal a base, and who does it? Keep in mind that last year they had only seven steals all season and nobody had more than two individually. My money would be on Ryan Rizzo ’17 usually, but he is also coming back from a football knee injury and may be unwilling to test it too much. The Panthers have five games left in Arizona. Let’s hope that they get at least one by then.
The NESCAC regular season finally starts next Friday after several weeks of spring training. Being that the majority of teams have yet to face a NESCAC opponent, the only taste we’ve had of the competition this season has been through non-conference face-offs. With opening weekend looming, it’s time for us to publish our current power rankings. Our opinions for each time are determined by statistics from last season and this year’s spring break. Check back early next week to see our predictions for how the teams will perform in the NESCAC standings this season.
Amherst (8-1, 0-0)
Amherst continues to dominate both the diamond and the NESCAC standings. The mound has already received accolades for its strong start, with pitcher Jackson Volle ’17 being named the NESCAC Pitcher of the Week, and the team from Central Mass also has Riley Streit ’16 to thank for their success. Together, with ERAs of 0.64 and 1.69, Volle and Streit have carried a defense that has yet to disappoint. In the field, senior catcher/DH Connor Gunn ’16 and 1B/DH Dave Cunningham ’16 are pure dynamite, producing 56 and 51 putouts and FPCTs of 0.969 and 1.00. On the offense, a core force of Yanni Thanopoulos ’17, Anthony Spina ’17 and Ariel Kenney ’18 continue to put power behind the bat, helping the team hit a .350 AVG in nine games. For now, Amherst looks like a powerhouse without any loose screws, but how much they can sustain this into the season still needs to be determined.
Amherst hosts Hamilton next weekend in their first NESCAC matchup of the season.
Wesleyan (10-3, 0-0)
Placing in second might come as a shock for the Cardinals, who’ve dominated the NESCAC for two years running. Indeed, the Cardinals are using any doubt as personal motivation. Now, Wesleyan isn’t struggling to deliver, per say, but they certainly need to sharpen up on the mound and in the field if they want to begin to resemble the championship-winning team they have been in the last two seasons. After 13 games, the Cardinals hold a relatively horrific ERA of 6.14, compared to last season’s final of 2.70. This places them near the bottom of current NESCAC standings. While Nick Miceli ’17 has held his own on the bump, boasting a 1.71 ERA with 19 strike outs, Peter Rantz ’16 is showing a bit more inconsistency. In yesterday’s game against the Coast Guard, he allowed 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER, and three walks in 4.2 innings. Hopefully Rantz isn’t getting anxious with the added responsibility of being the Cardinals ace. Wesleyan needs to provide their pitchers with confidence and security in the field in order to properly support pitchers’ efforts. Miceli, Matt Jeye ’18 and O’Sullivan are team standouts but cannot raise the entire defense out of its average-ranking playing.
Wesleyan is just a little rough the edges as the team whips pitchers into champion shape, but once they figure that out, they will be even more threatening to the opposition. After all, Wesleyan still stands out as the biggest hitters in the NESCAC. Lead by a dangerous trio of Miceli, Eric Jones ’16, and Guy Davidson ’16, the Cardinals hold a fearsome .373 AVG with 32 doubles, 14 triples, six homeruns, and 109 RBIs.
Bowdoin (8-3, 0-0)
The Polar Bears have definitely surprised us with their success so far—and are obviously playing far more competitively than their opponents in the East Division. Their 14-8 loss to Hamilton revealed that there remains weakness in the pitching rotation. Brandon Lopez ’19 threw the most innings with 2.2, in which he allowed 6 H, 6 R, 6 ER, and only struck out two batters. Meanwhile, Ben Osterholtz ’19 and Michael Staes ’16 have stood out early, with a combined 1.29 ERA (helping the team reach 3.71 ERA), but until we see more of their pitching, it’s difficult to determine if Bowdoin’s success as of late is due to true Polar Bear power or just mediocre competition. The Polar Bears travel to Hartford, Conn. next weekend to face Trinity.
Tufts (5-3, 0-0)
The Jumbos had a frustrating start to the season: their initial losses happened not because the team isn’t capable but because they just weren’t producing like we know they can. The team has improved, but they have yet to demonstrate the batting power we saw last season behind stars like Tommy O’Hara ’18. Right now, the team’s fielding and pitching stats are pretty average, consistently placing them right in the middle of NESCAC standings. In eight games, the team has averaged .285 at the plate, mainly due to the tremendous effort of Harry Brown ’17, Matt Moser ’16, and Cody McCallum ’16, who have consistently performed admirably up at bat with averages of .450, .353, and .324. However, the Jumbos future is getting brighter: though O’Hara had a slow start to his sophomore season, he has drastically improved his batting edge in Tufts’ last two games, bringing his batting average up to .303. Clearly, the Jumbos are just taking some time to get back their stride. They have until next Saturday, their first NESCAC competition against Bates, to tighten up their loose ends.
Hamilton (9-5, 0-0)
While Hamilton lost to very beatable squads during its two week stretch in Florida, it’s clear that the Continentals have concrete chemistry, especially amongst the junior class. The team’s 14-8 victory against Bowdoin was a big confidence booster too. The Continentals definitely can brag about their performance at bat: they have a teamwide .370 AVG. Hamilton has produced 28 doubles, five triples, three homeruns, 78 RBIs and a beautiful .457 OBP, largely thanks to juniors Ryan Wolfsberg ’17, Brett Mele ’17, Kenny Collins ’17, and Andrew Haser ’17. The mound is also dominated by underclassmen. Max Jones ’19 (1.59 ERA), Dan DePaoli ’18 (2.60 ERA) and Spencer Vogelbach ’18 (3.00 ERA) comprise a growing force on the mound, amassing to a team ERA of 3.71. The trio, in addition to veteran Cole Dreyfuss ’16 (5.50 ERA), creates a dependable rotation, but anything beyond that remains a mystery that Hamilton needs to solve quickly.
Some early experimentation in position assignments (i.e. Haser and Andrew Watson’19 on the mound) suggests that the team has needed to make up for unanticipated empty holes in the roster, but the problem is only temporary. CF Chris Collins ’17, 3B Dean Rosenberg ’18 and Finlay O’Hara ’17 have missed several games due to minor injuries, but they’ll be fresh and prepared for Hamilton’s games against Amherst next weekend. The return of Collins and Rosenberg will especially add more power to Hamilton’s already impressive batting lineup.
Trinity (5-6, 0-0)
Throughout spring training, Trinity has been a team that hasn’t played consistently in games: essentially the Bantams win and lose back and forth, and typically by a substantial number of runs. Overall, the team is equally average in all areas. What’s most surprising, however, is the rough start of Bantam veteran pitcher Jed Robinson ’16. After two starts, Robinson holds a 5.84 ERA, and the other pitchers with the same number of starts – namely Anthony Elgein, Jr. ’18, McLane Hill ’18 and Nicholas Fusco ’18 – aren’t doing much better with ERAs of 3.97, 5.87 and 10.38. The good news is Fusco and Robinson have the track record to think they will rebound. While rookie Erik Mohl ’19 showed promise against Plattsburgh St., pitching six scoreless innings, he also racked up a 2:4 K:BB ratio over 7.1 IP. The Bantams still haven’t gotten things going in the way they are capable of.
Bates (5-7, 0-0)
With their current 0.417 win percentage, the Bobcats are a shadow of the team that made it to the playoffs last season. You’d be hard pressed to find a real strength in the team at this point, but it is clear that Bates desperately needs to improve at bat. Their hitting is weak with a .258 BA, and when you’re losing most of your games to average competition by three or fewer runs, that is a huge problem. Brendan Fox ’17 (.457 BA) is the strongest at the plate with four doubles, one triple, one homerun, 12 RBIs, and five walks. However, against NESCAC opposition, the Bobcats need others to step up.
Middlebury (1-1, 0-0)
The Panthers are at a disadvantage when it comes to accurately ranking teams, as they’ve only played two games so far. After coming in dead last in the conference last year with a 4-24 record, Middlebury needs improvement in a host of areas. Nevertheless, in their first two outings, they demonstrated stability and potential for growth, even defeating Bates in the second game of their doubleheader. The currently success of the pitching rotation comes from freshmen, which is somewhat concerning in a conference with much more experienced pitchers. Colby Morris ’19 holds a 3.00 ERA from his one start. The bullpen, meanwhile, which includes yet another rookie Conor Himstead ’19, has produced five scoreless innings, showing some promise for future matchups. Middlebury gets a nod in our rankings because of room for correction, but realistically, their rank is more due to the current deficiencies of other teams.
Colby (2-8, 0-0)
Right now, Colby’s greatest success has been their average batting average (.317 BA). Seniors Dan Csaplar ’16 and Tyler Starks ’17 lead the pack with averages of .444 and .375, and while they don’t get much distance for their hits, they have been reliable starters. However, the Mules can’t rely on decent batting to make up for sub-par fielding and pitching if they want to win conference games. On the bump, Colby needs to immediately improve its 10.31 ERA if they want to improve in rankings. Dan Schoenfeld ’18 and Robert Donohue ’17 are the steadiest of pitchers, and their ERAs are 4.76 and 9.00. The Mules have had more with Tommy Forese ’16 and Soren Hanson ’16, but they need more than those two. Colby faces Wesleyan next weekend in a non-conference series, and perhaps a week of intense focus and the home field advantage will amount to some good competition.
Williams (1-5, 0-0)
The Ephs have stumbled out of the gates. In their six games, Williams was only able to finish their first of the season with a victory. At the end of the day, the team has everything working against them. On the mound, the Ephs clearly need a lot of work: the team bears a pretty dreadful 12.63 ERA, despite the 1.50 ERA held by Luke Rodino ’17. Yet, the below-average pitchers are assisted by disappointing fielders with a 0.931 FPCT. Hitting is where the Ephs show the greatest strength right now, with a decent 0.345 AVG. Ironically, Williams possesses of two of the best hitters in the conference right now, Kellen Hatheway ’19 (.520) and Jack Roberts ’17 (.500). While power at the plate is a good start for the Ephs, they’ll be eaten alive by the entire NESCAC unless they pull themselves together defensively. The team has talent, and I don’t think they will stay in the cellar, but they have to find answers on the mound.
While you’ve been at home crying over your destroyed March Madness brackets, NESCAC baseball teams have swarmed to warmer climates to start their seasons. Players have already been hard at work with practices and games for weeks – and a month, if you’re Bates -, but it’s these crucial games during break in which coaches and teams determine starting lineups for many home openers set for this coming weekend. Teams may just be trying to find the right lineups, but the stats and results can’t hide from the official record.
While the makeup of Wesleyan’s roster may be different than in previous seasons, its potential for success has hardly diminished. Nevertheless, the Cardinals continue to excel thanks to veteran players like OF Jordan Farber ’16, P Peter Rantz ’16, P/C/2B Nick Miceli ’17, and SS Guy Davidson ’16. Davidson’s spring break run has clinched his position as one of the best hitters in the NESCAC: during the two-week period, he hit .444/.500/.685 as he went 24-for-54, driving in 19 runs and scoring 16 times.
Like the Cardinals, Amherst has continued to dominate the diamond, despite also losing the team’s star, current-MLB player Mike Odenwaelder ’16. Yet, Amherst is currently boasting an 8-1 record and shows no signs of slowing down going forward into the season, especially with the starting outfield of Yanni Thanopoulos ’17, Anthony Spina ’17 and Ariel Kenney ’18 hitting an outrageous .371 through nine games. Kenney himself has gone 16-for-35 and currently leads the team in batting average (.457), on-base percentage (.500), and slugging percentage (.657). Pitcher Jackson Volle ’17, who on Monday was named the NESCAC Pitcher of the Week, opened the season strong, claiming two wins in his first two starts to help Amherst secure their exceptional 8-1 overall record. Volle wrapped up spring break with a tidy 0.64 ERA.
Perhaps the greatest surprise in the early going has been Bowdoin’s brilliant winning streak. They’ve opened the season 7-0 on the strength of some great pitching to the tune of a 2.68 team ERA through the first five games (yesterday’s stats vs. Greenville were not available at the time of this posting).
Now for the first stock report of the what is going to be a very interesting season.
P/C Nick Miceli ’17 (Wesleyan)
Throughout the Cardinals’ first 12 games, Miceli has proven that on the field, he’s a man for all seasons: already he’s stood out in the conference for stellar pitching, hitting and fielding. He’s the ultimate NESCAC Triple Threat.
The junior, having already thrown in five games, is ranked in second in the conference with a 16.2 IP, 8.54 K/G and ERA of 2.16. Miceli’s strength on the mound was clear in Wesleyan’s second game against Bethany Lutheran College on March 7. Bethany Lutheran scored six runs in the first two innings, thanks in large part to some shoddy defense, giving them a generous 6-2 lead heading into the third. The two teams were almost even in hits, with Bethany Lutheran only outhitting Wesleyan by one. During innings 3-6 Miceli was nearly untouchable, allowing four hits but no runs with no walks and five strikeouts. He then impressed in relief on March 11 against Marian University, allowing one run on three hits with four strikeouts in five innings. But that’s not all: Miceli boasts a .474/.500/.632 line in 38 at bats while seeing time mostly at second but also catcher and DH.
In short, Miceli is good. Really good.
Fresh Pitching Faces
Around the NESCAC plenty of youngsters have shown some great potential on the mound in the early going.
After graduating Elias and Cooney and losing Pittore, Wesleyan hasn’t missed a beat on the mound. Miceli has looked good throwing the ball, and Peter Rantz has picked right back up where he left off, but Mike McCaffrey ’19 has shown some potential, too. His first outing was disastrous, to say the least, but so was everything else for the Cardinals in their season-opening 29-14 rout at the hands of Hamline. McCaffrey improved in his second outing, and then shined in his third appearance, a complete game victory over Carleton when he allowed four hits and one walk while striking out 10.
Hamilton’s Spencer Vogelbach ’18 first made a name for himself as a first-year at the beginning of last season. In the Continental’s spring break game against Alfred State, his 11 strikeouts were the most by a Hamilton baseball pitcher in a single game in five years — an accomplishment that should not and cannot be ignored. Vogelbach pitched in three of Hamilton’s seven wins last week, striking out 11 batters and racking up a 14.0 IP with just one walk. The rookie was sixth in the NESCAC with a 2.25 ERA and a 4-1 record last season. Clearly, his rookie season was just a preview of what is to come for Hamilton’s pitching rotation. Dan DePaoli ’18 has also impressed on the bump; he went 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA in two starts that covered 11 innings. In Hamilton’s 7-1 win at Bard on March 12, DePaoli only allowed one unearned run on two hits in six innings of work. Then, in Friday’s 17-6 victory against Lawrence, he gave up three runs on four hits, struck out six and didn’t walk a batter in five innings. He also handled four chances in the field without an error.
Two freshmen started on the bump for Middlebury in their season-opening doubleheader against Bates. Colby Morris ’19 spun a complete game gem but was let down by his offense in a 2-1 loss. In the second of the twinbill, Jack Bunting ’19 was dominant through three innings before a pair of mistakes resulted in a three-run inning and one long left center field homer that was aided by a windy day that saw three balls leave the yard. Bunting finished with 4.0 IP, 3 ER, 5 K and 1 BB. In relief three members of the formerly beleaguered Middlebury staff, including newbie Conor Himstead ’19, combined for five scoreless innings.
Walk Off Victories
It’s hard to tell what the Continentals love more: actually winning with a walk off or showing off the swagger of the moment on social media (as a loyal Continental, I’m personally a fan of both, but I confess I’m biased).
On March 14, the walk-off homerun of OF Kenny Collins ’17 won Hamilton’s first game against Minnesota-Morris by a narrow margin, 3-2. You have to love Collins’ elaborate helmet toss, shown towards the end of the video shared on Hamilton Baseball’s Twitter. I’m pretty sure hurling your helmet into the air is frowned upon by NCAA regulations, but in this situation, how could you not?
Andrew Haser ’17, the NESCAC Player of the Week, built off of Collins’ momentum ending Hamilton’s first game against Allegheny. With bases loaded in the seventh inning, Haser laced a homerun that freed the Continentals from a tied score (and this comes just two days after his grand slam contributed to Hamilton’s 17-6 victory against Lawrence). Haser currently leads the Continentals with 10 runs, seven extra-base hits, 13 RBIs, five doubles and a .706 slugging percentage. The junior is hitting .382 (13-for-34) and has only made one error in 54 chances at shortstop.
The Continentals cheered that they couldn’t believe they managed to escape defeat twice this early into the season? Neither could we.
It’s not just Hamilton walking off in style these days, though. In the second game of the doubleheader between Middlebury and Bates on Saturday, both teams threatened to score in extras of the originally seven-inning ball game. It was all ended with one swing though, when rightfielder Sam Graf ’19 notched his first career hit by smacking a long no-doubter to left field. The Panthers did a solid job of celebrating in their own right.
Starting pitcher Henry Van Zant ’15 was unquestionably Bowdoin’s pride and glory last season, tying the program’s single-season record for wins by going 7-1, including a 5-0 mark in conference games. The stats don’t lie: he was the primary reason Bowdoin kept swimming throughout the season, even if he alone couldn’t launch the Polar Bears into the playoffs. Without him, Bowdoin has to redesign its entire pitching structure, to find a way to be victorious without their star.
In spite of pre-season doubts, Bowdoin really has come out on top, winning all seven of their games so far. And it’s worth noting that only two wins were by a narrow margin — in five of the Polar Bears’ wins to date, they have defeated their opponents by five or more runs.
Seniors Harry Ridge ’16 and Michael Staes ’16 impressed on the mound in Bowdoin’s sweep of Utica on March 15, pitching 5.2 and 7.0 innings, respectively. Ridge earned Bowdoin’s win on the mound while allowing just six hits and two earned runs. He struck out eight with only one walk. Staes turned in a complete seven inning performance in game two, allowing nine hits and only one run to earn the win. He struck out four Pioneers with no walks. Rookie Brandon Lopez ’19 earned his first collegiate win on the mound on March 17 against Dickinson, going six innings and allowing four hits and as many runs. Lopez struck out six and walked a pair.
Offensively, Chad Martin ’16 is clearly building upon his past success at bat. His .311 AVG last season placed him in the middle of NESCAC ranks, but he shows potential to outperform himself in the games ahead. Peter Cimini ’16 added ferocity to the Polar Bears’ deep offense, batting .400 with a .733 slugging percentage through the first five contests, collecting three extra base hits and six RBIs.
Tufts’ 3B Tommy O’Hara ’18
Last spring training, rookie O’Hara was the wiz kid on the Jumbos, developing a .564 OBP in 42 at-bats with six walks during spring break. Throughout the season, the freshman infielder led the team’s offense with a .405 ABG, .518 OBP and .603 SLG. And let’s not forget that he also hit a team-high 14 doubles while registering four home runs, 42 runs scored and 42 RBIs.
The Jumbos may have seen only five games at this point, but their 2-3 record and poor showing at the plate are cause for concern. In his first 16 at bats, O’Hara has amassed a .188/.435/.188 line. That OBP is nice, and is carried by six walks, but he also has seven strikeouts already. O’Hara struck out 25 times all of last season for a 14.9% K rate. Right now he’s walking back to the dugout 30.4% of the time. It’s very early, still, but let’s hope the sophomore isn’t putting too much pressure on himself.
2. Trinity Pitching
The Bantams are 4-6 to open the year, but it’s pretty obvious that the biggest hurdle they will have to climb this season is replacing SP Sean Meekins ’15, he of the 2.01 ERA a year ago. The experienced and usually reliable Jed Robinson ’16 has gotten knocked around in two starts to the tune of a 5.84 ERA, and the other pitchers with two starts already – Anthony Elgein, Jr. ’18, McLane Hill ’18 and Nicholas Fusco ’18 – have ERAs of 3.97, 5.87 and a ghastly 10.38. The bright spot for the rotation so far has been newbie Erik Mohl ’19, who shut down Plattsburgh St. in his one start, throwing six scoreless innings, but his 2:4 K:BB ratio over 7.1 IP does not bode well for the future.
Speaking of Plattsburgh St., the 37 runs that Trinity posted on the Cardinals during their doubleheader last week may be bolstering the team’s .314/.410/.433 slash line, but I’d bet more heavily on the Bantams’ offense than pitching staff right now.
3. Live Stats
I have many bones to pick with the stability of live stats programs this week. It’s hard enough trying to follow a baseball game using play-by-play stats rather than a video stream. A live stats program that continues that constantly lags or repeatedly—or permanently—freezes is just torture.
Over the years, I have accumulated quite a list of grievances about these streams, and the Hamilton vs. Fredonia stats stream probably embodied them all. In the first game, the program showed the stats of Fredonia’s previous game for the first two innings; when it finally switched to the Hamilton game, it never changed the lineup and eventually froze in the bottom of the third inning. It never adjusted for the second game.
Perhaps this was the most extreme of cases, but so far, none of my experiences with live stats during spring training have been positive. Help a fan out, NESCAC! Get it together. I hope, and expect, that the ability to follow along with NESCAC games will improve once all teams return up north, as is usually the case.
On Thursday, March 17, Trinity lost to Rutgers-Camden 9-4 in Auburndale, FL. According to Trinity’s website, however, the team actually played against Rugers-Camden. Now, as a New Jersey native, I was extremely skeptical that “Rugers-Camden” actually existed—I even looked up “Rugers” just to confirm that it’s not a slang way of referring to Rutgers University that I’ve never heard of. But no, Trinity corrected itself in the line below the flawed headline, accurately spelling out “Rutgers-Camden.”
Yet, Rugers appeared again. And then again. And then the website switched back to Rutgers. Then back to Rugers.
I can’t condemn an occasional typo (we’ve all been there), but having exorbitant inconsistencies regarding a nationally known institution on an official college website is inexcusable. Note that the errors still remain throughout the game recap.
The Bantams may have won the game, but the college itself lost in quality coverage. Shame on you, Trinity!
I thought that was all, but then this little nugget was brought to our attention. As noted above, Middlebury walked off on Bates 4-3 in the second game of a doubleheader on Saturday, March 21. According to the NESCAC Weekly Release, however, “Bates def. Middlebury, 4-3”. They have the records right in the Team Standings category, but we couldn’t help backing the Panthers on this one.
New year, new nickname, different roster, same result.
Amherst is back in the Final Four for the third time in just four seasons after a one year hiatus and looking to claim the program’s third national title. More than their previous two trips, this year’s journey to the Final Four was considered a long shot. In 2014 the Purple & White entered the tournament ranked No. 7 at 24-3, and in 2013, when they won the whole shabang, they were 25-2 and ranked second in the country. This year, Amherst ranked No. 16 coming into the tournament, and squeaked through the first weekend with two wins by a total of three points. Then, Amherst controlled the game against Babson in the Sweet 16, but the contest with Tufts was knotted up with under four minutes to play before Amherst finished on a 13-0 run.
No matter how it happened, Amherst is here now with a chance at the title. But, they have to take on, arguably, the best team in the country in undefeated Benedictine University.
It’s hard to find a weakness in the Eagles’ game as they play in their first Final Four. They are lead by two juniors, both from Naperville, Illinois, just a 10 minute ride from the Benedictine campus. Luke Johnson ’17 is an elite talent for the D-III level. He’s taken a circuitous route to get here – playing at two other schools and spending some time earlier in his career at Benedictine, too – but he certainly appears comfortable at last. The 6’9″, 235 lbs center averages 14.5 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 3.2 apg and, here’s the whopper, 3.0 bpg. That’s Tom Palleschi status. Johnson was named the All-Central Region Co-Player of the Year by D3Hooops.com. His fellow Napervillian, Michael “Blasé” Blaszczyk ’17 (I just came up with that nickname), leads the team with 14.6 ppg and contributes across the board with 4.8 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.1 spg and 0.7 bpg. Blaszczyk also brings size to the table at 6’3″, 190 lbs, and has ratched it up in the tournament, scoring 63 points over four games to lead his team. The third key Eagle to watch out for is PG Tahron Harvey ’17. Harvey is a D3Hoops.com All-Central Third Teamer averaging 13.5 ppg, 5.0 apg and 2.2 spg.
The key for Benedictine is that they have shooters all over the floor. Their rotation runs nine deep, and everyone but bruising sixth man Tim Reamer ’16 (6’5″ 240 lbs) can knock down the triple. (Reamer, by the way, was awarded the Elite 90 Award as the athlete at the Final Four with the highest cumulative GPA.) Seven of those nine shoot over 30 percent from deep, including Johnson, which presents a match up nightmare for Amherst. The Eagles will look to feed the big man on the block and let him distribute to their shooters. Furthermore, Benedictine is tenacious on the boards, outrebounding their opponents by 14.7 boards per game. Johnson is a big reason for that, but everyone in the lineup can get after the boards.
Amherst X-factor: Close Out Defense
I’m not going with one player here, but rather a philosophy. And, it’s a philosophy that Amherst has employed quite well so far this season. Amherst has the best three-point percentage defense in the country, and it’s not just because they present great length. To allow only 27.7 percent of opponents’ three pointers to drop, you have to be very good at closing out. I expect Head Coach Dave Hixon to instruct his players to double down on Johnson when he gets the ball in the post, which means it will be even more difficult for Amherst to close out on shooters. If they leave the Eagles’ shooters open it’s going to be a long day for Amherst, but if they can force Benedictine to try to make tough shots in traffic against the size that Amherst’s starting five provides, that could be a recipe for success.
Benedictine X-factor: C Luke Johnson
Johnson is obviously a great all-around player, but he’s an X-factor in this one not because of his scoring, but his propensity to rebound. Amherst has a pretty mediocre rebounding team, grabbing just 3.2 more rebounds per game than their opponents. Recall that Benedictine averages +14.7 boards per game. They also have a great defensive unit. Eagles’ opponents only score at a 37.8 percent clip from the field. That means buckets will be hard to come by for Amherst, and there won’t be many second chances with Johnson cleaning up the boards.
What to Expect:
It’s always so difficult to project NESCAC teams against out-of-region squads. From what I’ve seen over the past four years, the NESCAC is easily the best conference east of Wisconsin. They top-to-bottom quality of teams just can’t be beat, and I think you can look at the number of NESCAC teams that get into the NCAA Tournament, their success, and the success of even mid-tier and lower-tier NESCAC teams against high-quality out-of-conference opponents as proof of that statement. Therefore, and not because of favoritism, I often lean towards NESCAC squads. Even Benedictine can be questioned for the quality of their opponents. Their strength of schedule as of the last NCAA Regional Rankings, which come out before conference tournament play, was an average 0.524. Amherst had a .558 SOS at that time. Since then, however, Benedictine has beaten #10 Ohio Wesleyan and #13 Alma in the NCAA Tournament, so they’ve proven their mettle, and you don’t go 30-0 without having one heck of a roster.
On the Amherst side, the biggest question for me is always the point guard play. Jayde Dawson ’18 is great at times, and at other times gets pulled for Reid Berman ’17, who’s a very good player but has completely gone one-dimensional this year offensively, scoring just 2.1 ppg. One or the other will have to have a big game distributing, because with Benedictine’s defense the worst case scenario for Amherst is that they lose their offensive flow and start trying to go one-on-one on every possession. At the five spot, David George ’17 will see big minutes while trying to defend Johnson, which means less minutes for Eric Conklin ’17, George’s offensive counterpart. If Coach Hixon has to go with a lineup of Berman, Connor Green ’16, Johnny McCarthy ’18, Jeff Racy ’17 and George for extended stretches then they lose some significant offensive punch.
Whoever sees big minutes at the point for Amherst, though, expect this game to be played in the high 70’s and possibly 80’s. Amherst can score in bunches with the best of them, and the Eagles have tallied an outrageous 88.1 ppg this season. With two great, tough defenses though, don’t expect those points to come easy. We might have a uniquely fast-paced game on our hands with lots of misses, few offensive boards, and quick transitions.
As well as I believe the NESCAC prepares its teams for postseason play, I don’t see a chink in the Benedictine armor. The last game they won by less than nine points came on December 30. That’s almost three months ago. Amherst will have to play a perfect game in order to win. I don’t think they can pull it off. They may come close, and a hot night from Racy and Green beyond the arc could push the Purple & White over the top, but Benedictine has the lengthy defenders to stop that and I don’t see it happening.
The 2015-2016 Jumbos will go down as the best team in Tufts men’s basketball team history. At 23-7, Tufts tied their ’05-’06 team with the most wins in school history, and their Elite Eight appearance is the first ever for the program. Following back-to-back 13-12 seasons, expectations were unclear for Tufts, but given their plethora of returning players, Coach Bob Sheldon’s squad hoped to improve on recent years.
Tufts started out on a good note, and were 9-2 heading into conference play. Then they walloped Bowdoin by 33 and smacked around Colby by 27 – things were looking good for the ‘Bos. The following weekend, Tufts headed to Middlebury and lost in OT, and after a blowout win against Hamilton, they lost their second straight overtime game to Wesleyan. They barely scraped by Connecticut College the next day, and the way the NESCAC was shaping up, Tufts was looking like a team that might just beat up on the bottom half while they failed to finish games off against the top half. A Bates beat down and a bad loss to Trinity seemed to align with this trend, but everyone’s perception of the Jumbos changed when Amherst rolled into town the next day. Tufts dominated Amherst, winning by 11 points and never trailing after the 16:05 mark in the first half. Tufts finished the regular season with two more wins, putting themselves at third in the NESCAC heading into the playoffs and with a lot of momentum.
After a good first round win against Williams, Tufts played pretty poorly against Amherst in the semi-finals. Vinny Pace ’18 was really the only bright spot for the Jumbos, as he dropped 33 points, but Tufts could not stop the balanced attack of Amherst, and ended up losing by three. Regardless of this loss, it was pretty clear that Tufts was going to make the NCAA tournament based on their 20-6 record and a handful of quality wins. The NCAA Tournament committee decided that Tufts’ resume was pretty impressive, and as result, Tufts hosted the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament.
On the first possession of the opening round game against Southern Vermont, Pace drove to the hoop and came down awkwardly, injuring his knee pretty badly and ending his season. With their top scorer out, Tufts’ first option obviously became big man Tom Palleschi ’17, and Palleschi sure did impress. Over the last stretch of the regular season, Palleschi carried the Jumbos, and he continued to do so once Pace went down. That night against Southern Vermont, Palleschi scored 17 and followed that with 19 points, 16 points and 20 points in the next three rounds. But just one scorer wouldn’t have been enough for Tufts, so who else stepped up? The answer to that was senior tri-captain Stephen Haladyna ’16. Haladyna scored his 1000th point against Amherst in the NESCAC semi-finals, and with Pace down he was the obvious answer for the next shot-taker. Over the four NCAA games, Haladyna averaged 23.0 ppg on 45.7 percent shooting from the field and went 26-30 from the free throw line. Though the Jumbos ran out of juice against Amherst in the last three minutes in the Elite Eight, this team showed some extreme resilience by winning three games without their top scorer. Palleschi and Haladyna were two of the biggest contributors on both ends of the court during that stretch, while the rest of the squad clearly stepped it up as well.
Highlight Moment: 78-76 Win vs. Southern Vermont in the NCAA First Round
When Pace went down on the first play of the game, the packed house in Medford went dead silent. Everyone in the gym knew that Pace was an integral part of getting the Jumbos into the tournament, and a little doubt crept into everybody’s minds when he was helped off the court. Well, the Jumbos responded with one of their best all-around performances of the season. Palleschi was the anchor, totaling not just 17 points, but also eight blocked shots. Haladyna led the way scoring the ball with 24 points while also grabbing 10 rebounds. Fellow tri-captain Ryan Spadaford ’16 was not to be outdone however, as he added to the effort with 12 points and a game-high 14 boards – pretty impressive for a guard against the big bruisers of Southern Vermont. The well-rounded effort didn’t stop there, however. Tarik Smith ’17 didn’t shoot the ball particularly well on this night, but he found his niche and led the game with six assists. The bench also played an integral role in this win for Tufts: Ben Engvall ’18 played well, totaling his pretty consistent eight points while also grabbing seven boards, but the spotlight shined on freshman sharpshooter Ethan Feldman ’19 in this one. Despite his limited minutes during the rest of the season, Feldman stepped in and put on a clinic on how to shoot the rock, dropping 10 points in 11 minutes. This was a huge win for Tufts, and an extremely emotional one at that. They played as one unit, and it was truly impressive to watch.
Team MVP: Center Tom Palleschi
He might not have been the top scorer, but without this highly skilled big man, Tufts would not have been nearly as good as they were this season. That is not a slight to the rest of the team, but rather a nod to Palleschi. It’s pretty incredible how much attention Big Tom demands from opposing defenses, and his passing ability is a perfect complement to this. I haven’t seen a team play Tufts that doesn’t try to double down on the big guy, but Coach Sheldon intelligently surrounds him with shooters, so just one ball fake eliminates the possibility of a double team. Palleschi is so shifty down low, and his ability to step out and shoot the three-ball this year was huge for Tufts. On the other end of the court, he might be even more important. Palleschi’s 3.90 blocks per game ranked second in all of Division III, and he was one of just two players to block over 100 shots this season (he had 113 blocks in 29 games). Due to his redshirt year during what would have been his sophomore campaign, the Jumbos will get Palleschi back for another year, and they sure are happy to have him returning.
Biggest Surprise: The loss of Hunter Sabety was addition by subtraction
Entering the season, there was lots of talk about Sabety’s transfer to Hofstra. Many critics thought that Sabety’s departure would be a huge loss for Tufts, but it actually opened things up for Coach Sheldon, who took advantage of having a more guard-heavy lineup and incorporated a new fastbreak-based offense. The Jumbos dropped buckets at a crazy rate, and were head and shoulders above everybody else in scoring with an average of 86.0 ppg. Allowing other players to get more involved took away the ability of opposing defenses to collapse on Palleschi, and gave shooters like Spadaford, Haladyna and Pace to get more opportunities to reign down threes from deep. The fast-paced offense also served Palleschi’s shooting ability well, as he was often the last one up the court when they set up in their half-court offense. When opposing centers backed off of Palleschi, he made them pay, and he actually ended up leading the team in three-point shooting percentage at 47.6 percent. The new high-powered offense served the Jumbos very well, and I expect more of the same out of them next year.
Most Interesting Stat: Tufts lead the NESCAC in FTA by a lot
Seriously, Tufts got to the free throw line about a million times more than their opponents. They were 626-841 from the line on the season, which totals to 74.4 percent. The next high number of attempts came from Middlebury, who shot 441-660 on the year. That is 181 extra free throws! I understand that in conference, this number comes down significantly (Tufts still led, with 262 attempts, followed by Wesleyan at 242), but still, this difference is crazy. In their four NCAA games, Tufts shot 131 free throws. The most drastic difference came in their second round game against Skidmore, when Tufts attempted 44 free throws and Skidmore shot just 17. This sky-high number of free throw attempts over the course of the season is definitely related to the high-speed offense that Coach Sheldon implemented, and it is definitely going to be something to watch when next season rolls around.
I think it’s also important to note that Coach Bob Sheldon was the Northeast Region Coach of the Year, and Palleschi was named to the All-Northeast Region Second Team. Congratulations to the two of them on these accomplishments. The only other schools to have two players/coaches recognized were Babson (Joey Flannery ’17 and Isaiah Nelsen ’17), Bowdoin (Lucas Hausman ’16 and Jack Simonds ’19), and Johnson & Wales (Quarry Greenaway ’16 and Tom Garrick ’16). What’s one common denominator that jumps out? Tufts beat all three of these teams. The most impressive part about the Jumbos’ season to me is that they went up against the best competition week in and week out and still amassed a record of 23-7. They beat the #11, #12, #15 and #16 teams in the country, and played a total of nine games against opponents that qualified for the NCAA tournament. That strength of schedule certainly paid dividends for Tufts in March, and it will benefit this team in the future, as they only lose three seniors this year. The young Jumbos will be a very scary team in the NESCAC in 2016-2017.
The 2015 NESCAC baseball season was one for the history books: from a star-studded senior class to a handful of record-breaking underclassmen claiming the spotlight, the players made an impact not only on their own teams but in the entire NESCAC conference. With the season underway, it’s time to review last year’s hits and misses and predict what we can expect from this year’s competition.
But ICYMI, for any reason (like me—they don’t play baseball in London, where I was last spring!), here’s a rundown of the biggest storylines from the 2015 season:
Wesleyan, Wesleyan, Wesleyan: the Continual Rise of the NESCAC Underdog
The Cardinals made history in 2014 when the underdogs grabbed the NESCAC Championship for the first time; they stunned us yet again in 2015 by holding on to the title in a nail-biting match-up against longtime rival Amherst in the final. It was wild. If you missed it (guilty), you really missed out.
Wesleyan just had everything in their arsenal and all the odds in their favor. The Cardinals didn’t graduate a single hitter after the 2014 campaign, and in 2015 the team ultimately produced the program’s record-breaking 31 wins. Offensively, Sam Goodwin-Boyd ’15, Andrew Yin ’15, current Cubs’ minor leaguer Donnie Cimino ’15 and Jonathan Dennett ’15 all produced in their final season. In the field Wesleyan was led by a trio of All-NESCAC performers: Cimino (CF), Goodwin-Boyd (1B) and Guy Davidson ’16 (SS), all of whom were eager to build off the momentum they developed during their summer with the Cape Cod League. Together, the trio helped produce the strongest defense in the NESCAC.
But the talent didn’t stop there: on the mound Wesleyan was a serious force to be reckoned with. Returning starters Nick Cooney ’15, a 2014 All-NESCAC selection, and Gavin Pittore ’16 both pitched in the Cape Cod League in preparation for their season. Sam Elias ’15, who competed in the esteemed New England Collegiate Baseball League the summer before last, was honored with the 2015 NESCAC Pitcher of the Year Award after accumulating a 7.78 K/9 ratio and 1.53 ERA over 76.1 IP. Elias turned into an ace, doing double duty as a starter (seven starts) and closer (four saves), and his 1.03 BB/9 rate was among the league’s best as well. Pete Rantz ’16 rounded out the Cardinals’ dominant rotation, and has big shoes to fill after the graduation of two rotation mates and Pittore’s early departure.
The Man, The Myth, The Legend: the Unstoppable Odenwaelder
At 6’5″ and 225 lbs., Mike Odenwaelder ’16 is the type of baseball player you used to look at and wonder why he wasn’t playing Division-I ball, or even pro. After all, in his first two seasons alone, the player was crowned the 2013 NESCAC Rookie of the Year and 2014 NESCAC Player of the Year and selected for the NCAA Division III Gold Glove Team, the D3Baseball.com All-American team and First Team All-New England.
The real question going into the 2015 season was whether or not Odenwaelder could continue to surpass expectations. He returned to the Jeffs last year fresh off his most successful season. In 2014, he hit .400 with six HRs and 31 RBI, posting a jaw-dropping slugging percentage of .607. On the mound he had a 1.74 ERA over 20.2 IP. Though the Amherst star didn’t pitch for the majority of 2015 because of a shoulder injury, he continued to dominate the NESCAC with his powerful hitting. By the end of the 2015 season, Odenwaelder had racked up a total of 118 games, during which he developed a career batting avg. of .372 with 16 homers, 86 RBI, and 39 stolen bases.
Tufts’ Secret Weapon: Tommy O’Hara ’18
O’Hara transitioned from “rookie” to “phenom” the moment he stepped onto the Jumbo diamond. The freshman third baseman was Tufts’ best hitter on their trip to Virginia and North Carolina. He had an incredible .564 OBP in 42 at-bats with six walks. But the question no one wanted to ask remained in the minds of Tufts’ NESCAC opponents: can a first-year really transform a team?
The answer was a thousand times, yes. Tufts’ offense was undoubtedly questionable at the beginning of the season and definitely needed bolstering if it was to make it to the NESCAC playoffs. O’Hara single-handedly delivered. The freshman infielder led the team with a .405 batting average, .518 on-base percentage and .603 slugging percentage. He also hit a team-high 14 doubles while registering four home runs, 42 runs scored and 42 RBIs.
Oh, and did I mention he was First Team All-NESCAC as well as NESCAC Rookie of the Year? I guess you could say he’s kind of a big deal.
Hamilton’s Franchise: Joe Jensen ’15
The former three-season athlete (football, track, and baseball) gave the Continents serious bragging rights last year, breaking records both on the diamond and off.
In March of last year Jensen outplayed the lofty expectations set out for him after a successful junior year in which he hit .398/.495/.430 and a sophomore campaign during which he set school records with 137 at bats, 30 runs scored and 29 stolen bases. He was in the top three in the NESCAC in batting average (.525), on-base percentage (.587), and slugging percentage (.775) at the end of the month. His trip to Florida was probably his shining moment in the 2015 season, as he had multiple hits in all six games. While his numbers dropped off once the Continentals returned home, he remained one of the best hitters and defensive outfielders in the NESCAC.
Jensen received NESCAC All-Conference honors last spring for the second time, earning second-team recognition after leading the league with 24 stolen bases and a gaudy .450 on-base percentage. His .398 batting average ranked third in the NESCAC.
“His ability to affect the game both defensively and offensively with his speed is something that sets him apart from his peers, both on the field and as a professional prospect,” Hamilton coach Tim Byrnes said following Jensen’s senior season. “Joe is a true take-away center fielder with a plus arm for this level. He’s able to use his plus speed to beat out infield singles, stretch singles into doubles and steal bases at will.”
Bowdoin’s Starting Pitcher Henry Van Zant ’15 (the NESCAC’s Best Non-Cardinal Pitcher)
Van Zant closed out a fantastic career for the Polar Bears by recording one of the finest seasons in program history; he tied the program’s single-season record for wins by going 7-1, including a 5-0 mark in conference games, with a 1.95 earned run average. That some rainy weather allowed Van Zant to pitch and win five NESCAC games is a miracle. Nobody had started five conference games since two players did so during the 2013 season, and Van Zant’s five wins in conference games is a NESCAC record. His complete game shutout over Wesleyan, which ended in a 1-0 victory for the Polar Bears, made him 6-0 overall against NESCAC teams.
Van Zant’s career amounted to 17 win (tied for third in school history) and 168 career strikeouts (ranking him fifth all-time at Bowdoin). Van Zant was named a second-team selection for the All-NESCAC and D3baseball.com teams.
Though Van Zant ultimately lost the Pitcher of the Year nod to his top rival, his remarkable senior season no doubt gave the conference a difficult decision to make.
So with that in mind, here are some of the biggest questions you should have as the 2016 season unfolds:
The Pitcher Problem: Who will take the mount in place of former starters?
Year after year, graduation and the pros inevitably lead to casualties on teams’ rosters, but the damage inflicted this year, especially on the mound, is shocking. Reigning champs Wesleyan lost three—Elias, Pittore, Cooney—of their four top pitchers, leaving Rantz, who threw 60.2 innings with a 2.97 ERA in 2015, to pick up the pieces. After losing Van Zant, Bowdoin has to redesign its pitching plan, and Trinity loses ace Sean Meekins ’15, (3-1, 2.01 ERA, 10.48 K/9, 44.2 IP). Tufts lost Tom Ryan ’15 and Willie Archibad ’15. Amherst lost John Cook ’15. Even Middlebury lost Eric Truss ’15, who finished 9th in the NESCAC.
The pitching lineups of Hamilton, Williams, Bates and Colby appear unscathed, but time has yet to tell how the returning starters will mesh with the young up-and-comers on the roster.
While the teams’ are grateful for the underclassmen they set as starters last season, they still need to figure out how inexperienced pitchers will contribute to NESCAC competition during spring training. The clock’s ticking.
The Odenwaelder Inheritance: Who will fill the shoes left in centerfield?
As anticipated, Odenwaelder was picked by the Baltimore Orioles in the 16th Round (493 overall) of the 2015 Major League Draft. But anticipation didn’t seem to lead to effective planning: Odenwaelder’s incredible talent overshadowed several, if not most, of the other Jeffs, and has consequently left a gaping hole to be filled.
Thankfully, Amherst returns several promising team members, including Harry Roberson ’18, he finished his breakout freshman year with an OBP of .429. Yet, while Roberson is unquestionably a standout hitter, it’s unknown if he can carry the team like Odenwaelder. Yanni Thanopoulos ’17 and Connor Gunn’16 have promising stats, but it’s unlikely Amherst will be the same offensive dynamite as last spring.
Nevertheless, Amherst pushed Wesleyan all the way to extra innings in a winner-take-all NESCAC championship game, so all hope is not lost for the Jeffs.
The End of an Era? How will reigning NESCAC champs Wesleyan compete against the competition after losing most of their starters?
Elias, Cooney, Goodwin-Boyd, Dennett and Yin are off the field and into the real world of post-college life. Pittore signed as an undrafted free agent with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Cimino is with the Cubs organization. Guys essential to the Wesleyan machine, and part of the epic 2015 class of athletes at Wesleyan, are no longer a part of its construction, and for the two-time reigning NESCAC champions, that’s pretty frightening.
Shortstop Guy Davidson ’16 had a notable 2015 season and is back to up his game, but there are very few sure bets in the Cardinals’ lineup. On the flip side of that, though, the early returns on Wesleyan’s shiny, new lineup are darn right impressive. The Cardinals are hitting .386/.469/.600 as a squad through eight games down in Arizona. Gotta love that thin Tucson air.
Wesleyan has been so successful because it has been a complete, practiced team—the players worked for years to mesh together and become the reigning champions. There are a lot of gaping holes in the lineup now, and it’s unlikely the Cardinals will be able to fill them all this season. We’re looking at a dramatically different team than those we’ve grow accustomed to seeing come out of close games victorious again and again.
So, with Wesleyan in a sort of limbo, who will take up the mantle in the West? Amherst lost its beloved star to MLB, but still packs a ton of talent. Middlebury and Hamilton have promising players, but it’s unlikely that they are ready to step up to the plate. Williams has been in a sort of middle tier limbo for awhile now. I’d wager that Hamilton may have an inside track on a playoff spot; the team lost only one starting player going into this year, guaranteeing a solid lineup.
The Spring of Tufts? Do the Jumbos have what it takes to win the NESCAC East this season?
The Jumbos aren’t without any losses: their lineup will have to make do without big contributors like Connor McDavitt ’15 and Bryan Egan ’15. However, Tufts’ fantastic pitchers Tim Superko ’17 and Andrew David ’16 give them a solid baseline on the field, and in a re-building season for many teams, that is a real boon. And then there’s O’Hara. Tommy O’Hara earned D3baseball.com Preseason All-America accolades following a tremendous freshman campaign last spring.
By putting faith in underclassmen—and phenomenal ones at that—early on, the Jumbos have outsmarted other NESCAC teams struggling to pull together competitive lineups.
Chemistry on the Continentals: Is Hamilton the next NESCAC powerhouse?
Hamilton lost just one starter from the lineup, and the strength of the pitching rotation returns.
Even though the Continentals will play without Alex Pachella ’15 or JJ Lane ’15, co-captain Cole Dreyfuss ’16 stood out as the real pitching MVP for the Continentals last spring. Dreyfuss assembled a 5-2 record in seven starts and struck out 41 batters. He ended up third in the conference with a 1.89 earned run average in 47.2 innings.
Overall, the rotation is promising: hard-throwing right-hander Spencer Vogelbach ’18 was the No. 4 starter in 2015 but should be in the weekend rotation this season. Vogelbach went 4-1 with one save and was sixth in the NESCAC with a 2.25 ERA, averaging 9.90 strikeouts per nine innings and fanning a total of 44 batters in 40 innings, but with the propensity to get wild at times. Last season, Finlay O’Hara ’17 also emerged as a versatile arm, earning a 2-2 record and two saves. F. O’Hara struck out 28 hitters and walked just five in 28.2 innings. Depth in the bullpen is added by Dan DePaoli ’18, who fanned 22 batters in 22.2 innings. Charlie Lynn ’18 and Mike Borek ’18 provide depth in the bullpen.
Offensively, Hamilton has fostered a dangerous core group of juniors in twins Kenny and Chris Collins ’17, designated hitter Andrew Haser ’17 and outfielder Ryan Wolfsberg ’17. Kenny Collins, one of this year’s captains, finished with 32 hits in 102 at-bats for a .314 average and scored 21 runs, while hitting six doubles and three triples. He was fourth in the NESCAC with 16 stolen bases and represented the Wellsville Nitros in the 2015 New York Collegiate Baseball League All-Star Game. Chris Collins, meanwhile, hit .309 (30-97), cracked six doubles and stole 14 bases. Haser showed great improvement last season after having an OBP below .300 in 2014. To finish off the group, Wolfsberg developed his skills in the California Collegiate League last summer after finishing in fourth in the NESCAC with a .396 batting average (36-for-91) in 2015, smacking nine doubles, three triples and four homers and driving in 25 runs. The outfielder posted a .692 slugging percentage and a .449 on-base percentage.
Second baseman Zack Becker ’16 also proved to be an incredible offensive player last season, rebounding after a disastrous sophomore campaign. He was eighth in the conference with a .365 batting average (27-for-74) and enjoyed his best season at Hamilton with five doubles and a pair of round-trippers to go with an on-base percentage of .447.
In just two weeks, the season will begin in full force. While you can never really be sure what’s going to happen in baseball, it’s certain that these questions will significantly linger throughout the spring.
If this Tufts team hasn’t signed and sent a thank you card to the Amherst College women’s team yet, they better get on that, because without them, Tufts wouldn’t be hosting this weekend. Due to the NCAA Division-III rules, if both the men’s and women’s team from a school are set to host, the men’s team gets priority to host the first weekend of the tournament and the Women’s team gets priority to host the second weekend (it alternates every year). The Amherst men’s team would be hosting, but because their women’s team also advanced to the Sweet 16, Tufts got backdoor home court advantage. That leaves us with Amherst playing Babson at 5:30 pm tonight and Tufts playing Johnson & Wales at 7:30 pm. Here’s what to expect from the second game.
Perhaps the biggest story leading up to this game is Tufts’ loss of Vinny Pace ’18. On the first play of the game last Friday, Pace drove to the paint. There was some contact, which was certainly legal, but it sent Pace’s upper body in one direction and his lower body in the other. When Pace landed, he immediately grabbed his leg – more specifically, his knee – while writhing in pain on the floor. Pace exited the game in under 30 seconds and did not return all weekend. As of now, it’s unclear what Pace’s status is exactly, but I’d be surprised if he’s back this weekend based on his immediate reaction.
So where does that leave the Jumbos? Based on their play last weekend, I’d say nothing changes from a strategy standpoint. It was a “next man up” mentality, reminiscent of this season’s New England Patriots, as Ethan Feldman ’19 stepped in to play 11 minutes on Friday and 17 minutes on Saturday. Feldman scored 10 points and 14 points respectively, and showed off his supreme ability to stretch the floor for the Jumbos, going 6-9 from the three-point line on the weekend. On Friday, Coach Bob Sheldon was a bit more tentative to play Feldman, but the freshman clearly gained his trust, evident by his increased minutes on Saturday. So where did all the minutes go on Friday? Well, the rest of the starting five (excluding Pace) played the following number of minutes against Southern Vermont: Tom Palleschi ’17, 34; Ryan Spadaford ’16, 34; Tarik Smith ’17, 37; Stephen Haladyna ’16, 38. That’s pretty wild. Haladyna continued his late-season surge, going for a game-high 24 points, which also counted for his career-high. In his last six games, Haladyna is averaging 17.5 ppg, which barely tops Palleschi’s 17.3 ppg over the same stretch. Palleschi has also been red-hot, evidenced by his 17 points Friday night and 19 points on Saturday night. However, Palleschi’s impact hasn’t just been on the offensive end – over the weekend, Palleschi totaled 13 (!!) blocked shots. That’s insane. Though the scoring was more evenly spread out on Saturday against Skidmore, it is clear that Haladyna and Palleschi, two of the longest tenured players on the roster, are willing this team through. The resilience and desire of these two captains has allowed guys like their co-captain Spadaford and their junior point guard Smith to play with less pressure, while allowing younger players like Feldman, Ben Engvall ’18, and Everett Dayton ’18 to step in and play big minutes. The fact that these freshmen and sophomores can step in seamlessly in the biggest games of the season is a very encouraging sign for the Jumbos.
On the Johnson & Wales side of the court, the story is pretty different. Both teams play about seven deep, but that’s where the similarities end. Tufts is a team that spreads the scoring around to lots of different guys (and different players on different nights) … let’s just say Johnson & Wales does not do that. Seriously though, two guys account for 53.7 percent of the J&W scoring, and when you add the third highest scorer, that percentage jumps to 64.8 percent of the team’s average. To put this in perspective, Tufts’ top two score 37.6 percent of their points, and the top three score 51.8 percent. J&W lives and dies by seniors Quarry Greenaway ’16 and Tom Garrick ’16. J&W has played 30 games this year. Either Greenaway or Garrick has led the team in points in every single game, and in just five of games have one of these two players been outscored by another player on the team. I think I have to chalk the first game of the season as either a fluke or just a lack of togetherness, because J&W is a better team than Linfield in every single way, so I’m not going to address that loss. In their only other loss of the season (J&W is 28-2 overall, 28-1 in conference), the Wildcats were carried by Greenaway’s 35 points, but Garrick really struggled shooting the ball, going just 6-20 from the field. It’s not that weird for a star player to have an off game – this is college basketball after all – that kind of stuff happens, right? Well, not at J&W it doesn’t. In their loss to Albertus Magnus on February 13, Garrick’s 13 points put him behind Greenaway, Jarell Lawson ’18 (18 points) and Robert Lewis ’16 (15 points). That was the only time this season that Garrick or Greenaway was below third in scoring on their team. Maybe it’s coincidence, but what I’m suggesting is this: if you want to beat Johnson & Wales, you just need to shut down one of these two guys. Maybe forcing foul trouble can do it; Greenaway plays 34.5 mpg, while Garrick plays 34.2 mpg; forcing a bench player to take one of their spots could work, but both of them have shown the ability to go off for 30+ when the other is struggling, so you never know. J&W doesn’t play the hardest schedule in the country, evidenced by an average margin of victory that sits at 25.2 ppg, but the consistency of these margins of victory shows that they always play at a high level. Last weekend, J&W was definitely challenged – just look at the turnover numbers. On average, J&W wins the turnover battle by just under eight per game (average margin is -7.7 to/g). In their two NCAA games, J&W turned the ball over two more times than their opponents did (J&W, 32 turnovers; opponents, 30 turnovers). This huge swing in turnovers shows that J&W definitely struggles against better defenses.
Tufts X-factor: Center Tom Palleschi
Arguably the most important part of this game is going to be the ability of Tufts to break the Johnson & Wales press – the key to doing that is Tom Palleschi. The Wildcats play a five-guard lineup. No one on the J&W roster is over 6’5”, and pretty much everybody who gets minutes is listed as a guard except for Michael Kiser ’18, their 6’2” center. Their press works because of how quick the Wildcats are and how hard they attack ball handlers with the pressure. The huge advantage that Tufts has is that Palleschi is 6’8”. This size advantage is why Palleschi is so important in this game. If Palleschi can flash to the middle and receive the ball during the press, the Jumbos will be able to advance the ball down the floor much more easily than if they try to dribble their way through it. I’ve always thought that Palleschi is one of the best passing centers in the NESCAC, and his ball fakes are next-level (to be honest, he fools me with them half the time). If Palleschi can help break the J&W press, Tufts will get very good looks on the offensive end. Breaking the press will lead to a lot of quick, easy shots for the Jumbos, but if they slow up into a half-court game, Palleschi will once again be of great importance. He should be able to dominate down low, but expect that the Wildcats will double down when he touches the ball in the post, which will give the big boy a chance to kick it out to shooters.
Johnson & Wales X-factor: Guard Tom Garrick ‘16
As I outlined above, J&W relies pretty substantially on two players: Tom Garrick and Quarry Greenaway. Out of the two, Greenaway is the more consistent, but Garrick still averages over 20 a game so he’s by no means an inconsistent player. Garrick is a slightly worse shooter from the field and from beyond the arc, but he excels at getting to the rim. As a whole, the Great Northeast Athletic Conference does not roll out a ton of really tall big men, which is why I’m pegging Garrick as the X-factor. Johnson & Wales has not seen a shot blocker like Palleschi, who is second in the country in blocks per game. This past weekend, Palleschi eclipsed 100 blocks on the season, and the way he was throwing shots out of bounds suggested that non-conference teams are just not quite as adjusted to his shot-blocking ability as NESCAC teams are. Garrick has shown the ability to shoot a decent midrange jump shot, but the 6’5” guard could struggle in the paint going up against the 6’8” center. I think Garrick’s success scoring the ball could definitely depend on his ability to hit jump shots, and if he’s not doing that, then guys like Anthony Jernigan ’17 or Jarell Lawson ’18 are going to have to step up.
1.) Can Tufts break the press?
As I mentioned above, Johnson & Wales presses all the time. I haven’t seen a press stump Tufts all year long, but I also haven’t seen them face a good press, so there’s very little to base an analysis off of in that regard. However, look at the Tufts ball handlers. Smith is obviously very competent with the ball in his hands, and I think Engvall does a great job of moving north/south with the ball in his hands rather than just east/west. Dayton has been a solid point guard behind Smith all year long and looks like he’s in control when he’s leading the Tufts offense, and Thomas Lapham ’18, though his minutes have been down this year, has plenty of game experience as he split time starting with Smith last year. However, Smith is really the only Tufts guard who has seen intense pressure on a regular basis this season, there is definitely a question mark against these other Tufts guards. The key is getting the ball to Palleschi in the middle, who can then look over the top of the defense and find the open man. Drew Madsen ’17 is going to play a big role on the press when Palleschi heads to the bench. If Madsen and Palleschi can serve as reliable outlets for the Tufts guards, I think they’ll be fine with the press.
2.) Can Tufts stop Greenaway and Garrick?
Tufts has showed that they can stop teams with just one premier scorer this season. For example, when they played Bowdoin in the opening weekend of NESCAC play, the Jumbos held Lucas Hausman ’16 to just 11 points on 3-10 shooting. However, when they played Amherst in the regular season, who has a much more balanced attack, they struggled a bit to stop Connor Green ’16, who put up 28 on the Jumbos. However, that same game, Jeff Racy ’17 didn’t hit a shot. On the flip side, they played Amherst in the NESCAC semifinals at Trinity and six Amherst players scored in double digits on their way to bouncing Tufts from the conference tournament. It’s games like this that the Jumbos struggle in – games where the opponents spread out their scoring among numerous players. In all their losses, Tufts allowed numerous players to beat them. The more one-dimensional teams struggle against the Tufts defense, specifically Haladyna, who has shown the ability to lock down premier scorers and shooters. So I realize that I’ve gotten away from the question a bit, but to put it simply, I think that Tufts can at least slow down the attack of J&W’s two studs. Sure, Greenaway and Garrick may carry the load, but I think J&W is going to have the most success if they get a couple other guys involved in the scoring. This will open up space for the two senior Wildcats to get buckets.
3.) Who steps up for the Jumbos on the offensive end?
Without Pace last weekend, and with Stefan Duvivier ’18 out with the flu, Tufts went a bit deeper than normal in terms of bench minutes. I believe Duvivier will be back this weekend, but it’s pretty tough to get your wind back following a sickness. That means the increased minutes that Dayton, Engvall and Feldman all saw will probably stay the same. So who steps up to score for the Jumbos this weekend? Last weekend, Palleschi and Haladyna led the way, as has been the case for Tufts over most of the last couple weeks. Feldman stepped up with some cold-blooded shooting last weekend – can he do that again? Will Spadaford get to the line and knock down five or six free throws like last weekend? How about Smith? The theme that has developed down the stretch is that the entire starting lineup needs to be involved for Tufts to play well. When the scoring is spread out, their shooting percentages are all way up and the defense has a hard time guarding everybody. In theory, Palleschi should have a high-scoring game based on his size advantage, but the fast pace of this one may limit his ability to get into the paint and go to work. I’m sensing a big game out of Engvall. He’s a great, tough finisher around the rim, especially on the break, and without the presence of a true big, there’s really nothing stopping him from getting those shots off in the paint.
I think that two of the most important parts of this game are the first five minutes of each half. If the frantic Johnson & Wales throws off Tufts early, Johnson & Wales could jump out to a big lead. Ultimately, Tufts will get some easy hoops off the press, but they’re also bound to make some mistakes in their attempts to break it. The biggest battle of the first half lies in Tufts keeping it close or taking a lead out of the gate. J&W really hasn’t trailed too much this year, so this is the easiest way for Tufts to force the Wildcats out of their comfort zone. In the beginning of the second half, I assume that J&W will try to spark a run once again with their press, so it’s vital for Tufts that they stay calm and take care of the ball. Last year when these two met, Tufts shot the ball very, very poorly. They were 19-60 from the field, 4-16 from deep, and 10-20 from the free throw line. That’s horrible. It was close for a while, but about midway through the second half Tufts’ shooting caught up with them and J&W went on a big run. If Tufts allows runs like this from the Wildcats, they are going to have a tough time bouncing back with runs of their own. Then again, the Jumbos are much more apt to handle the five-guard J&W attack this year, as Tufts sports a four-guard attack of their own. I think Tufts has to play really, really well to win this one. They need to minimize mistakes, while J&W needs to force mistakes and then capitalize off of them. Tufts handled the ball very well last weekend – they had just 19 turnovers between the two games – and I think they will do this again. It’s going to take a really strong shooting performance, but I think Tufts pulls this one off at the end.
Tufts 80 – Johnson & Wales 79
Eye on Saturday
Amherst and Babson are two pretty evenly matched teams had to play two overtime periods to determine a winner back in December. Amherst ended up winning that game 103-96, primarily because Connor Green dropped 39 points on the Beavers. Joey Flannery ’17 is easily the best player on the Babson roster. He’s averaging 24.2 ppg this year, and actually recently became the leading scorer in Babson men’s basketball history. Oh yeah, he’s just a junior. Unfortunately for Babson, Flannery went down with an ankle injury last weekend. I’m guessing he’s going to at least try to play this weekend, which is a huge boost for the Beavers. Amherst benefits from a less than fully health Flannery, and I think the ex-Lord Jeffs are going to roll in this one. NESCAC teams have been Babson’s kryptonite this year: Babson lost five total games, and four were against NESCAC teams (they didn’t beat any NESCAC teams either). Babson does ride into this one with a 13-game winning streak, but I think Amherst will advance to Saturday.
That leaves us with a rubber match between Tufts and Amherst based on my predictions, which would be pretty incredible. Tufts beat Amherst by 11 earlier this year in Medford, and then Amherst got their revenge in the NESCAC semi-finals when they edged Tufts by three points. The two keys to this game (if it happens) will be Palleschi’s matchup with Eric Conklin ’17 and the ability of Tufts to slow down Green, who absolutely dominates in Cousens Gym. I have no idea what would happen in this game, because the two matchups between Tufts and Amherst this year have been completely different games. All I can say is this: a NESCAC matchup in the Elite Eight would be pretty epic, and I am definitely rooting for that to happen.
This game is going to be a barn-burner. Amherst is ranked 15th and Babson is 16th. They already played each other early in the season on Dec. 10, and it was a wild double-OT, 103-96 finish in favor of the NESCAC squad. These teams have been deep in the NCAAs before, have seasoned coaches, big time players, and championship aspirations. Babson lost in the Final Four last year and the year before that, Amherst won it all. These teams are used to playing good teams in big time situations and that’s why its going to be one of the best games we have seen all season. The last time these two saw each other, Amherst’s Connor Green ’16 went off for 39 points, way above his 14.9 ppg average on the season, and Babson shot just 21-32 (65.6 percent) from the free throw line, not making their free baskets when it counted. The overtime periods were completely different contests as three Amherst starters, David George ’17, Jayde Dawson ’18, and Johnny McCarthy ’18, all fouled out while Isaiah Nelsen ’17 also reached five fouls for Babson. While it was undeniably a close game, many things could change for each team in this game, so who is going to do what it takes to come out on top?
Amherst is a familiar opponent for the Babson Beavers. Babson has played four contests against the NESCAC which have accounted for four of their five total losses. It would be easy to say that the Beavers can’t handle this conference. After talking with Coach Stephen Brennan, 2016 NEWMAC Coach of the Year, I am not going to say that they are going to roll over so easily. First off, the fact that they played so many NESCAC teams shows that they have a tough schedule and play strong non-conference teams. Their overall strength of schedule this year at the time of the last public NCAA Regional Rankings was an impressive 0.539. Amherst’s wasn’t much higher – 0.558. Last year against NESCAC teams, Babson only lost to Bates, perhaps showing that this year’s record might have been a bit of an anomaly. In their game against Tufts, the opposition’s Ryan Spadaford ’16 made a 30-foot shot as time ran out to win the game, something that probably wouldn’t happen again if they played later this weekend. As far as personnel goes, Joey Flannery ’17, averaging 24.2 ppg and 6.9 rpg, and Nelsen, averaging 16.1 ppg and 8.6 rpg, are the clear leaders for the Beavers, both All-ECAC honorees. However, Flannery missed Babson’s Second Round game with a sprained ankle, and without him the Beavers are a much weaker team. The recent emergence of Nick Comenale ’18 has really helped Babson down the stretch. Comenale was averaging 3.4 ppg on January 24, the day he got his first start for Babson. Since then, he’s averaged 13.1 ppg and Amherst Coach Dave Hixon says “He really stretches other teams out.” Also, the potential of Bradley Jacks ’18 is something to watch out for as he averages 12.0 ppg but dropped 30 against Bowdoin earlier this year.
Amherst X-Factor: Guard/Forward Connor Green
Last time against Babson, Green scored 39 points in 41 minutes, accounting for basically 40 percent of Amherst’s points. While Amherst does have a balanced team with four players averaging over 10 points and nine players averaging over 10 minutes, clearly Green’s outburst helped them win. On top of that, as Amherst’s top scorer, he will be going back and forth scoring with Flannery who was injured last game, creating a potential deviation between their productivity. Green could easily give his team an edge.
Babson X-Factor: Free Throw Shooting
While Amherst’s Coach Dave Hixon doesn’t think that Babson’s poor free throw shooting was a huge reason for his team’s win in their previous meeting, Babson Coach Stephen Brennan thinks differently. In a call with him, he emphasized how important accuracy from the charity stripe was going to be for his Beavers and how if not for a low 65 percent from the line last time, his team could’ve very well have pulled out the win.
1. Does the presence of Comenale make a difference?
Yes. He didn’t play last time the two teams met, and at the time, wouldn’t have had a huge impact, but since then he has become a starter, reaching double digit points almost every game and grabbing over four rebounds a game since he began receiving significant minutes. Also, this will change around the lineup that Amherst saw last time, making their last meeting less of an indication of how this game could go.
2. Will Flannery be ready to go for Babson?
He’s probably going to play, but we have no way of knowing exactly how ready and mobile he will be after a sprained ankle. I’m sure that he will play hard in this pivotal game for his Beavers, but without him, I am not sure how well they would compete against Amherst. Without his 24.2 ppg, Babson won’t have much room for error, as they barely won their last game 70-67 against #19 Susquehanna. So he better be ready to go.
3. Who is the predicted favorite?
Even though Amherst won the only meeting these two teams had earlier this season, as both coaches put it, each team is much different than they were when they last played. As previously mentioned, Comenale is a new starter, averaging big minutes, and each team has played a season’s worth of games, developing as a unit, especially with each team’s transfer students as “it takes a while for them to settle in,” according to Coach Hixon. This is going to be a close contest and since Amherst won before and is still higher ranked, it looks like they are the favorite on paper, but not by much.
What to Expect
Babson is not going to go away lightly. Learning from a double OT loss before, they know that this game is going to be a dog fight. Amherst likes to shoot a lot of threes and is certainly good at it, racking up 37.3 percent of the long shots this year. McCarthy and Michael Riopel ’18 are going to need to defend Nelsen, Flannery and the rest of Babson well as they average 81.6 ppg (the same ppg as Amherst). The site of this game will also be impactful as the last meeting was at Babson and this is at a neutral site. Ah, the beauty of the D-III tournament. Amherst deserved the regional more than anyone else left, but Tufts is more centralized for all four teams (the last being Johnson & Wales of Providence, RI) and the Amherst women are hosting on the No Mascots’ campus this weekend. Instead of a home crowd decked out in Purple and White, Amherst will probably be met by more Beaver fans. Even though Flannery was injured for Babson against Susquehanna, they were still able to win their 13th straight game against the #19 ranked school in the country. Amherst on the other hand lost a close game to Middlebury in the NESCAC championship while their team was pretty beat up. Each team at this point in the season is going to be a bit injured, but that shouldn’t give one team too much of an advantage over the other. Overall, Babson has more momentum, but Amherst won’t be lacking confidence after beating them earlier in the year. Bottom line is both teams deserve to be here. If Flannery was 100 percent healthy, I think Babson pulls this game out, but since he is hobbled with the ankle injury, Amherst looks primed to outlast the Beavers in a back-and-forth game.
The Buffalo Bills of the early 1990’s. The 1990’s Atlanta Braves (except for 1995). University of Michigan basketball in 1992 and 1993. And, worst of all, the 2007 Patriots.
All dynastic-type franchises and programs. None of them champions. It takes a certain level of talent to be the best team and win more games than anyone else throughout the course of a season. It takes something else, some undefinable, to be a champion.
As great as Trinity basketball has been over the course of the past two seasons – a 42-15 record (.737), 18-2 (.900) conference record, defenses rated near the top of the NESCAC and all of Division-III, an Elite Eight run a year ago and another NCAA trip this season – they have not been able to win a NESCAC title despite the Semis and Finals being played in Hartford. After once again clinching home court advantage through the NESCAC playoffs, the Semifinal exit for the Bantams was a disappointing one.
Let’s not forget, though, about the accomplishments that this team achieved. The Bantams graduated a few critical pieces, as most good teams do. Hart Gliedman ’15, a tenacious perimeter defender. George Papadeas ’15, a paint-clogging center at 6’8″. And a couple of important forwards in Steve Spirou ’15 and Alex Conaway ’15. The backcourt went through a further transition, as Andrew Hurd ’16 became the PG1 and Jaquann Starks ’16, an All-NESCAC player last year, had to morph himself into a traditional two-guard. There was a question of what kind of offensive production Trinity would get out of the post. Last year center Ed Ogundeko ’17 was the team’s third-leading scorer, but he shot an ugly 46.3 percent from the floor – not very good for a guy that doesn’t shoot from outside the paint. And lastly, there was the question of how the team would respond from a disappointing loss in the NESCAC Semis followed by a deep NCAA run.
All things considered, Trinity had a successful year, once again claiming the No. 1 seed by being the best team during the NESCAC regular season. There’s no doubt, though, that the Bantams will look back on this season and feel that there was some unfinished business.
Highlight Moment: 76-75 Win against Williams in the NESCAC Season Opener
The first game of the conference schedule always carries a lot of weight, but that is particularly true for a team like Trinity, trying to prove that it is not a fluke. The upstart Ephs had the advantage down the stretch, but it was the cool nerves of the experienced Bantams that made the difference. Trinity was down 70-68 with just moments to play, but then scored six points off of steals – two from Shay Ajayi ’16 and one from Starks – to stay in the fight. Finally, it was a contested, banked-in runner from Starks with six seconds left and followed by a steal from Starks himself that iced the game.
Team MVP: F Shay Ajayi
This is an easy one, as Ajayi not only gets our vote for Team MVP, but he already took home NESCAC POY honors. Ajayi’s game is so well-rounded that it’s hard to find a weakness. He is a menace defensively because of his length, and his ability to score inside, outside and attacking the rim is unmatched in the NESCAC. His stat line speaks for itself: 13.9 ppg on 48.3/32.1/78.0% shooting, 7.3 rpg, 1.6 spg and 1.0 bpg.
Biggest Surprise: The Loss of Hart Gliedman Didn’t Hurt Too Badly
People close to the program might read that and think I’m crazy. I don’t know how important Gliedman was as a leader and a presence off the floor, and believe me, as a former scrappy all-defense guard myself back in high school and today on the intramural circuit, I respect the man’s game. I only say this because American University transfer Langdon Neal ’17 became a vicious perimeter defender this season. Every time I watched Trinity, Neal was the player that caught my eye, constantly pressuring the ball handler and disrupting passing lanes. Need proof of his defensive capabilities? How about 1.0 steals per game in just 14.1 minutes per game. Ajayi lead the Bantams with 1.6 steals per game, but of course was also on the floor for almost 25 minutes per game. Neal comes in at 14th in the league in steals per game, and played by far the fewest minutes of anyone ranked that high. Tim Ahn ’19 (17.0 mpg) and Josh Britten ’16 (19.5 mpg) were the only guys above Neal that played less than 20 minutes per contest. I’d love to see what Neal does in an expanded role next season, and if he breaks into the starting five he could be a sneaky play for DPOY.
Most Interesting Stat: Shay Ajayi lead the Bantams with 24.9 mpg
That might not sound like a spectacular stat, but get this. Ajayi’s 24.9 mpg ranks 33rd in the NESCAC. Every other team besides Bates (one, Mike Boornazian ’16) and Conn College (two, Tyler Rowe ’19 and Zuri Pavlin ’17) had at least three players average more minutes than Ajayi. The entire Colby starting five averaged more minutes than Ajayi. Obviously, the advantage for the Bantams was that they were always fresh. It’s interesting though. What could Head Coach James Cosgrove be giving up by leaving Ajayi (or Starks, or Ogundeko, etc.) on the bench for 15 minutes and going to the eighth, ninth or 10th guy in the rotation? The Bantams’ core players were forced into more usage in the playoffs. Against Middlebury, Ajayi played 24 minutes, Starks 25, Ogundeko 26 and Hurd 29. Against Johnson & Wales, the totals were Ajayi 22, Starks 22, Hurd 27 and Ogundeko 31. Is it possible that they were worn down towards the end of the game, and that lead to those losses? We’ll never know for sure, and Cosgrove basically employed the same strategy last season, when the Bantams lost in the NESCAC Semis but did make it to the Elite Eight (Starks lead with 28.6 mpg, Ajayi was second with 25.2 mpg and no one else topped 22.1 mpg). It’s proven to be an effective strategy during the regular season, but perhaps it has contributed to a few disappointing postseason showings.
Editor’s Note: Our baseball coverage this spring is not going to be as comprehensive as in the past two seasons. Blame senior spring and most of our writers also being baseball players.
Every year February sneaks up on me because I’m busy not freezing to death while being caught up in the excitement of NESCAC basketball. So every year Bates begins their season and I’m blindsided. Players have been hard at work getting in practices either late at night or early in the morning. The season really gets going this Saturday with five NESCAC teams playing games, but the NESCAC regular season doesn’t begin until April 1 so you (and us too) have plenty of time to get up to speed.
The 2015 baseball senior class was a loaded one, and the additional loss of the two most talented underclassmen (more on them later) to Major League Baseball makes the returning talent pool even smaller. A lot of new names are going to make a major impact on this season, and it is unlikely the predictability of last season holds again. Wesleyan has reigned supreme for the past two years. They dominated last season going undefeated in the regular season and winning the NESCAC tournament, and they won the NESCAC tournament in 2014 as heavy underdogs.
Brief aside: we began this site in the spring of 2014 with coverage of baseball. For some reason, I had illusions that when we started the blog that it would spread quickly and our readership would quickly develop. That didn’t quite happen, and it took us a LONG time just to get 100 Twitter followers. I was a little discouraged by the end of the spring, but then something happened after Wesleyan won the NESCAC championship. I had been writing all spring about how I didn’t think the Cardinals were that good and had picked them to lose early in the tournament. After they won, one of the Wesleyan players (I’m pretty sure they’ve deleted their Twitter since then) tweeted at the blog handle saying something to the effect of, “How you like us now?” A ton of other guys on the Wesleyan team retweeted and favorited it, and that was when I knew that things were going to be all right.
Back to this year. Wesleyan is going to look a lot different this season. They have already started their season in Arizona, and boy did things go badly in the first game Sunday. Wesleyan went down 24-0 after the third inning in a game that was an unmitigated disaster. You shouldn’t read too much into it, though. The first game of a baseball season, especially for a team that has barely been able to practice outdoors because of the New England weather, is notoriously fickle. Trips down south count on the official record, but they are still viewed as glorified spring training games by most. Anyways, Wesleyan swept a doubleheader the next day.
Wesleyan loses Donnie Cimino ’15 and Andrew Yin ’15, their two hitters at the top of the lineup, and three other positional starters. That doesn’t hurt as badly as the losses in the rotation where Sam Elias ’15, Nick Cooney ’15, and Gavin Pittore ’16 are all gone. That trio threw basically all of the high leverage innings a season ago, and the rotation is a mystery behind Peter Rantz ’16 who threw 60.2 innings with a 2.97 ERA in 2015. The good news is that slugging shortstop Guy Davidson ’16 is back and is mashing the ball so far. Guys like Robby Harbison ’17, who had a great freshman year but didn’t play much last year, and Marco Baratta ’16 need to have huge years offensively. Their best bet for winning a third consecutive NESCAC title is by mashing their way there, a very different story from their first two titles.
The two teams most likely to knock Wesleyan from their perch are Amherst and Tufts, traditional powers that also lost a good amount from last season. The loss of Mike Odenwaelder ’16 a year early is a major blow to Amherst, but they return a lot of other pieces in their lineup including Harry Roberson ’18 who is looking to build on a freshman year when he had an OBP of .429. The rotation was young a year ago, and guys like Sam Schneider ’18 have the chance to be cornerstone pieces now. Amherst pushed Wesleyan all the way to extra innings in a winner-take-all NESCAC championship game, and I think the presence of Odenwaelder overshadowed some of the other phenomenal players on the team.
The Jumbos meanwhile are in a similar spot with the loss of some big lineup pieces like Connor McDavitt ’15 and Bryan Egan ’15. That hurts, but the duo of Tim Superko ’17 and Andrew David ’16 gives them two legitimate frontline starters to trot out every weekend. In a wide open league, that is a luxury. The possibility of strikeout wizards Speros Varinos ’17 or Zach Brown ’18 replicating that ability over a larger amount of innings is intriguing. The other playoff team from the East, Bates, has a chance to be very good on the mound. Guys like Connor Colombo ’16 and Rob DiFranco ’16 have proven themselves to be above-average pitchers. I’m worried about the lineup because their three best hitters are all gone, but I had the same worry last year and guys stepped up then.
When looking for a team that could jump into the playoffs, no single team jumps out, honestly. The East was so even last year with every team having at least four wins that you would expect one of those teams to jump out. The problem is Trinity loses their three top hitters and ace, Sean Meekins ’15, leaving some big gaps to replace. Then Bowdoin has to find a way to win games without Henry Van Zant ’15 pitching them to it. A strong senior class featuring Chad Martin ’16 and Harry Ridge ’16 gives the Polar Bears hope, but like so many others, freshmen and sophomores have to step way up. Colby has nobody primed to replace Greg Ladd ’15 or Scott Goldberg ’15 in the weekend rotation, but their lineup should be improved.
Williams has a chance to make a big jump behind their young bats, but getting over the two giants in the West is so hard to do. The pitching for the Ephs was better a year ago, but it coincided with a drop in offensive production. Hamilton and Middlebury both look to be deeper than they were last season, but I think it’s a long shot for one of them to make such a big jump.
Overall, the season has a lot of uncertainty. The junior class is a weak one overall (more 2018 grads than 2017 grads made All-NESCAC teams last season), and that is the primary reason why so many young players are going to see playing time. I expect the talent bases of the elite teams to be strong enough to keep the status quo in place. But again, it’s March 9, and not even coaches really know what they have.
I’m still a few weeks away from being able to watch NESCAC games in person, but I’m excited for when I do get to watch some baseball. A NESCAC doubleheader can be over in a brisk four hours, and the large college rosters makes for a lively atmosphere even if not many fans besides parents show. We will get there eventually folks, just hang in there.