I titled the weekend preview a few days ago “Separation Weekend” because I was expecting the usual suspects to make a statement that the status quo was still very much in place. Well, I was dead wrong, as Williams rocked Wesleyan to win two of three. On Friday, starting pitcher Luke Rodino ’17 worked around five walks to pitch seven innings, and the Ephs got production up and down the lineup to get the win. Then in Game 1 of the doubleheader Saturday, shortstop Kellen Hatheway ’19 dropped a three-run homer in the bottom of the seventh and the Ephs walked off with the win. Wesleyan battled back to win the third game handily, but they are still just 3-3 halfway through their conference schedule
Want to know something crazy? Middlebury has as many conference wins as any other NESCAC team. Sure, they also have four losses, but this has still been an incredible run for the Panthers. They took two of three from Hamilton in a sloppy series that was filled with runs. The Friday game in particular was a doozy. Hamilton raced out to a 7-2 lead and seemed to be in control until Middlebury took advantage of a bajillion (it was five but whatever) errors by Hamilton in the 5th inning and scored 10 runs. Hamilton almost came back to win in large part because Chris Collins ’17 was a man possessed at the plate going 5-5 with four runs, seven RBI, and two home runs. That wasn’t enough though, and the Continentals are now 2-4 in conference while Collins left the Saturday twinbill with an injury and he could be affected going forward.
It is still entirely possible that Amherst and Wesleyan emerge from the West, but the two still have to play each other in their series so the math isn’t easy. Considering that Amherst didn’t even play a NESCAC series, they had a great weekend watching the rest of the division beat up on each other. The Amherst-Middlebury series suddenly has serious playoff implications on both sides, a sentence that I didn’t think I was ever going to write. Two wins from the Panthers locks them into a NESCAC Tournament spot. Williams is feeling great after taking two of three from Wesleyan, but they are still just 4-5 with Hamilton still on their docket. The Ephs likely need to sweep Hamilton to have a hope of making the playoffs. For years, the West has been a boring time, and I’m glad that this year has proved to be different.
Relief Pitcher Ian Kinney ’18 (Tufts)
In the final game of their series, Tufts grabbed a 7-0 lead after the first inning, but starting pitcher Andrew David ’16 could last only 2+ innings on the mound. So Kinney, seldom used in high leverage situations this year, had to come on with the score 7-4, runners on first and second, and nobody out. Kinney got out of the inning by getting a strikeout and double play ground out. He then held the Bantams scoreless for the next four innings, and Tufts came away with the victory 11-4. The win completed the sweep of Trinity and moved Tufts to 5-0 now in the NESCAC. The Jumbos are three losses clear of anybody in the East, and they are now virtual locks for the playoffs.With the top teams in the West not looking as strong as usual, this could be the year that the Jumbos convert their domination of the East into a NESCAC championship.
P/DH Joe MacDonald ’16 (Middlebury)
Let me give dear friend of the program and Nothing But NESCAC’s co-founder a little love here. MacDonald has moved over the past two years from playing primarily at third base to now being a weekend starting pitcher and occasional DH, too. On Friday at DH he went 3-6 and had four RBI as a big part of the Panthers comeback. Then on Saturday, he pitched five innings and kept Hamilton in check allowing three runs (two earned). Middlebury has now won two of his three conference starts. He isn’t overpowering many hitters and has a very low strikeout rate, but also only one walk in 18.2 IP. He is doing a good enough job of mixing up his pitches to keep hitters off balance. We have focused mostly on the impact of young players in improving Middlebury’s fortunes, but a large part can also be attributed to contributions from old standbys like MacDonald and John Luke ’16. Max Araya ’16 has also been sensational with a .447 OBP.
3B Zach Ellenthal ’16 (Colby)
Ellenthal hit a not too shabby .667 (8-12) over the three games against Bowdoin. Four of those hits were doubles, and the senior had five RBI. Ellenthal has been in and out of the lineup a little bit this spring, but I’m guessing he is going to get plenty of playing time the rest of the way given that he has a .526 OBP in conference games. Colby’s offense has been much better of late, and they blitzed Bowdoin in the first two games of their series. There isn’t a ton of power on the roster (just four home runs as a team), but they can still hurt you because of the ability for the entire lineup to get on base. I know it sounds cliché, but I saw Bowdoin lose to the Mules in part because Colby put the Polar Bears into situations where they had to make a lot of plays.
There is nothing terrible about losing to Tufts, but getting swept by them has put the Bantams into a much more precarious position. Trinity had chances to win each of the three games, and that makes the losses even harder in a way. They led 3-1 in the first game, forced the second game to extra innings, and threatened for a brief moment in that third game as mentioned above. Trinity didn’t play particularly bad in any aspect, but if you have to pin the sweep on any one thing, it would be the inability of the offense to string together hits. They scored four runs in each of the three games, an almost frustrating consistency that allows you to be in every game but have a hard time winning one of them. The Bantams still very much hold their own destiny, and they get a chance at Bates this weekend. Trinity was in basically the same situation last year: 4-5 with only their series against Bates left. The Bantams lost all three of those games to finish in last in the East. A repeat performance of that would be devastating.
Bowdoin’s Veteran Hitters
The Polar Bears offense has ground almost to a complete halt, and the biggest reason is that the guys expected to carry the lineup have instead been huge drags on it. Be warned, some of these conference numbers are tough to swallow. Shortstop Sean Mullaney ’17, who was batting well above .400 for a while, has a .094 BA in conference. Chad Martin ’16, the big bopper in the middle, has a .111 BA and just one extra base hit. Peter Cimini ’16 has a .233 average in conference. Along with Trinity, the Polar Bears are well below every other team in BA for NESCAC games at .217. In fairness to Bowdoin, they do have a much better OBP than Trinity does, but the Bantams have slugged the ball better. Bottomline, nobody on Bowdoin is really hitting the ball that well, and the team has now lost three consecutive series against teams in the East not named Tufts.
The old Bull Durham quote goes, “This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.” Well, Hamilton has been failing in the catching department, and it really bit them badly on Saturday. We noted already that they had five errors in one inning against Middlebury. They had eight total in that game. For the weekend series, the Continentals had 13 errors. Hamilton is good, but it is hard to win when you keep giving the other team extra outs and opportunities to score. The weekend was a frustrating one for Hamilton because they played well enough in areas to win. And they could see the window of opportunity for making the playoffs open with Williams beating Wesleyan twice. However, they couldn’t capitalize and get it done on their home field. They can still get hot and make a miracle run to the playoffs, but they are going to have to field a lot better to do so.