The End Is Nigh: Power Rankings 4/27

Before we start these rankings, I just need to call everyone’s attention to Rory’s profile on the Tufts website.

“Listen to music” is a very original tradition! Rory is quirky like that

Pretty bold claim to call yourself the “lead writer” of a blog when you haven’t written anything since basketball season, but hey, that’s just, like, my opinion man. Anyway, there are several crucial series for playoff standing in this final weekend, so let’s see where each team stands.

Tufts

Don’t worry Jumbos fans, you’re not in danger of losing your number one spot. But it is time for us to talk about Tufts’ inability to sweep a series. Despite being pretty undisputedly the best team in the league for this entire season, in each of their league series they have dropped a game, including to weaker teams like Bowdoin and Colby. I know that seems like a champagne problem (plenty of teams in the league would kill to take two out of three in every series,) but Tufts is simply too good to be dropping games to Bowdoin. Let’s delve deeper into Tufts’ losses. Obviously, none of them have come in games started by ace starter Speros Varinos ‘17, who is 7-0. RJ Hall has two of those losses Tim Superko ‘17 has one. Both of those starters have ERA above 3.4, with Superko sitting at a pedestrian 4.23. Tufts seems to have some problems in terms of depth in the starting rotation. This will not be a problem in the regular season, but in the playoffs it might manifest itself in an ugly way.

Bates

Bates’ Cinderella carriage hit a classic New England pothole last weekend against Trinity, as the Bobcats dropped two out three games. One of the reasons that Bates’ 7 game league winning streak was remarkable is that they were doing it in spite of a relatively impotent offense. Bates only hits .246 for the season, and in league play that number drops to .234. Obviously, Bates’s pitching has been making up for lack of offense so far this year. Bates’ ERA in league play is 2.25, which is nearly a full run better than Tufts (a distant second at 3.21.) Connor Speed ‘18 is the ace of the staff, with a 2.52 ERA in 35 innings. But his 1-3 record reveals the problem that Bates saw exposed against Trinity. If the pitching falters for even a moment, the offense cannot back them up. They have a three game series against Tufts coming up this weekend– that’s a must watch, by the way– and then a four game series against WIlliams. These are two of the best offenses in the league, and if they can get to the Bates staff, Bates could close the league  season in the opposite way from how they started.

Middlebury

At the three and four spots we have two teams who have been steadily climbing in the standings over the last couple weeks in the Panthers and the (newly minted) Mammoths. Middlebury gets the edge because they took two of three from Amherst earlier this season. This has been a magical season for the Panthers, a program that was in desperate need of some energy. In fact Middlebury (who has clinched a playoff berth and is one Amherst loss this weekend away from the number one overall seed in the West) is the hottest team in either conference as they are riding a seven game winning streak in league play. Offensively, Middlebury relies heaviily on the senior duo of Ryan Rizzo ‘17 and Jason Lock ‘17. With a .375 OBP and 14 steals, Rizzo is a classic leadoff hitter, and Lock is adept at knocking him in (27 RBI on the year.) Sophomore Sam Graf ‘19 and Justin Han ‘20 have also put up terrific offensive seasons and keep the future bright for the Panthers.

Amherst

Harry Roberson ’18 is an anchor in the infield for the Mammoths (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Amherst might be the next hottest team in the league. They have won four in a row overall and 5 of their last six in league play. Like Middlebury, Amherst is a potent offense. They have six players with on base percentages over .400, and with league RBI leader Yanni Thanopoulos ‘17 in the middle of the order, that is a dangerous proposition for opponents. But Amherst’s hot streak has been primarily due to the improvement of their pitching. They have a bonafide ace in Jackson Volle ‘17 (5-0, 1.71 ERA) but their team ERA has improved from 5.21 overall to 3.63 in league play. Amherst’s offense was always good, but now that their pitching is catching up, they are extremely dangerous.

Wesleyan

I would imagine that at the beginning of the year, Wesleyan envisioned being a little higher in these rankings than fifth. But they simply have not hit well enough to win the close games that NESCAC play often brings about. In their sweep at the hands of Middlebury last weekend, they only scored nine runs in the whole series, despite several good scoring chances. Outside of Matt Jeye ‘18, the Cardinals don’t have much in the way of power (their slugging percentage in league play is an abysmal .290.) This means that each run they give up feels like a disaster, as they will have to scratch and claw to get it back. Wesleyan has a chance this weekend to get back in the mix with a three game set against Amherst, but they’ll need a couple big hits to do so.

Williams

Williams is another team who should be somewhat disappointed to be down here at this point in the season. The Ephs have a trio of stud freshman pitchers in John Lamont ‘20, Sean Hager ‘20 and Kyle Dean ‘20 who have combined for an 8-3 record with a 2.33 ERA. They also have a possible POY in Kellen Hatheway ‘19 (.392 AVG, 1.079 OPS) and have two other excellent hitters in Jack Cloud ‘17 and Jack Roberts ‘18. And yet, here they are at 4-5 in NESCAC play, and that’s including taking three out of four from Colby last weekend. It has been their pitching that has faltered in conference play (their .303 batting average against is second worst in the league.) However, they have a three game set against Hamilton coming up. Williams should be thinking sweep there, and if they get it done, they would be at the mercy of Wesleyan sweeping Amherst to make the tournament.

Bowdoin

The Polar Bears had a pretty impressive performance against a far superior Tufts teams, grabbing a win and coming within a run of taking another. And they have a three game set against a weaker Colby team. They should be smelling sweep against the Mules, and they have the starting pitchers to do it. There may not be a player in the league who can impact a game like Brandon Lopez ‘19. Lopez is Bowdoin’s best starter at 3-1 with a 2.05 ERA, and he is also their best hitter, stroking the ball at a .342 clip with a .962 OPS. Lopez can change a game, and series on both sides of the ball. Bowdoin has two other solid starters in Max Vogel-Freedman ‘18 (2.90 ERA) and Colby Lewis ‘20 (3-2, 3.55 ERA.) If Bowdoin can somehow manage to sneak into the playoffs, this trio of starters could make them very dangerous. But they have to sweep Colby first.

Trinity

The Bantams recovered from a rough start in league play by taking two of three against East-leading Bates last weekend. They did it with pitching, holding the Bobcats (who aren’t exactly a dynamic offense, but still) to just two runs over the final two games. They have a top heavy lineup led by Alex Rodriguez ‘20 (.362 BA) and Brendan Pierce ‘18 (4 HR.) Senior Nick Dibenedetto rounds out the threats in the lineup with a .348 AVG and 24 RBI. However Trinity doesn’t get a lot of offense from the rest of their lineup, meaning that any wins they get where that trio doesn’t carry them have to be well pitched games. Against Bates, they had two of those. We will see if they get the chance in the postseason to have more.

Colby

Colby honestly just does not have the talent to win NESCAC games, but they have shown the heart to compete. Their offense lacks punch (only three home runs on the year) and their pitching has been generally horrific with a 6.23 overall ERA. However, they have grabbed two wins against superior teams (Wesleyan and Trinity,) and all three of their losses to Williams were by one run. Colby has been playing for little other than pride for some time now, and their heart as a team has shown through the losses.

Hamilton

The Continentals may be the team who has underachieved most in league play. Despite being near the top in overall offensive stats, in NESCAC games every one of their team numbers is near the bottom They have a solid pitching duo in Finlay O’Hara ‘17 and Dan DePaoli ‘18, and on paper have an excellent lineup. But they seem to have jacked up their stats a bit against a weak non-conference schedule and have been unprepared for the jump to better competition. They have a series against Williams that matters for nothing but pride. It is a good chance to honor their seniors and leave a good aftertaste in an otherwise disappointing year.

Heating Up: Power Rankings 4/10

Second baseman Tom Petry ’17 has been a rock both offensively and defensively so far for the Jumbos (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics).

Spring has officially sprung in the NESCAC. Birds are singing, flowers are blooming, and first years are fruitlessly flirting during pickup ultimate frisbee games. Alongside all these markers of spring is our favorite one; NESCAC baseball league play. With a couple league weekends under out belts, we can see certain patterns emerging. Tufts has only furthered their status as the cream of the crop, but there is an interesting battle going on for the second slot between Williams, Wesleyan, and the upstart Bates Bobcats. Get the lowdown on these storylines and more in the first baseball Power Rankings of the year.

 

1: Tufts (16-2, 2-1):

The Jumbos have done little to remove themselves from their preseason number one spot. They are one of the most volatile offenses in recent NESCAC memory, averaging an absoultely ridiculous 11.1 runs per game. They are led on offense by junior infielder Nick Falkson ‘17, who is leading the league in hits with 27 and strokes the ball at a .443 clip. He also is second in the league in RBI with 19 already. The Jumbos have also received great contributions from versatile  sophomore Casey Santos-Ocampo ‘19, who has driven in 18 runs and reaches base at a .500 clip. Tufts has standout pitchers as well. Speros Varinos ‘17 has been the best pitcher in the league this year, with a 1.36 ERA and a 5-0 record, and the shockingly handsome Rory Ziomek ‘17 has been the heart and soul of the bullpen. And as if that wasn’t enough, they have also only made 21 errors in 18 games, second best in the league. Tufts dropped a sloppy game two weekends ago to Trinity, but they are still the class of the league.

 

2: Wesleyan (13-7, 4-1)

Casual baseball fans may not know this, but it is very difficult for an offense to score if they don’t hit the ball. And above all else, Wesleyan excels at preventing opponents from hitting the ball. Their pitching staff is second in the conference (to Tufts) in strikeouts per nine innings at 7.58. This helps them overcome a mediocre team ERA (4.26,), and suggests that the staff has the potential to tighten up once league play heats up. They are also second in the league in fielding percentage, again to Tufts. The Cardinals this past weekend swept Williams in a double header, taking advantage of some very shoddy work on the mound and in the field by the Ephs to come from behind in both games. There was certainly some luck involved in Wesleyan’s victories over Williams, but they are still impressive.

 

3: Bates (10-5, 6-0)

A six game winning streak in league play is nothing to ignore, even though the Bobcats haven’t played any of the other top five teams. The Bobcats have been achieving this success largely on the mound. Although Tufts’ staff has been more dominant in terms of strikeouts (leading the league at 142,) Bates has excelled in not giving up runs (another crucial aspect of baseball, I’m told.) The Bobcats lead the league in total ERA at 3.06, and in league play that number drops to a miniscule 2.47. They are led on the mound by the terrifically named Connor Speed ‘18, who boasts a 2.20 ERA, and several other members of their staff are under 3.00. Bates’ great pitching has allowed them to overcome a mediocre offense (.253 on the year and eight in the league in runs.) Of course, they also have swept the two worst offenses in the league in Colby and Bowdoin (ninth and tenth in the league in runs.) Bates still needs to prove that their pitching can hold up against better competition, but as of right now, consider the rest of the league on notice.

 

4: Williams (10-4, 4-2)

Kellen Hathaway ’19 tags out a would be base stealer (Courtesy of Williams Athletics).

After sweeping Middlebury in Arizona and rolling off an impressive eight-game winning streak, Williams’ flaws reared their ugly head in a double header against Wesleyan. In both games of the double header, Williams blew leads in the later innings due to a lack of control from pitchers in the bullpen. The Eph’s offense has been firing on all cylinders in their six league games, due mostly to their shellacking of Middlebury earlier this year. They have averaged nearly 10 runs per game, and sophomore infielder Kellen Hatheway ‘19 would right now be the leadoff hitter on the All-League Team (.463 batting average and a 1.175 OPS.) And Williams got a huge pitching performance in the third game of the Wesleyan series from freshman star John Lamont ‘20. Lamont threw a complete game, giving up just one run and striking out 15 Cardinals to give Williams a crucial win. Lamont and Hatheway are young stars for the Ephs, but they need to find some consistency at the back end of their bullpen if they want to compete for a championship this year.

 

5: Trinity (12-9, 3-3)

The Bantams are one of the most well rounded offenses in the league, averaging over 8 runs per game. They have several standout hitters, including our own Nick Dibenedetto, who strokes the ball at a .396 clip and sits at fifth in the league in OBP. However, the Bantams lack of power has hurt them at times. Their slugging percentage as a team is only .404, and they only have five home runs. As a result, their offense can be held in check more easily than other elite offenses that have more power, like Tufts or Williams. And unlike the teams higher on this list, Trinity simply does not have the pitching to make up for any offensive struggles. They have given up the most runs in the league (181) and surrendered 8 home runs, also the most in the league. There are a lot of things to like about Trinity’s squad, but one of their deficiencies will have to improve if they want to climb out of the middle of the pack.

 

6: Middlebury (2-4, 6-9)

In the interest of full disclosure, it feels very good to be writing about Middlebury this high in the rankings. In the first year of coach Mike Leonard’s tenure, the Panthers have shown marked improvement over the teams of the past few seasons. This improvement has been primarily on the offensive end. The team has struck out the second fewest times of any team in the league, pointing to improved discipline and focus. Senior Captain Jason Lock ‘17 is one of the front runners for POY (.443/.493/.656 splits,) and along with Ryan Rizzo ‘17 has provided valuable senior leadership for an otherwise very young team. A large focus of the Panthers season so far has been giving talented freshman like OF Justin Han ‘20 and IF Andrew Hennings ‘20 (1.143 OPS!) chances to play, and the team has taken some lumps as a result. Defense has been a major struggle for the Panthers. They have made 34 errors in just 16 games, many of those the product of shifting different players into new positions to see where they best fit. Middlebury may not be a playoff threat this year, but for the first time in a few years they’re on the right track.

 

7: Amherst (6-10, 1-2)

Amherst and Middlebury share a lot of similarities. They both have very good offenses, but have been dragged down by subpar pitching and defense. Amherst is led on offense by the best keystone combo in the league in second baseman Max Steinhorn ‘18 (.381/.444/.412) and shortstop (and ANOTHER NbN staff writer) Harry Roberson ‘18 (.377/.414/.656.) Amherst hits a .342 overall on the year, but in their first league series against Middlebury they struggled. They only scored nine runs in three games, and Middlebury’s pitching staff isn’t exactly the 1998 Atlanta Braves (6.19 ERA.) Indeed, the only team in the league with a lower ERA than Middlebury is, you guessed it, Amherst at 6.63. Amherst’s ERA is that low despite boasting the individual third best ERA in the league (Jackson Volle ‘18 at 1.53) If Amherst’s offense is going to falter as league play progresses, their pitching and defense could lead them down a very dark path this season.

 

8: Hamilton (10-9, 0-2)

In a departure from the normal lower tier NESCAC team recipe, Hamilton has pretty good pitching but often struggles to score runs. Senior pitcher Finley O’Hara ‘17 is the league leader in ERA at 1.13, and his versatility allows him to plug holes deeper down in the rotation. Following O’Hara is junior starter Dan DePaoli ‘18, who boasts a 1.66 ERA and has struck out 23 batters in 21 innings. However, Hamilton as a team has only scored 98 runs in 19 games, and only four runs in two games against Wesleyan in their opening league series.

 

9: Colby (5-14, 1-5)

Ironically, the Mules could use a little more kick, particularly on offense. Colby hits .264 as a team, not stellar but not embarrassing either. But they only slug .321, and have the same number of home runs as I do. It’s hard to win games when you have to scrape together every run, and that’s the way Colby plays. Ther pitching and defense are middle of the pack, and therefore not good enough to make up for their low scoring style. Colby will play in a lot of close games this year, but seem to lack the ability to break one open with a big hit.

 

10: Bowdoin (7-12, 0-3)

As much as Hamilton struggles on offense, Bowdoin makes them look like a team full of Pablo Sanchezes. The Polar Bears only bat .246 as a team, and were shut out twice by Hamilton and lost three in a row to Bates, scoring just eight runs in those three games. They don’t pitch particularly well either, with a 4.67 team ERA, but it’s hard for pitchers to relax when they have such little offensive support. Junior starter Max Vogel-Freedman is a bonafide ace with a 2.29 ERA and just four walks in 19 innings, but aside from him, Bowdoin has very little firepower offensively or pitching-wise. On a more positive note, they are very good defensively, with only 19 errors in 23 games. This discipline means that if they can get in even a little groove offensively, they could grab some wins against teams that aren’t as polished in the field, such as Middlebury and Amherst.

 

America’s Pastime Returns to the NESCAC: Baseball Season Preview

Tim Superko ’17 and the Jumbos look to defend their NESCAC title in 2017 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics).

Editor’s Note: At this point, pretty much every NESCAC baseball team has had a chance to get out on the field and play some games (aside from Williams, who plays their season opener tonight). Devin Rosen is joining us for our NESCAC baseball coverage this spring, which is perfectly timed since we lose a couple writers, Colby and Rory, due to their roles on the Middlebury and Tufts baseball teams. The beginning of the NESCAC baseball season is always a mess for coverage since teams always try to cram as many games as possible into their spring breaks. Once NESCAC games roll around, we will be much more organized with our content. Until then, enjoy this preview of the NESCAC baseball season that Devin put together!

East

Bates

Ryan McCarthy ’17 is primed to lead Bates back to the playoffs this season (Courtesy of Bates Athletics).

Bates opens the season with new coach Jon Martin who comes from the head coaching position at Vassar College. He looks to turn last year’s 14-21 record (4-8 in conference) into a more productive season in 2017. Helping his transition at the leadership helm are senior captains Ryan McCarthy and Brendan Fox. McCarthy has been a three year starter in the outfield for the Bobcats, and 2016 Second-Team All-NESCAC shortstop Fox looks to continue his success after hitting .377 last season. The Bates rotation and bullpen returns most of its staff and is led by Connor Speed ‘18 who looks to open the season as Bates’ number one starter. Anthony Telesca ’17 adds to the returning rotation as well providing depth in the rotation. After a break out year last season, Connor Russell ‘18 aims to round out the Bates rotation. The strong core of returning players for Bates gives the Bobcats the potential to put up a strong fight in the NESCAC this year. In his first season in Lewiston, Coach Martin will have to use his returners to help him achieve a successful season. If Fox can lead the bats, then the solid pitching staff can keep Bates in contention in the competitive NESCAC East.

 

Bowdoin

Brandon Lopez ’19 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics).

Bowdoin had a decently successful 22-14 campaign last spring, but looks to avenge their 4-8 in conference record this season. To do so, however, their pitching staff must fill in the spots of two now-graduated starters who combined for over 93 innings last season. Sophomore Brandon Lopez ’19 looks to be the number one guy for the polar bears after a solid freshman season as a starter. After him, however, it seems that Coach Mike Connolly will have to find a few arms out of the large junior class to eat up innings. Sean Mullaney ’17 aims to maintain his position as the team’s consistent top hitter after having a .304 average in 115 at bats last spring. Similar to the pitching staff, the young talent on this offense will have to step up in order to compete with the rest of the NESCAC. Bowdoin showed promise in their overall record last year and aims to replicate it both in and out of conference.

 

Colby

Brooks Parker ’19 (Courtesy of Colby Athletics).

Colby looks to turn their luck around after a disappointing season last spring. This task is made even tougher after graduating a First-Team All-NESCAC first baseman, Soren Hanson ’16, and a Second-Team All-NESCAC third baseman, Zach Ellenthal ‘16. Sophomore Andrew Currier looks to lead the way in doing so after posting a solid freshman spring which included 20 RBIs. The rest of the lineup will depend on hitting from other lower classmen. On the mound, the Mules graduated their number one starter, Hanson, and most reliable reliever, Tommy Forese. However, just like the lineup, young pitchers such as Brooks Parker ’19 and Will Cohen ’19 gained valuable experience in just their first spring. Look for Coach Dale Plummer to ride these young arms throughout the season while also depending on the more experienced juniors Dan Schoenfeld ’18 and Bobby Forese ‘18. Colby’s lineup and pitching staff took a hit from the most recent graduating class, but look for the young Mules to step up their game. Despite a smaller presence from the senior class, the underclassmen have the potential to compete with the top teams in the NESCAC after gaining a year of valuable experience.

 

Trinity

Brendan Pierce ’18 is off to a hot start for the Bantams in 2017 (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics).

Trinity enters the season having lost high caliber seniors from last spring including First-Team All-NESCAC catcher Scott Cullinane and Second-Team All-NESCAC outfielder Nick Pezzella, as well as their most reliable reliever Sam Jordan, all of whom contributed to a 7-5 conference record. The Bantams’ success in the NESCAC East earned them a playoff appearance, and they advanced to the NESCAC Championship game before losing to in-conference rival Tufts. Despite the talent lost, first baseman Johnny Stamatis ’19 is back after hitting .309 and earning a Second-Team All-NESCAC nod in his first college season. Another key returning bat is NbN writer and Trinity infielder Nick DiBenedetto ’17, who posted a .357 average last spring. On the other side of the roster stands Anthony Egeln Jr. ’18. He is the only returning consistent starter, but after posting a 4-2 record last spring, Egeln Jr looks to take over as the number one starter in the program. In order to keep up with the tough NESCAC East, Trinity’s young talent must replace last year’s seniors with some fluidity. The rotation’s consistency will make or break Trinity’s season as long as their bats heat up.

 

Tufts

The Jumbos are coming off a dominating performance after achieving the best season in school history. With an 11-1 in-conference record and 35-8 overall record, Tufts returns the core of its team. 2x First-Team All-NESCAC third baseman Tommy O’Hara ‘18 leads this stacked line-up along with captain First-Team All-NESCAC outfielder Harry Brown ‘17, who hit a team leading .397 average in 2016. Behind the plate, sophomore catchers Harrison Frickman and Eric Schnepf have a year under their belt after being thrusted into a timeshare of the starting role behind the plate as freshmen last season. In addition to a powerful line-up, Tufts returns most of its dominating pitching staff. Led by captains Speros Varinos ’17 and Tim Superko ‘17, the rotation looks to remain the best in the conference after posting a team ERA of 3.25, over a full run less per game than the second-best ERA in the league. Varinos, the reigning pitcher of the year, looks to best last year’s All-American performance, which included a 2.15 ERA and league-leading 79 strikeouts. He also tied fellow teammate, RJ Hall ’19 with a league-leading 7 wins. Additionally, our very own, Rory Ziomek adds depth to the staff. Tufts has the fire power to maintain their status as the best team in the league, and has their sights set on not only a NESCAC Championship, but a NCAA Regional Championship as well after coming up just short last spring.

 

West

Amherst

Harry Roberson ’18 is back and ready to help his team win the NESCAC Championship this year (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics).

Amherst looks to stay atop the NESCAC West this upcoming season, and the will jump on the back of First-Team All-NESCAC pitcher Jackson Volle ‘17, who had a league leading 1.79 ERA. The pitching staff aims to maintain its status as one of the best in the league, but we will have to wait to see who joins Volle atop the staff after losing a few arms to graduation. At the plate, Amherst returns two Second-Team All-NESCAC selections: shortstop Harry Roberson ’18 and outfielder Anthony Spina ‘17. Roberson had an impressive .336 average while Spina tied the league lead in homeruns with 6. Joining them in this impressive lineup are Ariel Kenney ‘18, who had a team leading 52 hits, and infielder Max Steinhorn ‘18. Outfielder Yanni Thanopoulos ’17 rounds out the lineup that hit a remarkable .316 as a group last year. Amherst has the potential to not only compete in the NESCAC, but to compete for its top spot. Volle gives them a consistently dominant starter while their lineup can hit any arm in the league. If Amherst plays up to their potential, look for them to stay atop the Conference.

 

Hamilton

Hamilton will try to knock off Wesleyan and Amherst in 2017 in order to reach the NESCAC Tournament (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics).

Hamilton’s ferocious lineup from last season returns its top hitters, including First-Team All-NESCAC outfielder Ryan Wolfsberg ’17, who led the conference in slugging percentage (.645) to go along with a .418 batting average. Adding even more power to the lineup is Andrew Haser ’17, who was tied for the league lead with 6 homeruns last spring. The Hamilton pitching staff is forced to replace now-graduated pitcher Cole Dreyfuss, and first in line to do so are Spencer Vogelbach ‘18 and Dan DePaoli ’18. Look for these two juniors to eat up significant innings for Coach Byrnes. Rounding out the staff is Max Jones ’19, who threw 35.2 innings with a 3.53 ERA in his freshman campaign. Hamilton’s success will depend on its lineup and rotation performing up to their potential. The experienced pitching staff will have the chance to prove they can compete with the best of the NESCAC, and the returning Continental bats have the power to hit any arm in the league. If this occurs, Hamilton will be considered a force to be reckoned with in the competitive NESCAC West.

 

Middlebury

Colby Morris ’19 leads the Middlebury staff in 2017 (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics).

Middlebury enters the year looking to replace its key seniors from last season. However, plenty of now-sophomores including OF Sam Graf and SS Spencer Tonies, now have a year of experience to potentially improve their campaign from last season. Junior Brendan Donohue will also look to build off his .316 season in contribution to the Panthers season. Pitching, on the other hand, seems to be a plus for the Panthers both now and in the future. Sophomore starters Colby Morris (legendary NbN writer) and John Bunting led the team in innings last season, but with Bunting having transferred, Morris will be looked to to handle even more of the load. Seniors Dylan Takamori and Tucker Meredith additionally look to contribute to the strong staff. Last season Middlebury had a 6-6 in-conference record and aims to stand over .500 this season. To do so, Coach Mike Leonard will have to depend on his pitching staff, comprised of mostly returners. If the Panther bats can stay consistent, the rotation and bullpen can keep Middlebury relevant in the NESCAC West.

 

Wesleyan

Will O’Sullivan ’17 will lead the Cardinals offense this spring (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics).

The Cardinals look to repeat last year’s impressive 23-12 record along with winning the NESCAC West. Despite losing three senior bats hitting over .330, including the Player of the Year Marco Baratta, Wesleyan returns a dangerous lineup. Leading the way are two-way player Nick Miceli ’17, who is coming off a Second-Team All-NESCAC performance, and the Roxbury Latin groomed shortstop Will O’Sullivan, who hit a remarkable .370 last spring. Andrew Keith ‘19 proved his potential last season as well and looks to build on the success he enjoyed in 2016. On the mound, Wesleyan returns a solid core of three pitchers, including Miceli, who is joined by Ethan Rode ‘17 and Asher Young ‘17. These seasoned veterans should consume many of the season’s innings. Coach Mark Woodworth will ride his senior leaders throughout the season after they dominated the NESCAC West last spring. As long as his upperclassmen take charge, Wesleyan has the lineup and the rotation to compete for the NESCAC crown.

 

Williams

Luke Rodino ’17 will be in the running for NESCAC Pitcher of the Year once again this spring (Courtesy of Williams Athletics).

Williams aims to get over the .500 hump in NESCAC play this season, and if they do it, their efforts will be led by Second-Team All-NESCAC pitcher Luke Rodino ‘17. He is joined by fellow senior Tyler Duff ’17 as the leaders of the pitching staff. These two seniors look to guide Tom Benz ‘19, Jack Bohen ‘19 and Will O’Brien ‘19, all of whom contributed heavily during their freshman campaign. At the plate, Kellen Hatheway ’19 looks to build on a stellar first year in which he earned the NESCAC Rookie of the Year award after hitting .331 with 21 RBI’s and 24 runs scored. Joining him in the lineup are Adam Regensburg ’18 and Doug Schaffer ’18, as well as Jack Cloud ‘17, who all hit over .300. The freshmen, now sophomore class proved to have the potential to compete against the top teams in the NESCAC. This year for Williams baseball will be about how these sophomores, along with their other key returners, can perform after having last season to rebuild and come together as a group. Williams will use last year’s experience to give them a chance to improve on their record in the NESCAC.

Late Morning Musings about the NESCAC Season

Nick Pezzella '16 and the rest of Trinity is ready to return to the playoffs this weekend. (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)
Nick Pezzella ’16 and the rest of Trinity is ready to return to the playoffs this weekend. (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)

The regular season is over and the playoffs are here, which we find to be a perfect time to reflect on what went down over the past two-plus months. The NESCAC will be saying goodbye to some great players, athletes and teammates, so we want to give a tip of the cap to a few of them here.

Adam Lamont: Alright, the NESCAC regular season has run its course. Hamilton topped off the season with a ceremonious, Monday evening, 19-9 beatdown over Utica. Good on ya, Conts for finishing strong. No matter who you are, as an athlete, your last game in that uniform is always memorable. So, today we are going to talk about those teams that have played their last game, and hold off on the playoff chatter right now. This was one of the more topsy-turvy NESCAC baseball seasons, but in the end things held to form in terms of who is making the playoffs. Kaitlin, what or who sticks out the most to you about this year?

Kaitlin McCabe: Considering the preseason expectations and last year’s performance, I don’t think we can ignore the tremendous growth Middlebury’s program showed this season. Once struggling underdogs, the Panthers actually were serious contenders for a playoff spot this year. If they could have held onto a 7-1 lead in the seven-inning game against Amherst, the Panthers would still be playing, and – this is incredible – if they had beaten Wesleyan a second time, Middlebury would have been the No. 1 in the West. Each weekend Middlebury surprised the competition with a more challenging series than they anticipated, and I think the talent and brilliant execution we saw this year will only grow stronger next season. Obviously, the 11-23 overall record and 0-6 slide in the last week go to show that the program has some things to work on, but when it really counted, on the weekends, Middlebury could compete with the best teams in the league.

At the other end of the spectrum, even Tufts’ growth this season is pretty astounding. They are the East’s top dog yet again, but they look stronger than last year. They were 26-8 (8-4) going into the NESCAC Tourney last year and swiftly dropped two straight. Right now they are 29-6 overall and a dominant 11-1 in the NESCAC. They’re not close to as good of a hitting team (about 30 points lower in average this season) as they were last year, but the one-two punch of Speros Varinos ’17 (1.86 ERA, 10.46 K/9) and Andrew David ’16 (2.54 ERA, 9.37 K/9) makes them almost impossible to beat twice.

What’s more, Tufts dropped three of their first seven games. They are 25-4 since March 25.

AL: Agreed, especially when you consider that Tufts lost three players from their lineup who played every day and had OBPs better than .400. Throw in they had to find a new weekend starter and a good part of their bullpen, and I didn’t see Tufts running through their schedule in the way they did.

Agreed on Middlebury, of course, but I also loved what I saw from another West Division team: Williams. The Ephs were 5-10 after their spring trip to Arizona. That two-week trip for Williams is tough. When all that’s on your mind is baseball, with no school to think about, and you’ve got a young team, it’s easy to spiral, so maybe they were just worn thin. However, they really did play much better after they came back up north. They went 3-3 against Amherst and Wesleyan, teams that have beaten up on them in recent years. Moreover, pretty much everyone outside of centerfielder David Rosas ’16 is back for next year. The pitching staff still lacks depth, but the duo of Luke Rodino ’17 and Tyler Duff ’17 were quality workhorses for them. Some of their hitters really struggled in conference, but I still like the talent in that lineup a lot going forward. The West is going to be fun next year too. Speaking of Duff, we can’t give enough credit to the kid for almost tossing the perfecto against Hamilton (one hit allowed).

KM: The stats don’t really tell how hard Williams competed this year. They even beat Wesleyan twice, yet overall they had a brutal 6.37 ERA and made 61 errors (tied for fifth most in the league). They really almost look like a carbon copy of Middlebury. Both teams need to take the next step and play every game like they do on the weekends.

But on the subject of Hamilton, I think it’s worth mentioning that the Continentals really didn’t play to their potential this year. They were darn good swinging the bat. They posted a .336/.427/.470 batting line, which numbers rank 1st/2nd/1st in the NESCAC. The weekend rotation was serviceable. Dan DePaoli ’18 had a 2.93 ERA and Cole Dreyfuss ’16 and Spencer Vogelbach ’16 were in the low 4.00’s. Unfortunately, defense and the bullpen really put the nail in the coffin for Hamilton. The team posted a miserable .925 fielding percentage, and the team ERA in conference, against better competition, was a bloated 5.42. The bats went quiet against top notch pitching, too, with a .280/.368/.432 line in conference, but it was the defense and bullpen that lead directly to too many losses.

AL: I think that all three West teams not making the postseason are going to be thinking about what could have been for a long time to come. On an individual level though, there were some great breakout stars this year.

For me, the guy as a hitter that was most impressive was outfielder Anthony Spina ’17 for Amherst. He wasn’t the best hitter in the league this year, but he was pretty close. And I pick him out because last year he hit below .250 as a part-time player. This year in conference games he had a 1.122 OPS (OBP+SLG%) and hit above .400. He ended up chasing down Andrew Haser ’16 for the league lead in home runs, both finishing the year with six. Every year guys like Spina emerge from seemingly nowhere and become All-League caliber players as upperclassmen. Other guys this year who fit that mold are Marco Baratta ’16, who paced the whole league with a .444 average and .539 OBP, and Zach Ellenthal ’16, who finished the year with an OBP of .500, albeit in somewhat limited at-bats.

KM: I don’t think you can talk about comeback players—especially hitters—without mentioning Middlebury’s John Luke ’16 and Hamilton’s Brett Mele ’17. Last year neither player was in the Top-50 in batting, with slash lines of 212/.288/.269 and .215/.393/.231. They both just clicked this year. Despite Middlebury’s ice cold finish as a team that affected everyone, Luke finished .363/.405/.513, and Mele was just above him with a .365/.456/.521 line.

What about guys on the mound that stood out for you?

AL: This was an interesting year for pitchers, I thought. The league really lost quality aces across the board from a year ago. Riley Streit ’16 and Luke Rodino ’16 were the only two pitchers to finish in the Top-10 in ERA both this year and last year. And in general we did not see the same pitching dominance: five qualified pitchers finished with an ERA below 3.00 compared to 15 such guys last year. A guy that really intrigues me both for the playoffs and beyond is Anthony Egeln Jr. ’18 for Trinity. He leads the league in ERA for conference games with a 0.65 ERA over 27.2 innings. However, those numbers look a little like a mirage when you consider he has a 4.47 ERA overall. Egeln does not strike a lot of guys out (5.68 K/9), and my gut tells me that the sophomore has benefitted from a stretch of good luck in a couple of games. He hasn’t pitched well recently with two subpar starts against Brandeis and Wesleyan.

Thinking about Egeln gets me to my overarching feelings about the NESCAC this year. To be perfectly honest, I haven’t followed the league nearly as closely as in years past; that has probably been obvious from the drop in quantity of writing. Yet, I still have some stylized facts about this year. I wrote before the season that we were going to see a lot of new faces and that the talent that had to be replaced was enormous. I think that a lot of what went on this year bore out that thinking. NESCAC teams didn’t do collectively worse this year than in years past, which is a credit to the league and coaches as a whole. However, individuals didn’t put up the typical ‘elite’ numbers that we see a lot of the time. I’m referencing the drop in ERAs below 3.00, the drop in steals I talked about last week, and a lack of transcendent players (think Mike Odenwaelder, Sam Elias, Gavin Pittore, Henry Van Zant and Donnie Cimino, or even Joe Jensen, who’s speed was All-American level). To be sure, there are still plenty of uber-talented players in the league. Still, the parity that we saw out West can be traced pretty directly to the top teams losing a lot of their best players.

The season was an enjoyable one to watch unfold, and I’m looking forward to the NESCAC Tournament to see ultimately who ends up on top.

Lions and Tigers and Polar Bears: Stock Report 3/22

Sean Mullaney '17 and the Polar Bears are the big early season surprise. Bowdoin is 7-0. (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)
Sean Mullaney ’17 and the Polar Bears are the big early season surprise. Bowdoin is 7-0. (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

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.

Stock Up

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. Bowdoin: 7-0

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.

Stock Down

  1. 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.

4. Editors

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.

 

The Biggest Storylines of 2015 and What to Expect in 2016

Guy Davidson '16 has some big shoes to fill as the incumbent star on the two-time reigning champs. (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)
Guy Davidson ’16 has some big shoes to fill as the incumbent star on the two-time reigning champs. (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

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:

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.”

  1. 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:

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.