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.

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.

Week 1 Game of the Week: Middlebury at Wesleyan

The Panthers are prepared for a title run. (Photo by Joe MacDonald)
The Panthers are prepared for a title run. But nothing comes easy in the NESCAC. (Photo by Joe MacDonald)

Game Info: Saturday, Sept. 26, 12:30 PM at historic Andrus Field in Corwin Stadium

Both teams probably feel like title contenders right now, but around this time tomorrow one team will be in the driver’s seat and the other will be facing a steep uphill climb. If we consider the NESCAC crown a four-team race – which, barring a major surprise, it is right now – between Middlebury, Amherst, Wesleyan and Trinity, this matchup will push one team to the front of the pack.

The Wesleyan team presents a great unknown. As we’ve said time and time again, the roster turnover has been great, but we still expect there to be a lot of talent on the field for the Cards. Things have changed since current Athletic Director Mike Whalen came over from Williams, and one has to believe that he was able to accrue some talent in the classes that followed the incredible 2015 group.

As always, the Cards’ strength will be the running game, but the Panthers were very good against the run last season, allowing just under 104 YPG, and most of the talent in the front seven is back and should be better than ever. Granted, a lot of teams were forced to throw in the second half because they faced big deficits against the Panthers, but nonetheless running the ball won’t be easy for the Cards.

For Middlebury, the passing game is as potent as ever. Can Matt Milano ’16 have improved from his Co-Offensive Player of the Year form a year ago? We’ll find out soon enough, but with all of the weapons around him, I’m betting yes. And with two of the league’s best defensive backs having graduated from Wesleyan in Jake Bussani ’14 and Donnie Cimino ’15, Milano might just be able to find some openings deep down the field.

Last Meeting:

Wesleyan rolled into the Panthers’ home pad and stole a 22-14 victory in the 2014 season opener. The difference was a third quarter 41-yard INT return for a TD by Wesleyan’s dynamic safety Justin Sanchez ’17. Milano threw two interceptions in this one, and questions were swirling about whether the days of the great Middlebury QBs were over. After this game, Milano went 22-1 TD-INT over the rest of the season, so expect a more confident passing attack from Middlebury in this one.

On the flip side, Wesleyan struggled to run the ball, something that they rarely do. Kyle Gibson ’15 racked up 60 yards but on 25 carries (2.4 YPC). Lou Stevens ’17 wasn’t much better (2.8 YPC). However, the frightening LaDarius Drew ’15 is back this time around, and I think the entire league is excited to see what this powerhouse back can do. With Drew, Stevens and Jaylen Berry ’18 coming at the Panthers, stopping the run has to be priority No. 1. Middlebury’s Tim Patricia ’16 spoke to that effect, saying:

“We know that the run game is the staple of the Wesleyan offense. … With that in mind, this [week] we’ve been really focused on gap responsibility and swarming to the ball in the run game. It’s important that we stay conscious of our individual assignments so we can eliminate any threat of giving up a big play. Their backs do have big play ability, but we feel we can mitigate that ability.”

Middlebury X-factors: D-linemen Gil Araujo ’16 and Kyle Ashley ’16

We know about Jake Clapp ’16, Middlebury’s strong, furious pass-rusher, but Ashley and Araujo, who made the 2014 All-NESCAC Second Team, haven’t gotten much press this season (our bad). While the Panthers will cycle d-linemen in and out all game, these two are expected to get the lion’s share of snaps, and it will be on them to eat up blockers and create opportunities for the linebackers and safeties to make tackles. It’s an inglorious job, the d-line. But this pair is up to the task.

Wesleyan X-factor: QB Gernald Hawkins ’18

Gernald Hawkins '18 (Photo Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)
Gernald Hawkins ’18 (Photo Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

I’d like to go a little under-the-radar with my x-factor pick, but the potential of Hawkins is just so intriguing. We don’t know for sure that Hawkins will see every snap in this one under center, but for now he is the team’s QB1 and has the chance to solidify that position this weekend.

Hawkins presents the rare (in the NESCAC) dual-threat option. The moves he shows off on film are nifty, and having a cadre of backs to hand the ball off to takes much of the pressure off of his shoulders.

Patricia wouldn’t give away any secrets in reference to Hawkins, saying only, “We’re aware of Hawkins’s ability to run the ball, and we’re well prepared for it.”

Prediction: Middlebury 35 – Wesleyan 17

Wesleyan fans and players are going to be offended by this prediction, but let me make my case. The Cardinals are, to some extent, are where Middlebury was last year in Week 1 – breaking in a lot of new players, particularly at the QB position, and while there is talent there, it will take time.

I still think Wesleyan will run the ball effectively, but as Milano and the Panthers roll up and down the field in the second and third quarters, the Cards will have to start abandoning the run game, which will spell disaster for Coach DiCenzo’s squad. No team can be successful when it becomes one-dimensional.

Is 35 points too high of a projection against the Wesleyan D, even with all the new faces? Maybe. And if I were a gambling man, I’d take the under if the line were set at 35 for Middlebury, but let’s face it, I’m a Panther myself, I’m excited for tomorrow, and sure, maybe I’m drinking the Kool-Aid a little bit. I’m seeing three TDs through the air for Milano, a goal line plunge from rookie RB Diego Meritus ’19, and a late-game scamper off a rollout from QB Jared Lebowitz ’18, just like I watched him do last week in Middlebury’s Blue-White scrimmage.

Patricia didn’t necessarily predict that the Panthers will go 8-0. But he came pretty close (0:57):

Bring on some football!

First Impressions Matter: The Weekend Preview

The best time of year is back. Football returns to the NESCAC tomorrow. (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)

The first week of the season is a special time. After 10 long months of waiting, NESCAC football is back to fill up our early Saturday afternoons for eight weeks. Yet, one can’t help but feel like right now is almost a better time to be a NESCAC football fan. After all, by Saturday night half of the teams will be 0-1. The expectations that every team and fanbase has can’t possibly all be met, and so for some, times are better before those expectations come crashing down.

This is the point where my friends tell me that I’m way too cynical. That football games are one of the best events ever created, and we should welcome them like a crying baby does the embrace of a parent. They are right of course. Enjoy tomorrow, and if at all possible get yourself to a game in person. Thanks to the Northeast Sports Network and improvements in technology, watching a NESCAC football game at home is now a great alternative, but nothing beats the ability to watch a game in person. Alright, enough of me rambling: on to the analysis.

Five to Watch

  1. Quarterback Reece Foy ’18 (Amherst): Coach EJ Mills has been loathe to disclose who his starting QB is, but the game preview on the Amherst website and one source have tipped us off to the fact that Foy is getting the nod for the start. Foy has talent, as he actually played at the University of San Diego (DI-AA) for a year before transferring to Amherst before last season. Foy battled for the starting position early in the year before Max Lippe ’15 retook control of the position down the stretch. At only 5’9″, Foye can have trouble seeing all of his reads. He is a good athlete though we didn’t see him run much last year. Even though Foy might start, I still think we see Alex Berluti ’17 play quarterback at some point, also.
  2. Safety Justin Sanchez ’17 (Wesleyan): As one of the two returners on defense for the Cardinals, Sanchez has to be spectacular against Matt Milano ’16 and Middlebury. Stars Donnie Cimino ’15 and Jake Bussani ’14 helped allow Sanchez to roam free and make plays in the run game (he led the Cardinals in tackles last season with 58), but Coach Dan DiCenzo will ask him to do more in pass defense this game. The Wesleyan defense might struggle to stop Middlebury, but if they get a couple of turnovers, that would also be huge. A noted ball-hawk, Sanchez is their best bet to make that happen.
  3. Defensive End James Howe ’16 (Williams): Does dominant 2013 James Howe return or are teams still able to scheme and stop him like in 2014? That question is one Ephs fans are hoping to see answered on Saturday. Top level talent like what Howe displayed in 2013 is rare in the NESCAC, and it can swing games. The defensive line besides Howe is young, but that is no excuse for him as a senior now. I will be watching Howe in person at Bowdoin while (shameless personal plug alert) I am doing the color commentary for NSN, so rest assured that I will keep a close eye on him.
  4. Outside Linebacker Patrick Williams ’16 (Tufts): This is a name you might not know right now, but I have a feeling that Williams is going to have a big senior year. He had 43 tackles and an interception a year ago; solid numbers but nothing special for sure. However, at 6’2″ and 220 he has exceptional size for his position and he moves pretty well. He was only moved to linebacker last season, and he has a better understanding of the position this year. Also, his dream job is to see the world while making money. Me too, Patrick, me too.
  5. Wide Receiver Darrien Myers ’17 (Trinity): Myers has a lot of hype around him after being selected fifth in our Fantasy Draft. Not actually, but Myers is important to watch because he could help create big plays in the passing game for Trinity. That was something the Bantams struggled with last year after relying on AJ Jones ’14 to be a game breaker for them for a long time. In 2014, Myers was targeted on a lot of short passes near the line of scrimmage in order to get him the ball in space and make plays, but it really makes more sense to allow him to use his speed and get behind the defense for big plays.

Game Previews

Editors Note: We are going to cover Wesleyan vs. Middlebury in depth this afternoon. Just sit tight on that one.

Amherst at Bates: Lewiston, Maine, 1:00 PM.

So Foy is the QB, but that doesn’t change much about the Jeffs. Nick Kelly ’17 is going to get the ball a lot, and Kenny Adinkra ’16 and Raheem Jackson ’17 should also get nearly 10 carries apiece. That offensive line had trouble creating holes in 2014 as the Jeffs ran for only 126 yards on 37 carries (42 yards came on one run too). Look out for any tweaks to the Amherst scheme like them rolling Foy out of the pocket or using the read option more because they knew whomever won the starting job would be better suited for that type of offense. A major concern for Foy is just limiting mistakes and taking care of the ball.

#2 Jackson McGonagle '16 is hoping the Amherst passing attack can break out this year. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
#2 Jackson McGonagle ’16 is hoping the Amherst passing attack can break out this year. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Outside of Wesleyan, nobody lost more from its roster than Bates so I am not quite sure what to expect from them. The game last year was touch and go to the end, but the defense for Bates will have difficulty keeping this one low-scoring. The best hope for a Bates victory comes from being able to control the clock and hit Mark Riley ’16 on a lot of third downs. The Jeffs of course get the benefit of playing the Bobcats first and have had ample time to get ready defensively to defend the triple option. The 3-4 defense that Amherst runs is already well-suited to stopping it, and the Jeffs have more than enough athleticism in the front seven to make plays. This one won’t be as close as it was last year, but Amherst doesn’t blow many teams out either.

Prediction: Amherst 23 – Bates 7

Williams at Bowdoin: Brunswick, Maine, 1:00 PM

The first game for JB Wells is a chance for Bowdoin to wipe the slate clean and put last year’s 36-0 blowout loss to Williams in the rear mirror. That moment turned out to be the high moment of the year for Williams who face a lot of questions entering the season.

The loss of safety Justin Harris ’17 for the season is a tough one especially since the Ephs also lost Tom Cabarle ’15 to graduation. Corners Taysean Scott ’17 and Mike Davis ’17 are still very good, but the Ephs will really have to hope that their front seven can handle Bowdoin’s running attack without having to bring one of the inexperienced safeties into the box. That running attack is led by Tyler Grant ’17, who didn’t do much in this game last year. The new Bowdoin offense will look similar when they line up, but the action after the snap will be very different. The Polar Bears want to throw the ball more than they did last year, and Dan Barone ’16 will be targeted in the passing game early and often. Because he works out of the slot a lot, I’m not sure how Williams will matchup with him, but he could give the outside linebackers fits.

I’m higher on Austin Lommen ’16 in his senior year than most, and he needs to prove in this game that he can lead the offense even if the running game isn’t working. The Williams receivers will have a large height advantage in at least one of their match ups, but that has often been the case, and they haven’t found a way to exploit it.

As a reminder, I (Adam) played for Bowdoin my freshman year and do not pick their games because of that. So the prediction is from Joe.

Prediction: Bowdoin 17 – Williams 13

Trinity at Colby: Waterville, Maine, 1:00 PM

In case you forgot, Trinity comes into the season with a three-game losing streak. They are going to come ready to play. Sonny Puzzo ’18 is the QB with Henry Foye ’16 ready to play, also. The big battle is in the trenches between the inexperienced Trinity offensive line and the veteran Colby defensive line. The Bantams ended up running all over Colby in the second half last year, but that was after the front seven had been worn down. Chris Marano ’17, Ryan Ruiz ’16 and the rest of that defensive line have to get penetration and stop those big Trinity running backs before they get a head of steam going. When Puzzo does go to throw the ball, he should have great success with all of his talented receivers back against the very inexperienced Colby secondary.

Jabari Hurdle-Price '17 become the team's feature back once Carl Lipani '17 went down with an injury last season and proved that he can carry the load, averaging 4.1 YPC. (Dustin Satloff/Colby College Athletics)
Jabari Hurdle-Price ’17 become the team’s feature back once Carl Lipani ’17 went down with an injury last season and proved that he can carry the load, averaging 4.1 YPC. (Dustin Satloff/Colby College Athletics)

Running back Carl Lipani ’17 had great success running against the Trinity front seven last year, and the Mules have to keep that level of commitment to running the ball in order to not have their defense tired at the end of the game. That also means quarterback Gabe Harrington ’17 has to complete above 60 percent of his passes. The entire linebacking group for Trinity is new, and so Harrington should put pressure on them to make tackles in space by getting the ball to either his running backs or receivers in the flats. Trying to throw the deep ball against Trinity safety Spencer Donahue ’17 is not a winning proposition. The Mules keep it close again for a while, but the strength of Trinity wins out over four quarters

Prediction: Trinity 22 – Colby 16

Tufts at Hamilton: Clinton, New York, 1:00 PM

Year two of Dave Murray’s tenure begins with a Tufts team coming to town eager to prove they are a better team than the one that beat Hamilton a year ago and that they can win on the road. The key for Hamilton is improvement on defense. They held opponents to under 30 points just three times all season in 2014. The good news is that most of the defense is back, and they had to fend off competition for their spots. The offense should be decent overall, but I don’t like the way that things matchup for Hamilton against Tufts. The Continentals had over 400 yards of offense last year, but they didn’t finish drives.

Tufts will run the bubble screen until the Continentals prove they can stop it, and that isn’t easier given the skills of the Tufts slot receivers. I am worried about the quarterback play for Tufts, though. Alex Snyder ’17 has not grabbed the job in the fashion that the coaches were hoping he would, and the Tufts offense will have to be more effective than it was last year when they relied heavily on their defense and special teams to create points. I’ve actually gone back and forth on this one a little because I do like what Murray is selling at Hamilton, but I don’t think his first win comes in this one.

Prediction: Tufts 19 – Hamilton 13

‘Cac on the Farm: NESCAC Baseball Players in the Minor Leagues

Mike Odenwaelder at Amherst.
Mike Odenwaelder at Amherst.

Editors Note: Filling the void of Trinity baseball writers for the blog left by graduated Carson Kenney ’15 and Sean Meekins ’15 is Nick Di Benedetto ’17.

This year the NESCAC had three baseball players drafted in the Major League Baseball Amateur Players Draft. Amherst’s Mike Odenwaelder ’16 was the first NESCAC player drafted in the 16th round. The other two draftees are Wesleyan’s Donnie Cimino ’15, the Cubs 37th round pick, and Amherst graduate Robert Lucido, the Blue Jays 40th round pick.The road to the show is nothing easy, and the lower you are drafted the tougher it is to show your true potential. Typically Major League farm systems chew up and spit out the low draft picks because they invest their big time money in the top picks.

Odenwaelder was drafted high enough to where he is going to get good opportunities to showcase his talent. He was the 493rd overall pick, and the Baltimore Orioles 16th round pick. Already he has played in 34 games for the Aberdeen Ironbirds, which is the Orioles Single A Short Season affiliate team. Odenwaelder is batting .220, and for a guy just drafted over a month ago, he is settling into the minors fine. When talking with Odenwaelder, he was thrilled to be playing with the Orioles and is very content playing in Aberdeen, which has top notch facilities. He is living large at the moment especially considering he did not plan on even playing college baseball.

During High School at Wamogo in Litchfield, Connecticut, Odenwaelder was pursuing his dream of being a college basketball player. He was greatly influenced by his high school basketball coach, Gregg Hunt, who passed away during his college basketball recruiting process. Odenwaelder, the 2nd best player in Wamogo basketball history, turned to baseball to cope with losing a coach so close to him. He ended up doing a post-graduate year at Canterbury School in Milford, Connecticut to follow his love for baseball. He became a three sport All-State athlete during his post-grad year which gave him an opportunity to be recruited for baseball. Odenwaelder was committed to play at UConn Avery-Point, but a roster spot opened up for him at Amherst a few months before his freshman fall.

Prior to the 2015 draft, the past ten years have produced six NESCAC draftees, five of whom came from Trinity College. Only one of those draftees is still playing: Kevin Heller from Amherst who was picked in 2012. On record there are only four NESCAC players who have made it to the show, all of whom were pitchers. The numbers are sparse so it is unfair to think Odenwaelder is incapable of making it to the big leagues due to the fact that he is a position player. He would be the first NESCAC position player to ever play in the Major Leagues, but he would certainly not be the first 16th rounder. There have been plenty of players picked that late who made it to the big leagues, such as James Shields and Mike Napoli.

Odenwaelder was the second of eleven Division III baseball players drafted this year. He was also drafted as a junior, which is rare in Division III baseball. Had he not hurt his shoulder during his sophomore season, Odenwaelder likely would have been drafted as a pitcher. When asked about his decision to leave college to play professionally, Odenwaelder said, “I just wanted to pursue my dream, and if I had a chance of making it to the bigs, I was going to have to leave this year.” Being a 16th round pick means he is getting some decent money to play, but it is not life-changing money. Had he stuck around another season it is possible he could have raised his draft stock, but it is also possible he could have hurt it as he would have been 23 years old by the time of the 2016 draft. By signing with the Orioles he is now absorbed in a complete baseball atmosphere. Odenwaelder gets the opportunity to play everyday for the rest of the 2015 season, facing great competition and improving more than he would have at Amherst. Instead of it just being a sport, it is now his job and most athletes’ fantasy. “I’m getting a paycheck to do what I love […] it’s a dream come true really”.

Odenwaelder is the highest NESCAC draft pick since Trinity College Pitcher Jonah Bayliss, the Royals 7th round draft pick in 2002, who made his Major League debut in 2005. He went on to pitch in the Majors for three consecutive seasons. Odenwaelder seems to have the tools to make a run for it at the next level. He has what it takes on defense as he was named to the NCAA Division III Gold Glove Team. Beyond multiple NESCAC honors, he was named to the D3Baseball.com All-American team and First Team All-New England.

In his three years at Amherst, he put up consistently great numbers. In a total of 118 games he had a career batting avg. of .372 with 16 homers, 86 RBI, and 39 stolen bases in what many are calling the “dead bat era” of college baseball. His most promising season was his sophomore year where he hit .400 with 6 HRs and 31 RBI, posting a whopping Slugging Percentage of .607. On the mound he had a career ERA of 2.55 in 24.2 innings pitched.

While Odenwaelder is busy working, he understands the importance an Amherst degree can have once baseball is over. He is dead-set on getting his degree from Amherst. He is either planning on going back for the next two Fall semesters, or just taking care of his senior year when his baseball career is over.

Donnie Cimino at Wesleyan.
Donnie Cimino at Wesleyan.

Wesleyan superstar Donnie Cimino was the Cubs 37th round pick. This spring he led the Cardinals to another NESCAC title, batting .399 with 3 homeruns. In his four years at Wesleyan in 645 at bats, he batted .373 with a .465 slugging percentage. He holds the record for Wesleyan’s most hits in a season with 69 and most career hits with 240. So far the minors have been a struggle for him as he is getting an opportunity to play only every few days or so. Cimino is batting  just .163 in the Arizona Rookie League. The Cubs have moved him from center to left field for most of his starts. His regimen in rookie ball consists of a lot of training, much like that of a spring training player, so he is learning a lot. Hopefully he is able to make some adjustments and excel in the Cubs farm system.

Before his days of flying around the diamond as a Wesleyan Cardinal, Cimino was a star on the gridiron at Westwood High School in New Jersey. His eyes were set on playing college football, which is how Wesleyan landed the stud baseball player. Cimino, who claims he was a “late bloomer”, didn’t gain much prowess on the baseball field until his senior year of high school when he really filled out, but by that time it was the spring and most of the recruiting was done. He considered doing a post-graduate year to push for a Division I opportunity, but decided to stick it out and get a good education and play two sports at Wesleyan. The Wesleyan baseball program was very fortunate to have him knocking on their door to be a walk-on his freshman year. The Don, as he is informally known, started every game in his four year tenure with the Cardinals.

The third NESCAC player drafted was Amherst’s Robert Lucido, who was cut by the Lord Jeffs during his sophomore season. Despite not playing for the Jeffs anymore, Lucido landed a spot in the Call Ripken League, a collegiate summer baseball league. He was able to earn a workout with the Blue Jays, where he did well enough to be drafted in the 40th and final round of this year’s draft. He is playing in the Gulf Coast Rookie League in Florida hitting .153 with a .313 on base percentage. He gets an opportunity to play just once every 7 or so games. In all likelihood his minor league career will last maybe a year or two, but it is possible he continues to overcome his long odds. Furthermore his ability to get into professional baseball opens up many avenues for him within the sport, and he could see a career in baseball off of the field. Teams sometimes use low draft picks on players who could potentially work in the front office, where multiple NESCAC alumni are scattered throughout. Three current MLB General Managers are graduates of Amherst. In the front office for the Boston Red Sox, former Trinity Bantam Psi U brother, baseball and football player Sam Kennedy will take over the job as President at the end of the season.

The NESCAC’s three MLB Draftees blew every other Division III conference out of the water. In addition, Wesleyan Pitcher Gavin Pittore (’16) signed on as a free agent last week with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Also, there have been two players that signed independent league contracts; Joe Jensen ’15,Hamilton’s star outfielder, signed with the Southern Illinois Miners in the Frontier League, and Nick Cooney ’15, one of Wesleyan’s aces, signed a contract with the Fargo-Moorehead Redhawks in North Dakota.

The odds are very much against minor leaguers making it to the majors. Even if they can’t make things work on the playing field, all NESCAC baseball players have a great education which allows them to venture off into different avenues of baseball. NESCAC graduates, and other Division 3 graduates are all over front offices, and coming from a small school is not a disadvantage at all.  Though most players don’t make it, there are the few fortunate ones that make it to the Show. For Odenwaelder, Cimino, and Lucido, even if they never make it to the major leagues, they won’t consider their professional baseball careers a failure, but rather a great experience and opportunity.

Making it Big: Gavin Pittore Signs with the Dodgers

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Gavin Pittore has gone from Wesleyan to the pros in short succession. (Courtesy of Wesleyan University)

Hey kids, do you want to become a professional baseball player? Joining a NESCAC baseball team is the way to go given recent events. Wesleyan pitcher Gavin Pittore ’16 just signed as an undrafted free agent with the Los Angeles Dodgers, making him the fourth NESCAC player to be either drafted or signed by an MLB team this year. Next week we will have an in-depth feature on the progress of those NESCAC players who have already begun playing professional baseball, but for now let’s look at Pittore and how he ended up receiving a $105,500 signing bonus.

If we back up 18 months, the idea of Pittore signing with a major league team was laughable. Entering his sophomore year he was fighting to get a spot in the rotation, but he was blocked by more established starters. Given that he had a 3.21 ERA and had allowed 18 walks in 28 innings as a freshman, he didn’t scream breakout candidate. Through his first four outings in 2014 Pittore had a 8.73 ERA over 11.1 IP, but he still started the conference season in the weekend rotation. From that point on Pittore was an absolute horse for the Cardinals. Over his last 114 innings in a Wesleyan uniform, Pittore had a 1.45 ERA and struck out 119 batters vs. only 31 walks.

Even though he emerged as a stud for the Cardinals, his performance at Wesleyan didn’t necessarily signal a professional future. Pittore never made the All-NESCAC First Team, and he had only one appearance on the All-NESCAC Second Team this year. (Brief tangent. The All-NESCAC teams have a combined five pitchers on them vs. 19 position players. How does that make sense? Give pitchers more spots; they deserve them.)After all, it was fellow Cardinal Sam Elias ’15, and not Pittore, who took home Pitcher of the Year honors in the NESCAC this season. Given the success that Elias and Nick Cooney ’15 also had pitching at Wesleyan in the past two years, it is hard to extricate how much of Pittore’s low ERA came courtesy of the elite defense behind him.

Not until this summer did Pittore really break onto the radar of scouts. Last summer he spent the entire season with the Harwich Mariners but pitched only sparingly. He showed up at the open Cape League tryout this year hoping for the best and got a temporary contract with the Bourne Braves. The rest, as they say, is history. After pitching almost exclusively as a starter at Wesleyan, Pittore became a reliever for the Braves and immediately flourished in the role. In 17 innings, he did not allow a single earned run and had 17 strikeouts in those innings. At the All-Star game in front of a multitude of scouts, Pittore flashed a 92-94 MPH fastball, impressing all in attendance. Do not underestimate the role of that All-Star game in him signing either. As far back as mid-June Pittore started talking to teams about potentially signing and foregoing his final year at Wesleyan, but Pittore says that only in the past week did he begin to talk to the Dodgers specifically.

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Gavin Pittore pitching this summer on the Cape League. (Courtesy of the Bourne Braves)

In order to get him to leave Wesleyan, the Dodgers offered him that big bonus. The bonus is important given the low salaries for minor league players, but Pittore has someone to lean on for advice: former teammate Donnie Cimino ’15 who was drafted in the June draft. The two have talked regularly about Cimino’s experiences in the minor leagues, and Cimino has been able to offer advice. Though he is hardly a veteran since he was drafted in June, seeing Cimino adapt to the minor leagues told Pittore he could also make the jump. Yet in the end Pittore says that Cimino didn’t influence his decision. Pittore is still trying to figure out how exactly he will get his Wesleyan degree, but he is hoping to do it over two fall semesters as soon as possible.

Even though last summer was not a great one for him statistically, Pittore attributes a lot of his success to his time on the Mariners. “Being around such advanced baseball guys like Cape guys is huge for development and I think that’s what did it for me.” He was able to learn a lot about how to be  a be a better pitcher from his teammates and coaches instead of just throwing the ball hard . Of course, spending all that time concentrating on baseball also helped his velocity. After sitting at 90 MPH for a long time, Pittore now throws consistently in the low to mid 90s. At 6’3″ and 200 pounds, he has the frame to throw in the mid 90s once he spends some more time on a professional level weight lifting program. He has also reworked his wind-up so that he now turns his body to the side more which hides the ball from the batter longer. That deception may be even more important than the few MPH he has added. While the fastball is his best pitch right now, Pittore will have to work on having one knockout secondary pitch also if he wants to be able to progress through the minors as a reliever.

Just quickly keep in mind also the role of geography in this story. Being from Massachusetts allowed Pittore to attend the league tryouts in 2014 and 2015. He could sign a 10 day contract knowing he would be able to land in another New England summer league if things didn’t work out. If Pittore is from say Oklahoma, it is unlikely he ever pitches in the Cape League. And without that exposure, there is no way that he signs with a major league team. That isn’t to denigrate his accomplishments, but rather is an acknowledgment of all the factors that came together to make it possible

While this obviously is not the central focus at the moment, Pittore leaving is devastating for the back-to-back NESCAC champions Wesleyan. All three of their weekend starters from 2015 (Pittore, Cooney, and Elias) are no longer on the roster, and the only remaining pitcher with significant experience is Peter Rantz ’16. Behind Rantz, no pitcher threw 25 innings last season so the Cardinals will need to rely on someone like Ethan Rode ’17 making a massive jump in 2016. The lineup loses top performers like Cimino and Andrew Yin ’15. A three-peat will require a lot to go right in Middletown.

For Pittore, NESCAC baseball is in the past as he makes the jump to the pros. He is done pitching on the Cape too and will leave Monday to go to Arizona for a physical with the Dodgers. He might try to meet up with Cimino who is playing for the Cubs affiliate in the Arizona Rookie League. Beyond that, Pittore is still unsure of where the Dodgers will place him in the minors. The road to the majors, or even the high minor leagues, is not an easy one. Most don’t make it, but given that Pittore is still improving, it is impossible to write him off. Nobody saw him being in this position a few months ago. Congrats to Gavin and we wish him the best.

Andrew Yin ’15 and Donnie Cimino ’15: May Players of the Month

Donnie Cimino '15 - Westwood, NJ
Donnie Cimino ’15 – Westwood, NJ (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)
Andrew Yin '15 - Potomac, MD
Andrew Yin ’15 – Potomac, MD (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

 

We interrupt your summer beach-going (or retreat to the fireplace the last two days if you live in the Northeast) to bring you the final Player of the Month for the spring. We couldn’t figure out how to give it to just one person, so we did the easy thing and gave it to the two table setters in the Wesleyan lineup.

Andrew Yin ’15 and Donnie Cimino ’15 have been mainstays in the Wesleyan lineup from the very beginning of their freshmen year. Cimino started every single game he could in a Cardinal uniform, 163 games in all. Yin was never far behind starting 150 over his career. Until Yin had to be held out of a game against Mitchell this season, the two had started 109 games consecutively together dating back to the first game of their sophomore year. That might not seem like much next to the 2,632 consecutive games Cal Ripken Jr. played, but for the NESCAC it is quite the feat.

Both of them got off to somewhat slow starts this season, not that it mattered much considering how good the Cards’ pitching was for the first half. As Wesleyan entered the playoff section of their season, Cimino and Yin recovered and played some of their finest baseball. During the month of May they tore the cover off the ball. Combined the two hit 41-89 (.460) and had an OBP of .515. They both finished the year with 10-game hitting streaks, though Yin’s season was cut short as he missed the final two games of the Cardinals’ NCAA Regional. Their Mays were uncannily similar. Both walked five times and stole six bases while getting caught stealing once. Yin had nine runs and four RBI while Cimino had nine RBI and four runs.

They were best during the NESCAC tournament when they reached base 20 out of the 39 times they came to the plate. In the climactic winner-take-all game against Amherst, the two both had three-hit days. Yin in particular was the star with three doubles, two runs, and one RBI. That RBI came on a double down the right field line that scored Ellis Schaefer ’17 for the tying run in the Top of the 9th. In the times when runs were the most at a premium, the duo found ways to get on base at an exceptional clip.

Also, don’t overlook the defensive accomplishments of these two. Cimino covered an insane amount of ground in center, something he also did well on the football field. He also committed only one error on the year. Yin was a sure-handed second baseman who turned more double plays (23) than any other middle infielder in the league. They were two cogs in a stellar defense that was just as important a part of Wesleyan’s success as their pitching or hitting.

Cimino’s career accomplishments are significant of course. The Hartford Courant did a good job of diving deep into his entire four-year, two-sport athletic career. In terms of baseball, he leaves with 240 hits over the course of his career, the all-time record at Wesleyan. As mentioned above, he never missed a game. He came to play every single day with a passion for the game. Throughout his career he has hit anywhere from the leadoff spot to the three hole consistently. Though he never hit for a lot of power, he used his speed to be a weapon.

Yin could not quite match the gaudy statistics Cimino put up, but he was far from a slouch. His sophomore year he was first team All-NESCAC, and he hit above .300 all four years. Also, the most impressive part of Yin’s career at Wesleyan came off of the diamond. He was an absolute stud in academics garnering back-to-back CoSIDA baseball All-American First Team honors. What did he do to earn that award, you ask? Nothing much, except for TRIPLE majoring in chemistry, molecular biology & biochemistry, and neuroscience & behavior. Just completing a degree with those three majors (some of the hardest the school offers) would be noteworthy, but Yin did it with a 4.01 GPA!!! We don’t even quite understand how he got that final .01 added at the end. We do know that it is one of the most impressive accomplishments we have heard of at a NESCAC school.

Meting out individual credit for Wesleyan’s success has always been hard because different guys always seem to come up for them. And their pitching and defense has been the biggest reason why the Cardinals captured consecutive NESCAC titles. So in the end I couldn’t settle on just one player but settled on these two. They were the most dynamic top of the lineup in the league, and they were absolute constants throughout their time at Wesleyan. Down the stretch the two were instrumental in bringing another NESCAC title to Middletown, and for that they are our May Players of the Month.

Once Is Nice, but Twice … Wesleyan Repeats: Stock Report 5/12

What an incredible weekend of NESCAC baseball. From Friday afternoon until Sunday evening, the boys left it all out on the field. Every game offered drama and intrigue right up until the end. In six of the seven games played at last weekend’s NESCAC Championship, the tying run was at-bat or on-base when the final out was made. Stellar pitching performances were the norm, but there was plenty of going yard, too. At some point I lost track of how many diving catches had been made because it seemed like there was at least one every other inning. All in all, nobody left Nashua, NH without some moment where their team was firing on all cylinders.

In the end, the Wesleyan Cardinals were again the last team left standing as they captured their second consecutive NESCAC title. Though it ended just as most expected it to, the tournament was an absolute nail-biter. The final game between Amherst and Wesleyan was one of the wildest baseball games I have watched at any level. Consider that Wesleyan entered the ninth down one run with the bottom of their lineup coming up and Amherst ace John Cook ’15 on the mound. Consider that Ethan Rode ’17, the winning pitcher, had thrown two innings since Wesleyan’s spring break trip before he took the mound in the 11th. Consider that the Cardinals had to escape bases loaded jams in back-to-back innings just to get to the 12th inning.

The Cardinals came into Sunday feeling comfortable in their one game advantage over Amherst, but just as in 2014, Wesleyan lost the first game of the day to set up a deciding final game. Entering the Bottom of the seventh, Wesleyan looked like they were in control up 2-0 with Peter Rantz ’16 allowing only two hits through six innings. Then Mike Odenwaelder ’16 hit a solo homer to lead off the inning. Whatever, Wesleyan still had the lead. They just needed to get out of the inning…

That white speck right above Marco Baratta's glove is Sam Ellinwood's home run. (Courtesy of Northeast Sports Network)
That white speck right above Marco Baratta’s glove is Sam Ellinwood’s home run to put Amherst up 3-2 in the final game against Wesleyan. (Courtesy of Northeast Sports Network)

Then suddenly ecstasy for Amherst as the above Sam Ellinwood ’18 homer put the Jeffs up by one. Yet not one person in the Wesleyan dugout thought they were going to lose that game for a moment. According to captain Donnie Cimino ’15, ” There was no doubt in any of our minds. We are such a close team and have been through many victories and losses.” Pitcher Gavin Pittore ’16 echoed that sentiment citing the leadership of the seniors on this team. The Cardinals never stopped believing that they would find a way, any way. And in the ninth, when Amherst gave an inch, the Cardinals jumped. When Cook hit Ellis Schaefer ’17 with one out, Manager Mark Woodworth put on the hit and run for Andrew Yin ’15 and Schaefer. On an outside fastball, Yin just stuck his bat out and floated one down the right field line. Schaefer raced all the way around and the game was tied. Wesleyan would go on to win in 12 innings, and for a second consecutive year they piled out of the dugout for a victory dogpile.

If there is one characteristic to describe these Cardinals from the past two years, it is grittiness. After the Cards grabbed the 2014 NESCAC Championship, we wrote, “Wesleyan won games by never backing down in big spots.” The same is true for 2015, of course. The final game on Sunday was the perfect representation of a team that consistently finds a way to win close games. That it came against Amherst, their longtime rival and formerly a team that would regularly beat down on Wesleyan makes it all the sweeter for them. This team loves to show their confidence and celebrates with a swagger. At this point, they know they are special and want more. Pittore says a repeat NESCAC championship was just the beginning. In the 150th year of Wesleyan baseball, the Cards are hoping to add some more hardware to the University trophy case. Pittore says, “We’ve made it our mission not to settle. We know we have a special team and anything short of a World Series appearance is a disappointment. Our goal is to make Wesleyan University team 150 a team to remember.”

Now for a quick Stock Report.

 Stock Up

Shortstop Guy Davidson ’16 (Wesleyan)

This is a Stock Down and then back Up in one weekend for Davidson. Because when you go 2-17 through 99 percent of the weekend in the three hole, you definitely can’t say you had a great weekend overall. However, Davidson made all of that go away with one huge swing to hit the eventual game winning home run in the top of the 12th. With Odenwaelder on the mound for the first time all season for Amherst, Davidson led off the 12th thinking one thing only: fastball. That was what he got and boy did Davidson not miss. The home run was a no doubter as soon as it left the bat. Sitting fastball for the first pitch of the inning was the right move all the way, but it is also easy in a situation like that to get too excited when you get your pitch and swing out of your shoes. Davidson stayed calm and delivered a NESCAC title with it.

Amherst

Though the majority of this article is concentrating on Wesleyan and their victory, don’t forget how close Amherst came to the win. On Sunday they were eager to avenge their regular season sweep and loss in the second round of the tournament to the Cardinals. The knock on Amherst the last two years is that they haven’t been able to win the close games, but that was not the case this weekend, the final game notwithstanding. They got great pitching performances from guys up and down the roster from Sam Schneider ’18 to Keenan Szulik ’16. Their defense, long a problem, was good all weekend. They came as close as possible as you can to winning a league title, and they didn’t even have players like Odenwaelder and Andrew Vandini ’16 hit all that well. The Jeffs are heading to New York for their regional and should be able to make some noise.

Stock Down

Amherst Base Running

Of all the chances Amherst had to win (of which there were many) that final game, the bottom of the 10th was perhaps their best. Cooney was on the mound, but he was clearly struggling with his control and had barely gotten out of the ninth inning. After Yanni Thanopoulos ’17 singled and Anthony Spina ’17 got reached on a HBP, the Jeffs had runners on first and second with one out. Then Thanopoulos made the mistake of getting picked off second and getting caught in a rundown. Thanopoulos should have been more cautious in that situation, especially with Cooney so clearly struggling with his command. If Thanopoulos could have gotten a good read on a ball in the dirt and reached third with one out, Amherst almost certainly wins that game, but you don’t help out a pitcher who can’t get the ball over the plate consistently. As it was, Cooney walked the next two hitters to load the bases with two outs before getting a fly out to escape the inning. Thanopoulos had an excellent tournament batting .400 and stealing four bases, but that mistake was costly.

Tufts

Those in Medford are fuming about missing out on making the NCAA tournament. That came after they had a tough weekend dropping two close games. The Bates game, especially, they feel like they gave away since the Bobcats scored eight runs in the first two innings before the Jumbos almost came all the way back and ended up leading them loaded in the eighth inning down one run. We warned a couple of weeks ago about the danger of Tufts or Amherst missing the tournament. Then, Tufts was left out of the Top-10 of the NCAA Regional Rankings before last weekend. They likely needed a win against Amherst and possibly one other win in the tournament to have a shot at the tournament. Their weekend performance left them well short of that goal. In the end, D3Baseball.com and others didn’t even consider the Jumbos on the bubble for the tournament despite their great overall record. They got no help from their NESCAC East counterparts as three of those four teams finished with records below .500. That hurt Tufts’ overall Strength of Schedule. Disappointing ending for a team that looked great entering the year but never was at full strength because of injuries to Kyle Slinger ’15.

 

You Come at the King, You Best Not Miss: Weekend Preview 3/3/15

Williams and Wesleyan will play all three of their games at Andrus Field. (Courtesy of Wikipedia)
Williams and Wesleyan will play all three of their games at Andrus Field. (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

After the slight miscarriage that was opening weekend in the NESCAC, we actually get a full slate of weekend series, though there are still some more cosmetic changes because of the weather. But still, it’s baseball! For real! Alas, no games in Maine yet. One can only dream.

With Tufts having the weekend off, the remaining four East Division teams are tangling in series that will start the process of figuring out where exactly where each of them stands relative to each other.

The biggest series is out west with Williams taking on Wesleyan. The Ephs swept Middlebury to once again at least appear to have a shot at challenging Amherst or Wesleyan for the second playoff spot. A year ago with the Ephs at 4-2 in league after taking one game from Amherst, the Cardinals put their foot down and swept Williams to take control of the West and end the playoff chances for the Ephs. This year, Williams is hoping for at least one win against the Cardinals. However, beating this Wesleyan team is one tall task.

Three to Watch

1. Shortstop Guy Davidson ’16 (Wesleyan): We love two sport athletes, and Davidson is one of the many at Wesleyan right now. However, not many athletes boast squash and baseball as their two sports. After spending the winter as the number one for the squash team, he has transitioned seamlessly to baseball. In his junior year he has elevated his game to another level at shortstop. A year after hitting only .273 with one homer, Davidson has mashed three home runs on his way to a team high .415 BA. Davidson combines with Andrew Yin ’15 to make one of the best double-play combos in the NESCAC.

2. Starting Pitcher Scott Goldberg ’15 (Colby): Colby fans should not be too concerned at all with his 6.23 ERA. He dominated in his first two starts in Florida before having one very bad start. I put more stock into his 5 inning, 10 strikeout start against Hamilton than his 3 inning, 8 earned runs one against Castleton State. He is striking out a ton of hitters so far too which is good news. Goldberg should get the ball this afternoon in the NESCAC season opener against the Bantams. Last year against Trinity he didn’t make it through five innings, but Colby got the win in his start.

3. Left fielder Yanni Thanopoulos ’17 (Amherst): The sophomore is building on a very productive freshman year that saw him get on-base at .375 clip and steal 13 bases. Now after hitting only one extra base hit in 2014, Thanopoulos has two home runs and six extra-base hits total to date. On Wednesday in Amherst’s tuneup game against Bates, he went 2-4 and stole two bags to confirm that he is still very much a threat on the base paths. Mike Odenwaelder ’16 is going to continue to steal the headlines, but Thanopoulos has proven that there are two very capable outfielders with four syllable last names in the Jeffs outfield.

Predictions

Middlebury (0-9, 0-3) at Amherst (7-6, 0-0). Games played at Auburn High

Friday 7:00 PM: Eric Truss ’15 vs. John Cook ’15. Saturday 3:00 PM: Cooper Byrne ’15 vs. Keenan Szulik ’16. Robert Erickson ’18 vs. Jackson Volle ’17.

Not too much to say here. Hard to pick in favor of the Panthers until we see them win a game. Truss against Cook is a clear mismatch in the first game, but in the other two the Panthers will have a shot. Dylan Sinnickson ’15 is a game decision for this one. Amherst has looked a little shaky so far, and their 10-9 win over Bates wasn’t too reassuring. They committed four errors (three by their middle infielders) to allow five unearned runs to score. They can overcome those types of errors against Middlebury.

Amherst sweeps series.

Colby (9-3, 0-0) at Trinity (8-5, 0-0)

Friday 3:00 PM: Scott Goldberg ’15 vs. Sean Meekins ’15. Saturday 12:00 PM: Greg Ladd ’15 vs. Jed Robinson ’16. Saturday 2:30 PM: TBD vs. Chris Speer ’17

Two teams who we have not heard too much from to this point are certainly feeling that they have a chance at the playoffs in the East. The rotation for the Bantams has been amazing with the four pitchers with the most innings pitched all having an ERA below 1.00. The bullpen has been much more of an adventure which has held the Bantams back a little bit. Meekins and Robinson have matured into a very good duo. For the Mules, Goldberg and Ladd are missing their running mate Soren Hanson ’16 who was injured earlier in the year.

The weakness of both teams is their offense so expect a low scoring series. In the end, the loss of Hanson for Colby swings things just enough for the Bantams who will win their first NESCAC series since 2013.

Trinity wins two of three

Bates (5-5, 0-0) at Bowdoin (6-10, 1-2): Games played at Franklin Pierce.

Sunday 1:00 PM: TBD vs. Henry Van Zant ’15. Sunday 3:30 PM: TBD vs. Harry Ridge ’16

The final game of this series is being postponed for later which might benefit Bates in the short run but Bowdoin in the long run. The Bates staff is still very unsettled with a bunch of arms still clamoring for innings. Expect a lot of different pitchers to throw multiple innings as manager Mike Leonard will not allow the Bowdoin hitters to see pitchers multiple times. In the long run, Van Zant can now start two of the games in this series for Bowdoin depending on when the final game is rescheduled for.

Winning at least one game is a must for Bowdoin to stay near .500 in conference. Bates must be itching to play this weekend after only playing four games since February 21. These are two very familiar foes who have to travel to an unfamiliar locale in Franklin Pierce.

Teams split the doubleheader

Series of the Weekend: Williams (6-5, 3-0) at Wesleyan (9-4, 0-0)

Friday 4:00 PM: Thomas Murphy ’15 vs. Nick Cooney ’15. Saturday 1:00 PM: Luke Rodino ’17 vs. Gavin Pittore ’16. Saturday 3:30 PM Dan Smith ’16 vs. Sam Elias ’15.

All three games will be played in Middletown because there is still some snow in Williamstown, but the change of venue is not a big one as the Saturday doubleheader was already planned for historic Andrus Field.

A good deal of players for Wesleyan have yet to hit their stride. Neither Cooney nor Pittore boast a spectacular ERA, but some of that is because of the caliber of teams they pitched against earlier in the year. Meanwhile Donnie Cimino ’15 has not looked like his usual self in his first baseball action since breaking his jaw last summer. He should get back on track as he gets more at-bats. That a good deal of Wesleyan stars are not playing great but the team is still playing well is not a surprise given the depth of talent. Remember too that a good deal of this team played some high level baseball this summer in the Cape Cod league and beyond.

Williams feels confident after managing to sweep Middlebury, but they needed a walk-off win in the first game to make it happen. As mentioned in our season preview, the Eph hitters were shut down against Wesleyan in 2014. A repeat of that spells doom for them. While Jack Roberts ’17 is smoking the ball, Jack Cloud ’17 and Luke Pierce ’15 are both mired in slumps that are keeping the Williams offense from working on all cylinders.

Something tells me that Wesleyan is ready to show the NESCAC just how good they are going to be this weekend. The Ephs will play well, but their best chance of winning is Murphy throwing a gem on Friday. Against a lineup as deep as Wesleyan’s that is very difficult.

Wesleyan sweeps series

Cardinals Start Where They Ended: Baseball Power Rankings 3/25

The NESCAC conference season is starting Friday, albeit in a somewhat lesser fashion than usual because of the weather. Still, with the beginning of conference games upon us, now is a good time as ever to Power Rank the teams. You will get a good idea of our impressions for every team from this. Then check back in later today to see our predictions for how the teams will finish in the standings and who will make the NCAA tournament.

All records are from 2015

1. Wesleyan (8-4, 0-0)

A year ago we didn’t expect Wesleyan to end up winning the NESCAC, but now we will be more surprised if they DON’T win it. The offense led by Wesleyan’s all-time hits leader Donnie Cimino ’15 and CoSIDA All-American Andrew Yin ’15 is stacked across the board. Nick Cooney ’15 and Gavin Pittore ’16 anchor the pitching staff. This team only has one weakness that we can point out: pitching depth. Jeff Blout ’14, Chris Law ’14 and Jimmy Hill ’14 combined to throw 117 innings – 31 percent of Wesleyan’s total – last season. Four of the top five pitchers in terms of innings are back but after that top four there is some uncertainty. Of course, Wesleyan’s problem is peanuts compared to those that other contenders have to deal with.

2. Tufts (9-3, 0-0)

The Jumbos have gotten off to a good start once again this year. Unlike the other NESCAC schools that fly all the way south to either Florida or Arizona, Tufts travels to North Carolina and Virginia. Connor McDavitt ’15 is getting on-base at a nifty .458 OBP to get things going at the top of the lineup. The numbers for the pitching staff are gaudy which gives pause about the level of competition that the Jumbos have faced, but this is also the most accomplished staff in the league. Tufts will face off in a big series against Bowdoin starting Friday.

3. Amherst (6-6, 0-0)

The Jeffs remain somewhat of a mystery after their spring trip. Their split of a doubleheader against #4 St. Thomas is an indication of how good the Jeffs can be. Ace John Cook ’15 was excellent in that start going 7.1 innings and a solo home run was the only offense St. Thomas managed against him. However, the Jeffs also gave up twelve runs in consecutive seven inning games. New shortstop Harry Roberson ’17 is hitting the ball great with an average well above .400, but he also already has seven errors, an untenable amount at this point. This team might not be as deep as past years which could ultimately doom them in the NESCAC race.

4. Colby (6-1, 0-0)

The Mules stock has gone up the most from the beginning of the season. They are still in the midst of their trip to Florida, but the early returns have been very promising. Unfortunately, we only have the statistics for two of their games, but their scoring differential has been great. Their offense has scored above 10 runs in five of their seven games thus far. Given that this was the worst offense in the NESCAC a year ago and they lost several key pieces, that could spell great news for the Mules. We won’t see them in NESCAC action until next weekend, however.

5. Bates (5-3, 0-0)

We have barely seen the Bobcats in action over the past month, and we still know very little about how their rotation is going to shake out. Because they have had so few games, their starters have only been going a few innings before giving way to their deep bullpen. A good sign for the Bobcats’ offense is that they are averaging the second most walks per game, something that they were very good at a year ago as well. Evan Czopek ’16 has been fantastic thus far in the lineup.

6. Bowdoin (5-8, 0-0)

The Polar Bears struggled through a somewhat uneven spring break, but they also faced some injury problems as well as a hard stretch of opponents. The key for them, as we said before, is finding a way to hit all the way through their lineup. Chad Martin ’16 has hit three home runs already in the middle of the lineup and has cemented himself as one of the premier power hitters in the league. Henry Van Zant ’15 allowed five runs but also struck out 13 batters with no walks in his last outing in Florida. If he becomes a fully fledged ace, then the Polar Bears will be thinking playoffs.

7. Trinity (7-5, 0-0)

The Bantams spring trip started out great with a five-game winning streak before they dropped five out of seven games to finish on a down note. The main problem for them on the second half of their trip was the offense averaging only 2.5 runs per game in the final six games. Once again, none of the Bantams showed much power as the team didn’t hit any home runs on their trip, but the impact of freshman Brendan Pierce ’18 in the lineup is promising. Some players like Daniel Pidgeon ’15 are bound to rebound from a slow start and help the Bantam offense recover at least somewhat. Also, note how tightly-packed the 4-7 spots are. The East, behind Tufts, remains wide open and these teams are basically interchangeable at this point.

8. Williams (3-3, 0-0)

The Ephs only started their spring trip this past weekend so they are still a little behind some of the other teams at this point. Besides Jack Cloud ’17, none of the Ephs main hitters have hit well thus far, and the back end of the rotation has not looked great thus far either. The Ephs’ three wins have come against mediocre competition. Still, the Ephs can make those worries mostly go away with a dominant performance in their opening series against Middlebury.

9. Hamilton (6-5, 0-0)

We would have put the Continentals higher if they hadn’t dropped a doubleheader to Colby on Tuesday. The two games exposed the lack of quality starters for Hamilton behind Jjay Lane ’15. Cole Dreyfuss ’16 is 2-0 with a 1.35 ERA in his two starts so far so he could end up being a critical piece for Hamilton. The Colby starters basically shut down the Hamilton lineup besides Joe Jensen ’15. Hamilton will not open their NESCAC season until April 10 when they travel to Middlebury so they will remain in the background for a little while.

10. Middlebury (0-6, 0-0)

Still searching for their first win, the Panthers have seen consecutive late inning leads slip away the last two games in their opponents’ final at bat. Dylan Sinnickson ’15 has been a fun story so far, but Middlebury is not going to see results on the field unless their pitchers start getting opponents out more consistently. The team ERA is an almost unfathomable 13.92 at this point. That number must, and certainly will, come way down. Still, Joe MacDonald ’16, who is expected to basically be an innings-eater (disclosure: Joe is the co-founder of Nothing but NESCAC) is the only pitcher with an ERA below 7.00 at this point. The good news is that the lineup is hitting better than last year with Raj Palekar ’18 enjoying a torrid start to his career, even though some of the guys expected to carry the load, MacDonald included, are off to slow starts.