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 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 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 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.

NbN 2014-15 Year-End Wrap Up

We’ve come to that time of the year folks, the time when the weather turns and NESCAC students are shifting their concerns from final exams to brand new internships or careers – an exciting time for most students – but one that is bitter sweet for college seniors who must say good bye to the comforts of their college dorm rooms and face the cruel, hard world out there. This time is especially difficult for the droves of college athletes (and let’s face it, this pertains to 99 percent of NESCAC athletes) who are regretfully retiring from competitive athletics.

In honor of the great efforts and performances that happened around the league almost every day this academic year, we’ve compiled our five (plus one bonus) favorite moments from the NESCAC football, men’s basketball and baseball seasons. And before we jump in, we just want to say a GIGANTIC thank you to all of the student-athletes for their hard work, and to all of you, our readers, be you students, parents, classmates, coaches, distant relatives or New England D-III athletic celebrity stalkers, for loyally coming back to Nothing but NESCAC. As most of you know, Adam and I started this blog a little over a year ago, and we’ve had some great writers contribute to the page over that time. We’re not making any money – trust me – and we we don’t do this because it will pad our resumes (though it’s not a bad bullet point). We’re just huge sports fans, and we love talking and writing about sports. We love it when we hear that Nothing but NESCAC is being read around the league. Personally, one of the moments from this past year that sticks out greatest for me – and this includes everything I did while on a semester abroad, in the classroom or on the baseball field – was when Jake Brown ’17 told me, face-to-face, that I made a mistake in leaving him out of my NESCAC Point Guard Power Rankings back in February. I loved that. And as Jake knows, and hopefully the rest of the kids we write about understand, we’re not professionals. We’re just doing the best we can. But most of all, we hope you get some enjoyment out of reading what we post here, because we sure have a good time putting it up.

Here are our favorite moments of the past year, in no particular order:

1. FOOT: Middlebury 27, Trinity 7, October 25 at Trinity

Middlebury brought Trinity's streak to a crashing end. Courtesy of Greg Sullivan (
Middlebury brought Trinity’s streak to a crashing end. Courtesy of Greg Sullivan (

In case you hadn’t heard, Trinity was supposed to be unbeatable in Hartford. The Bants had not lost at home since September 29, 2001 – 53 straight games – and Trinity came into the matchup at 5-0 while Middlebury was 3-2. At that point in the season fans were just starting to believe that Matt Milano ’16 was a bona fide star in this league. With his four touchdown performance in a rout of the favored Bantams, Milano convinced any remaining doubters.

2. BASK: Wesleyan Wins Its First NESCAC Basketball Championship as the Sixth Seed, March 1 in Hartford, CT

Joe Reilly and the Cardinals celebrated their NESCAC title in classic fashion - but they're not done yet. (Courtesy of Wesleyan Connection)
Joe Reilly and the Cardinals celebrated their NESCAC title in classic fashion. (Courtesy of Wesleyan Connection)

The Cardinals squeaked into the playoffs by winning their final two NESCAC regular season games and finishing at 5-5 in the conference. Next, all that Wesleyan had to do was go on the road to Bates, into the toughest home gym in the NESCAC, and beat an NCAA Tournament team in the Bobcats, then go to the home of in-state rival Trinity and hang onto a three-point victory to topple the hosts – also an NCAA Tournament team – and THEN go to OT against three-time defending champion Amherst. There, an inexperienced Wesleyan team took down the heralded Lord Jeffs. Quite a turnaround for a program that was sub-.500 the past two years.

3. BASE: Wesleyan 4, Amherst 3 in the 12-Inning, Winner-Takes-All NESCAC Championship Game, May 10 in Nashua, NH

Wesleyan baseball celebrated its second-straight NESCAC title this season. (Courtesy of NESCAC Athletics)
Wesleyan baseball celebrated its second-straight NESCAC title this season. (Courtesy of NESCAC Athletics)

After losing four straight to the Cardinals, Amherst finally beat Wesleyan 3-1 in the first game of the day to set up the climactic final game. At this point, both teams were on their last legs in terms of pitching. Through 6.1 innings Wesleyan was up 2-0 behind great pitching from Peter Rantz ’16. Then two homers from Mike Odenwaelder ’16 and Sam Ellinwood ’18 put Amherst up 3-2, but Andrew Yin’s ’15 third double of the day brought around Ellis Schaefer ’17 for the tying run in the 9th. Nick Cooney ’15 worked around two straight bases loaded jams in the 9th and 10th inning. That set the stage for Guy Davidson ’16 to recognize that Odenwaelder was pitching for the first time all year. Davidson sat on a first pitch fastball, drove it out to left, and the Ethan Rode ’17 closed things out to give Wesleyan their second straight NESCAC title.

4. BASK: Trinity 79, Bates 62 in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, March 13 in Babson Park, MA

Ed Ogundeko '17 and Mike Newton '16 left everything they had on the court on this night, but Trinity prevailed over the Bobcats. (Courtesy of Mark Box/Babson College)
Shay Ajayi ’16 and Mike Newton ’16 left everything they had on the court on this night, but Trinity prevailed over the Bobcats. (Courtesy of Mark Box/Babson College)

For contemporary fans of NESCAC men’s basketball, it’s not totally unusual to see a couple of NESCAC squads duke it out in the NCAA tournament (read: Amherst vs. Williams), but Trinity hadn’t been to the Big Dance since 2008, and Bates had never played in the D-III NCAA Tournament. And for those two to meet as late as the Elite Eight? Wow. The game was everything we hoped for for about 13 minutes – then Trinity went on an 11-3 run before the half and extended their lead after the break to finish off the Bobcats fairly easily. Nevertheless, a special moment for all NESCAC men’s basketball fans.

5. FOOT: Amherst 33, Wesleyan 30 in OT in the de facto NESCAC Championship Game, October 18 at Wesleyan

Phillip Nwosu '15 has been one of the NESCAC's best over the past four years, and he cemented his legacy with a game-winner against Wesleyan. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
Phillip Nwosu ’15 has been one of the NESCAC’s best over the past four years, and he cemented his legacy with a game-winner against Wesleyan. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

We didn’t realize it then, but this game decided the NESCAC championship, and it was a game more than worthy of its weight. In very wet conditions, these two teams went back and forth with neither team ever leading by more than a touchdown. The kicking game ended up being the difference. With Wesleyan up by three and under two minutes remaining, QB/P Jesse Warren ’15 botched a punt that went only 12 yards and set up Amherst at the Cardinal 49. Max Lippe ’15 completed a crucial 4th and 3 to Gene Garay ’15 to get the Jeffs in range for Phillip Nwosu ’15 to hit the game-tying field goal from 41 yards out. In overtime, the Amherst defense stuffed Wesleyan on 4th and 1, and Nwosu nailed the game winner from 35 yards out to give Amherst the stunning win. The Jeffs needed a missed Trinity 23 yard field goal to hold on and win two weeks later to keep their undefeated season alive. As the venerable Lee Corso always says, “this one is gonna come down to special teams.”

Caution, highlights below are not in the correct order.

BONUS. BASE: Tufts 3, Middlebury 2 on a Blown Call, May 3 at Tufts

Before you roll your eyes and close the tab, I’m not complaining about this loss, I just wanted to call attention to what might have been the most dramatic baseball game of the NESCAC regular season that went totally unnoticed.

Full disclosure, in case you didn’t know, I play for the Middlebury baseball team, so of course this is a bit of self-interest involved here, but hear me out. This game went to show that anyone can beat anyone in the game of baseball on any given day (even though Middlebury didn’t actually win), and that is especially true in the NESCAC, which is what makes this league so great. Tufts threw Tim Superko ’17, the team’s de facto ace after Kyle Slinger ’15 suffered the unluckiest season in NESCAC history, who did a very nice job, but Eric Truss ’15 matched him pitch-for-pitch.

Obviously, Tufts was the better ball club this year. Just look at the records. But it felt like a scene from a movie all day as the underdog Panthers clawed back from a first-inning deficit to go up 2-1 in the fifth, and for the Middlebury team there was hope of ending an abysmal season on the highest note possible. The drama mounted over six and a half innings and finally climaxed in the bottom of the seventh. Leading up to this game, Truss, a typical workhorse, started three games in an eight-day span from April 21-28, throwing 18.0 innings – and 245 pitches – before heading back to the bump on May 3 against Tufts. Truss struck out Tom Petry ’17 to get the first out of the seventh inning, but on that pitch, Truss’ 93rd of the game and 338th in the past two weeks, Truss partially tore the UCL in his pitching elbow, unbeknownst to all but the hurler. Miraculously, Will Glazier ’15 flew out to left field for the second out of the inning, but then the magic came to an end for Middlebury. A HBP, two roped singles and an IBB loaded the bases with the score tied and two outs.

The next at-bat was truly Hollywood-worthy. On a 1-0 count, Tufts SS Matt Moser ’16 hit a sharp two-hopper to the left of the Middlebury third baseman – yours truly. With the the subsequent throw apparently beating Moser to first, the Middlebury team took one step back towards the dugout to prepare for extra innings. Then the first base umpire signalled safe, and the ensuing scene was truly chaotic. Some choice words were used, tempers flared, and a stunned Tufts squad mauled Moser in celebration. Win or lose, it was an incredibly-played ball game. However, to describe just how wild of an ending it was, take a look at this still frame from the Tufts broadcast, on the play where Moser was called safe:

The final play of Tufts' 3-2 victory over the Panthers on May 3.
The final play of Tufts’ 3-2 victory over the Panthers on May 3.

I’m not including this to whine about losing. Who knows what would have happened if the game went to extra innings. I just wanted to include what was for me, personally, the most exciting game that I was a part of all season, and among the most exciting games of my long baseball career, one that truly had one of those You-Couldn’t-Script-This-Any-Better endings. These are the types of games that make us love sports, and especially sports in the NESCAC.


That does it for our 2014-15 NESCAC coverage. Articles may be sparing over the summer months, as we focus our efforts on rebuilding our site a little bit, but stay tuned on Twitter (@CACSportsBlog) and on Facebook for news about NESCAC athletes and Nothing but NESCAC itself. Thanks again to all of our loyal readers, and good luck to all NESCAC athletes this summer!

New Look Panthers Hungry for Success: Middlebury Baseball Season Preview

Jason Lock '17 will be expected to be a force in the heart of the Middlebury lineup this season (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)
Jason Lock ’17 will be expected to be a force in the heart of the Middlebury lineup this season (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

2014 Record: 5-24 (2-10, Fourth in NESCAC West), missed NESCAC playoffs

Starters Returning: 9 (7 Position Players, 2 Pitchers)

Projected Lineup (Stats are from 2014):

CF Dylan Sinnickson ’15 (.379/.446/.526, 2 HR, 12 RBI, 9 SB)*
SS Johnny Read ’17 (.227/.301/.227, 0 HR, 4 RBI)
1B Jason Lock ’17 (.290/.310/.346, 0 HR, 12 RBI)
3B Joe MacDonald ’16 (.281/.311/.354, 2 HR, 19 RBI)
C/DH Max Araya ’16 (.277/.382/.383, 0 HR, 12 RBI)
C/DH John Luke ’16 (.248/.321/.376, 1 HR, 11 RBI)
LF Ryan Rizzo ’17 (.191/.217/.236, 0 HR, 4 RBI, 9 SB)
2B Raj Palekar ’18
RF Garrett Werner ’16 (.254/.342/.299, 1 HR, 6 RBI)

*Stats are from 2013

SP Eric Truss ’15 (0-7, 7.12 ERA, 2.93 K/9, 43.0 IP)
SP Cooper Byrne ’15 (1-5, 4.93 ERA, 4.29 K/9, 42.0 IP)
SP Jake Stalcup ’17 (1-1, 1.50 ERA, 5.5 K/9, 18.0 IP)
SP Rob Erickson ’18 

Offense Overview:

The Panthers need the athletic Dylan Sinnickson '15 to pick right back up where he left off two seasons ago. (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)
The Panthers need the athletic Dylan Sinnickson ’15 to pick right back up where he left off two seasons ago. (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

In what many would call a blessing, there has been a lot of roster turnover from last year in Middlebury. Of the 27 players on this season’s roster, only 16 were rostered last season. The lineup fluctuated often last year, but seven of the starters that made their way into the lineup by season’s end return in 2015. However, it takes nothing but a simple math exercise to see that for the Panthers to build on last year those returning starters will need to hit considerably better. Classmates Ryan Rizzo ’17 and Johnny Read ’17 are particularly important, as Reed is crucial as a table setter for the middle of the order, and Rizzo’s incredible speed will wreak havoc on opposing defenses if he is able to get on base more consistently. First-year infielder Raj Palekar ’18 has earned the first crack at second base by means of his nifty glove work, having beaten out a bevy of other freshmen for the honor, all of whom are likely to get a look during the team’s spring break trip to Arizona. Palekar should help to shore up the middle infield defense that was shaky (to put it positively) last year. The major change in the lineup is the return of center fielder Dylan Sinnickson ’15, an All-NESCAC Second Teamer in 2013. One of the best players in the league in 2013, Sinnickson didn’t come out last year after a long basketball season, but returns this year at exactly the right time. With the departure of last year’s senior captain Alex Kelly ’14, an All-NESCAC Second Teamer himself, Sinnickson slides nicely into the center field and leadoff spots, and brings some much-needed pop to the Middlebury lineup. Not only can he run like heck, but he has the most raw power of anyone on the roster.

Defensive Overview:

Middlebury’s defensive woes last year were arguably the most harmful part of the season. With 79 errors in 20 games, the pitching staff received no help from the defense behind them, which is especially harmful since the pitching staff by and large pitches to contact. The arrival of Palekar in the middle infield and the return of Sinnickson in the outfield will shore up those spots and raise the team defense as a whole. The outfield, in particular, could be fantastic with the wheels that Sinnickson, Rizzo and Garrett Werner ’16 display, and Werner’s powerful arm in right. However, in the wise words of Yogi Berra, “Baseball is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical,” and the same applies to Middlebury’s defense. The improved attitude of the team should have positive effects on the defensive performance.

Pitching Overview:

Veteran Eric Truss '15 is expected to anchor the Middlebury staff this spring. (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)
Veteran Eric Truss ’15 plans to anchor the Middlebury staff this spring. (Courtesy of Middlebury Athletics)

The Panther’s staff is led by senior captain Eric Truss ’15 and fellow senior Cooper Byrne ’15. Truss appeared to be a rising star as a sophomore, posting a 3.53 ERA, but fell off considerably last year in conjunction with the team as a whole. Byrne, on the other hand, witnessed an improvement last year after getting shelled during his sophomore year. Both pitchers aren’t overpowering, but at their best exhibit good control and force a lot of ground balls, making improved infield defense a necessity. Tall righty Jake Stalcup ’17 seems in line as the third starter after showing flashes of great promise last season, with promising and even taller (6’7″) righty Rob Erickson ’18 also pushing for innings. Middlebury’s staff has years of experience behind it, and will ideally use that to improve upon last year’s performance.

Storylines to Watch

1. Sinnickson Cometh

Watching Sinnickson patrol the outfield and streak down the baselines was one of the singular pleasures of 2013. His incredible athleticism made him one of the best players in the league. He absolutely crushes fastballs and routinely made two-hoppers to shortstop into bang-bang plays at first. Having Sinnickson back on the team in his 2013 form would be crucial for Middlebury’s prospects this season. However, he did miss an entire year, and it would be fair to expect some rust to have set in … if he were a human being. However, since he is not, he should be able to return to form and be in contention for league-wide honors again.

2. Youth Movement

In addition to Palekar, there are several other freshman and sophomores who could make an impact this year, and will be responsible for changing the program’s reputation in the future. Erickson, while pushing for innings as a starter right away, also shows some promise with the bat and considerable pop to match his large frame. Jason Lock ’17, Rizzo and Read are all sophomore starters who will be crucial in bringing the program out of this slump, with Lock showing particular promise as the number three hitter in the lineup. He stands to get many more chances to drive in runs this year as well, with the return of Sinnickson in the leadoff spot and a completely healthy Read (who missed part of 2014 with a since-surgically-repaired shoulder) in the two-hole. Combining an experienced pitching staff with a youth-fueled, energetic lineup gives the Panthers hope that 2015 will be the beginning of a new run of success for Middlebury baseball.

3. It’s About the Team

It only takes a scroll or two down Middlebury College’s Yik Yak feed to see that expectations and school support for the team are not exactly high this season. There are two directions that the team’s response could go. They could either allow it to affect the season, or use it as bulletin board fodder to bring them together. Fortunately, it seems that the latter has been the trend thus far. Coach Bob Smith, now in his 30th season, has noticed that the team is “leaps and bounds” more connected this year than last year, and credits the leadership of senior captain Eric Truss, among others, for creating a focused, professional atmosphere. To return to Yogi’s quote, the Panthers will need to be – and appear to be on the right path towards being – in a far better mental state to play the game than last year, and that could have immeasurable benefits in their play. So, if I may offer the team a motto for the season (and paraphrase another great and quotable Major Leaguer), “Fu…Forget Yik Yak, and let’s play two.”

Biggest Series: March 27-28 against Williams

As Middlebury’s first NESCAC series of the year and a rivalry series, this matchup will offer the Panthers a great opportunity to put the league on notice that they won’t be a pushover this season. For Middlebury to change people’s minds about them, they’ll have to start early, and this series against Williams, another team that underachieved last season, should leave them salivating at the chance to prove that 2014 is gone and long forgotten.

Stock Report April 21

The playoff picture is beginning to solidify in both Divisions. In the West, Wesleyan and Amherst know that they will be playing tournament baseball this May, and the regular season West crown will be decided this weekend when Amherst travels to Middletown, CT. As for the East, the Jumbos remain on top, though with five games still to play in conference a slump would drop Tufts from the number one seed. Everyone but Trinity is still afloat on the East side of the ledger. We have one full weekend of NESCAC play remaining, and here we discuss who’s hot and cold heading into the final week of conference play.

Stock Up

1. Bates (13-11, 4-3) – No team had a better weekend than the Bobcats did. They took two out of three against Trinity to take care of business, but more importantly saw Colby lose three tight games to Tufts. Bates cruised in game one behind another great start from Brad Reynolds ’14, and won game two by mashing their way to 12 runs. Griffin Tewksbury ’14 hit his conference leading fifth homer of the season as well. The Mules and Bobcats will meet next weekend in a series that should finally decide who will get the second spot in the East. I say “should” because Bowdoin could surprise Tufts and win multiple games to give them a chance. Bates also has two games still to play against Tufts which have been rescheduled to May 3. This has the potential to be a huge help to Bates because Tufts will most likely have nothing to play for. They could rest a bunch of their regulars, or at least not play them the entire game. Even if they ended up losing both games to Tufts, Bates can all but assure a playoff spot if they win two games against Colby. 6-6 might be all it takes to make it in the East.

2. Nick Cooney ’15 Starting Pitcher (Wesleyan) – Hamilton had a hard time figuring out the junior southpaw as Cooney had 12 strikeouts on the way to his fifth win of the season. Last week he won NESCAC Pitcher of the Week, and his performance this week was just as impresive. He has put an uneven start behind him in conference play with three great starts against Middlebury, Williams and Wesleyan. The in-season improvement by the entire staff has been the big difference in the Cardinals’ play in conference. Cooney has emerged as an ace and workhorse by leading the conference in innings pitched this season.

3. John Cook ’15 Starting Pitcher (Amherst) – We admit that we wrote Cook off a little bit when he let up 11 runs to Southern Maine in the beginning of the year. Since then the junior has rebounded in a big way, but he saved his best for last weekend. Middlebury was keeping Amherst on the ropes with a great pitching performance by Eric Truss ’15, but Cook matched him every step of the way, holding Middlebury to one run as the game went to extras. After a Tyler Jacobs ’15 homer put the Jeffs up by one in the tenth inning, coach Brian Hamm showed his confidence in his pitcher by sending Cook back out to start the bottom of the tenth. Cook calmly delivered, going three up three down. Considering Cook allowed 11 runs in one game, his 2.83 ERA is almost a miracle, and a testament to his recent dominance.

Alex Kelly '14 was among the few bright spots for Middlebury against the Amherst staff, going 6-13 in his last NESCAC series atop the Panthers' lineup. Courtesy of Rachel Frank
Alex Kelly ’14 was among the few bright spots for Middlebury against the Amherst staff, going 6-13 in his last NESCAC series atop the Panthers’ lineup.
Courtesy of Rachel Frank

Stock Down

1. Colby Offense – First we should give credit to Soren Hanson ’16 and Greg Ladd ’15 for stepping up big time and giving the Mules a chance to win the last two games of the series after Tufts managed to rough up ace Scott Goldberg ’15 in the first game. The offense, however, could not get anything going which is why the weekend ended without any victories for Colby. Yes, Tufts has some of the best pitching in the league, but Colby missed two golden opportunities to grab a game. Their best chance was in the top of the sixth in the second game when a double left runners on second and third with one out. On a groundball to second Jason Buco ’15 was thrown out at home trying to score the go-ahead run, and a Tyler Starks ’16 strikeout ended the inning with two runners still on base. The offense needs to regroup before the weekend for Colby to reach the playoffs.
Check out this amazing catch by catcher Nick Cutsumpas ’14 that helped the Jumbos sweep the Mules.

2. Hamilton’s Supporting Cast – Again, we don’t intend to single out a certain player on Hamilton for their poor play, but we draw attention to this in order to shed light on Joe Jensen’s ’15 play. Over the weekend Jensen was his usual havoc-wreaking self with five stolen bases in three games. Hamilton has faded in conference play after we highlighted them as a potential spoiler in the West, but it hasn’t been because of Jensen. He now sits at 18 stolen bases and a .512 OBP on the season. With nine games remaining he has a chance to match the 29 he had in 2013. The problem is that he just hasn’t gotten any backup from his teammates. He has ten more hits than anyone else on the team, and Hamilton has nobody in the middle of the lineup hitting for extra bases that would move Jensen quickly around the bases.

3. Harry Ridge ’16 Starting Pitcher (Bowdoin) – Since he started conference play with a gem against Trinity, Ridge has struggled to be the number one starter Bowdoin needed him to be because of the injuries to Henry Van Zant ’15 and Christian Martin ’14. Against Bates and Colby, Ridge couldn’t manage more than three innings in each game, and while he pitched six innings against Williams, he allowed five runs (three earned). His ERA sits at a respectable 3.00, and it is true, like we wrote last week, that his defense has let him down. Still, whether it is fair or not, Bowdoin needed him to be more than that in order to contend. His season is sadly reminiscent of last year when he went through similar stretches of uneven pitching. All that being said, don’t count him out to have a rebound this weekend as Bowdoin prepares for their last stand against Tufts.
You can catch the highlights of Saturday’s Williams-Bowdoin doubleheader here, courtesy of Bowdoin athletics:


Stock Report 4/7

Stock Up:

Third Baseman Kevin Davis ’14 (Bates) – Davis hit clean up all weekend against Bowdoin, and rarely does anyone fit the bill as perfectly as the 6’3” slugger did in the first game of Sunday’s doubleheader. Davis smacked two doubles and a home run en route to seven RBIs in a 13-7 win. On the weekend, Davis went 8-14 with 10 RBI and three doubles. Davis raised his average by 51 points and more than doubled his RBI total to 19, second in the NESCAC.

Middlebury’s Pitching – The Panthers can take away some positives from this weekend’s series at Wesleyan despite the sweep. After looking lost against Williams, it took a shutout from Jeff Blout ’14 in the first game of the Saturday doubleheader and a suicide squeeze in the bottom of the ninth in the second match up from Nick Miceli’17 for the Cardinals to finish off Middlebury. The pitching and defense improved drastically for the Panthers. While ace Eric Truss ’15 still hasn’t found his 2013 form (7 IP, 10 H, 6 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 0 K on Friday), Middlebury held Wesleyan to five runs (four earned) in the last two games of the series and a .273 average while the Cardinals have hit .323 overall on the season. Cooper Byrne ’15 was great in the seven-inning game (CG, 6 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 4 BB, 2 K) and Logan Mobley ’15 (6IP, 4 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 5 BB, 0 K) worked his way out of some jams to throw a strong start in the second game. If the Panthers can get the bats going they might just have an effect on the race for the West crown.

Cooper Byrne '15 tossed his second consecutive complete game on Saturday.
Cooper Byrne ’15 tossed his second consecutive complete game on Saturday.

Startin Pitcher John Cook ’15 (Amherst) – Because the third game of the Amherst-Hamilton series was postponed last weekend, Amherst’s number three got his first chance in a league game against rival Williams and was dominant. Cook has huge shoes to fill with older brother and current assistant coach Bob Cook ’13 having departed, and after an up-and-down first couple games the 6’4” hurler put it together and earned his first win on the season. Cook’s line was 7 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 8 K.

Stock Down:

Second Baseman Jack Roberts ’17 (Williams) – The lefty took the league by storm with his early performance, especially a 6-16 series against Middlebury, but flailed to an 0-12 weekend against the Lord Jeffs, including three strikeouts in the series finale, dropping his average to a still-respectable .290. Roberts is still a dependable hitter with a bright future and the ability to use all fields, but these growing pains are to be expected for any first-year, and we ought to be willing to give him a pass against a vaunted Amherst rotation.

Bowdoin – The Polar Bears get singled out here partially because we talked about Trinity in this column last week and their disastrous fall continued with a 1-2 weekend against Colby in Hartford (although the Bantams were playing as the road team). Bowdoin, meanwhile, now appears to be part of a three-team race for who will join Tufts in the NESCAC playoffs. Perhaps it’s too early to anoint the Jumbos with the divisional crown because they’ve only managed to play one league game, but they’ve looked great out-of-conference. So the second spot will fall to either Bates, Bowdoin or Colby, barring a storming comeback from Trinity, and the Polar Bears set themselves back by losing the series to their in-state rivals. Bowdoin (3-3) and Colby (2-1) still have three games with Tufts ahead, Bates (2-2) has two with the Jumbos and a series on the road against a desperate Trinity team this weekend, while the Mules still need to play both Bowdoin and Bates. CBB action now takes on a lot of meaning this season.

Williams Pitching – Sorry, Ephs fans, if it feels like I’m picking on you guys. Williams should be happy with taking a victory from Amherst, the class of 2014’s first against the Lord Jeffs, but the fact that the team’s league-worst 8.33 ERA was lowered in a weekend where Williams lost one game 16-6 is a testament to the under-performance of the staff so far. While Middlebury’s staff seems to have, at least for now, turned a corner, the Ephs regressed from last weekend to this one. Of course, opponent matters, and Williams faced potentially the most potent offensive in New England this weekend, but the Ephs won’t be able to compete for a division crown until they can hold teams to four or five runs a game. One bright spot is the performance of righty Thomas Murphy ’15. In two league starts, Murphy has tossed 14 innings and given up just one earned run. A key for Murphy is his 2.57 BB/9 rate. He relies on his defense to get outs for him, and his teammates were good enough to help Murphy get his third win of the year on Saturday.

Middlebury Struggles to a 2-8 Record in Tucson; Swept by Williams

Although the Panthers played their first ten games in sunny Tucson, their results seem more appropriate for dreary, frigid Middlebury. The Panthers finished the trip at 2-8, closing with an abysmal sweep at the hands of William, highlighted by scores of 18-5 and 20-2 in favor of the Ephs.

So here we stand, at the first checkpoint of the season, and suffice to say it has not been an auspicious start for Middlebury. To rationalize this rough start, we must go back to the questions that loomed largest entering the season; how would the team react to the quitting of Hunter Merryman and Dylan Sinnickson, and the additional losses of the graduating seniors like Mike Morris, Tom Driscoll and Tom Rafferty.

Because almost all of the personnel losses that the Panthers suffered were established position players, it was clear that younger, unproven players would have to step up, and that the pitching and defense would have to somewhat carry a probably struggling offense. On the first count, there has been some level of success.  First-year Ryan Rizzo, Sinnickson’s replacement in CF, who has speed comparable to the basketball star, had been playing very well, stealing  bases five bases in one game. However, a knee injury suffered on Friday against Williams hindered his speed and confidence at the plate in the final two games of the weekend. If the injury works itself out, the Panthers could have a stud CF on their hands for the next four seasons, but if the pain lingers then a major offensive weapon will be damaged for Middlebury. Offensively, there have been several other positives. Sophomore Johnny Luke has stepped in to claim the third spot in the lineup, hitting .375 with 10 RBI already and one long ball. Luke’s classmate Max Araya and first-year Jason Lock have also stepped up offensively, hitting .395 and .317. And obviously, senior captain Alex Kelly has been playing a starring role, batting .422 from the top two slots in the lineup.

The problems that the Panther have had have been mostly related to atrocious defense. Although Rizzo and Kelly have been solid in the outfield, the other corner outfield spot has been a revolving door, with first-year Cullen Coleman and sophomore converted-infielder Garret Werner both going around and out after some poor defense. Werner continues to bounce between the infield and outfield. His speed and strong (though often inaccurate) arm make him a good candidate for right field. Meanwhile, first-years Lukas Marble and Mike Yang have played well in limited time, and may be next in line for a shot at regular playing time. Lock, too, is a candidate for some outfield time, though more likely is that he remains the every day DH, as he was on Saturday during the team’s doubleheader. Araya played a solid game in right field, but his defense is needed far more at catcher and second base.

The infield defense, however, is where the real problems lie.  Johnny Luke, despite his powerful bat, had immense problems throwing the ball from third to fist, as did junior Danny Andrada and first-year Mason Hinckley from short. The coaching staff decided to make a statement on Wednesday by tossing starting pitcher Matt Leach in to second base mid-game, and then starting the junior for all three games against Williams at either second or short. Leach played respectively, but it is unclear whether Bob Smith intends to keep the lanky high school shortstop in the lineup or end the experiment. Araya plays an above-average second base, but is much more valuable at catcher, where first-year Vermont native Charlie Boardman has not yet made the offensive leap, and anytime you can get a wonderful defensive catcher who can also rake you ought to take advantage of that situation. In order to get him out of the left side of the infield, Luke moved over to first base, with Lock manning DH and sophomore Joe MacDonald moving to third. This could be a consistent lineup, but if there’s one thing we know about this Panthers team, it’s that positional consistency is not one of their strong points.

The pitching has also been pretty bad, quite frankly. Granted, the inconsistent defense hasn’t helped with the pitchers’ confidence, but it’s not like there have been zero earned runs given up either. The only pitcher with an ERA under 3.00 is sophomore Cooper Byrne, who padded his stats in a blowout of Cal Tech, who has won exactly one game in the last ten years. The rest of the pitching, considered to be a strength in the preseason, has been disappointing, especially junior captain and ace starter Eric Truss, who carried a 19.44 ERA back to Vermont.

Middlebury was expected to struggle offensively. Replacing the production of Sinnickson, Merryman and the departing seniors was not going to be easy, and indeed at this point looks impossible this season. But the offense has been okay, with several key cogs stepping up. The pitching, a facet of the game that is independent of the departed players, and defense, an almost primarily mental aspect of the game, have been the problems. If there’s one positive to hold to at this stage it is the Panthers’ youth, but at some point that can not be used as an excuse any longer. The current players will need to improve quickly if they hope to win some games and solidify spots for next year. If the Panthers can live up to their pitching potential and play even adequate defense, their offensive momentum could breath life into this season. If they can’t, then this Arizona trip will not be viewed as a slump, but the norm for the rest of the season.

Middlebury Season Preview

Middlebury (12-19, 4-8 in 2013)

What they lost:

Despite heavy losses in the offseason due to graduating seniors, the most devastating blows to Middlebury’s lineup came just this last week. Hunter Merryman ’15 and Dylan Sinnickson ’15, the two best offensive players on the team, both made the decision not to go out this year.  Merryman and Sinnickson, who both also play basketball, tied for the team lead in average last year at .379, and Sinnickson led the team in pretty much every major offensive category. Among the graduating seniors were the top three RBI men on the team in Mike Morris, Tom Driscoll, and Tom Rafferty. If you add Merryman and Sinnickson to that list, that’s five of the top six. Morris, Driscoll, Sinnickson and Merryman all hit well over .300, and Morris added a team leading 13 steals. In terms of the rotation, Noah Bakker ’15, despite posting a sub-4.00 ERA in 2013, will not be with the team in 2014 by the coaches’ decision. To make up those losses, Middlebury will need not only established players like Eric Truss ’15 and Alex Kelly ’14 to continue playing well, but for a bevy of sophomores and first-years to step up and do what they can to fill the gaps.

2014 MVP: Outfielder Alex Kelly ’14

With Sinnickson and Merryman gone, a huge offensive burden falls onto senior captain Alex Kelly.  Kelly batted .316 last year with 14 RBI.  He didn’t have any home runs, but he still slugged at a .447 clip, showing solid gap to gap power. It is unclear where Coach Bob Smith will employ Kelly’s talents. Kelly has decent speed and could be an effective lead-off man, given his uncanny knack for fighting off pitches and making pitchers work. If the NESCAC tracked pitchers per plate appearance, there is no doubt that Kelly would be one of the leaders in that category. On the other hand, Smith may decide to drop Kelly into the heart of the order in the three or four slot. Kelly’s leadership and talent will be imperative if Middlebury hopes to weather these disappointing losses.

2014 Pitcher of the Year: Eric Truss ’15

The pitching staff will also be crucial for a comeback, as the lineup will probably be weakened.  And for the first time in several years, pitching appears to be the strength of the Panthers.  The (admittedly heavy) losses that Middlebury sustained in the offseason were primarily position players, leaving the majority of the staff intact. The return of Matt Leach ’15, who had an inspiring freshman campaign, from Tommy John surgery brings a new weapon to the rotation. Tri-captain Dylan Kane ’14 and Logan Mobley ’15 should make larger contributions than was the case last year, and Mark Dickerson ’15 was very effective out of the bullpen last year, posting a 1.02 ERA in 10 appearances. But, as is the case with the lineup, only one returner can truly be counted on at this point, and that is tri-captain Truss. Last year, Truss made the leap to the ace of the staff, leading the starters in ERA (3.54) and wins (three). Using his excellent control (only 9 walks in 48 innings), Truss could be ready to make another leap, into all-NESCAC territory.  A dangerous pitching staff has not exactly been a staple of recent Panthers teams, but this year’s incarnation appears poised to break the mold.

Season Outlook:

This is a very young team. Along with the stats, Sinnickson, Merryman and the departing seniors are taking away much of the seniority. At most, two upperclassmen will be in the starting lineup when the team heads to Arizona to begin the season. To be competitive this year, the Panthers will have to play smart, fundamentally sound baseball. The rotation should be good enough to keep the games close, so the offense will have to be able to scrape out enough runs to back them up. This should be the team that writers like me get to wear out clichés on. The Panthers might not have the talent this year to really compete for a NESCAC title, but the experience that these young players get this year be huge in preparing them for the coming years. And who knows, maybe the Panthers will get hot and make a title run, and then we can get a great sports movie out of it.