Clash of the Titans: Tufts vs Amherst Playoff Preview

Overview:

NESCAC East Division Winner Tufts takes on number two seeded Amherst in the first round of the NESCAC Playoffs. Tufts finished the season at an outstanding 26-7-1 (9-3 in conference) with a total run differential of +163. In conference, the Jumbos put up double the amount of runs as their opponents (92 compared to 46). However, all this success has not come easy. Tufts’ dominant weekend performances have often been accompanied by a poorly played game occasionally.  In the highly-contested playoff format, the Jumbos cannot afford to dig themselves in a hole with a sloppy game to start off the postseason. Amherst, on the other hand, has been in playoff mode for two weeks now. The winner of their final weekend series against Wesleyan decided the two seed in the West Division, and Amherst prevailed. They finished the season at 19-14 overall but a solid 8-4 in conference. Interestingly enough though, their home record stood at 7-8 compared to their incredible away record at 9-1. Nonetheless, the playoffs represent the start of a new season and Amherst looks to ride their NESCAC hot streak into them. Having won the last 3 NESCAC series, the team proved to recover from the rough start and look for a win to start the postseason.

Likely Pitching Matchup: Speros Varinos ’17 (8-1, 1.60 ERA, 68 K) vs Jackson Volle ‘17 (5-1, 2.74,

Speros Varinos
Speros Varinos ’17 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)
Jackson Volle
Jackson Volle ’17 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Both teams will likely throw their aces in game one of the postseason. Coincidently, these players were the two chosen as First-Team All-NESCAC last season. Speros Varinos ’17 throughout the season has proven again and again that he is the best pitcher in the NESCAC hands down. Finishing the season at 8-1 in 9 starts, Varinos led the league in wins, ERA at 1.60 and strikeouts, 68. He is our pick to win NESCACPitcher of the Year and likely will do just that, defending his title. All season, Varinos has shown his dominance and is ready to take on the Amherst lineup. Jackson Volle ’17 has put together an excellent season himself. In 7 starts, he went 5-1 with a 2.74 ERA. However, this number was weighed down by one poor start against Wesleyan in which Volle allowed 6 earned runs in his only loss. Take that start out and his ERA sits at roughly a full point lower around 1.76. Amherst looks for Volle to put together another strong performance against a talented Tufts offense.

Tufts X-Factor: Nick Falkson ‘18

Nick Falkson
Nick Falkson ’18 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

Player of the Year candidate Nick Falkson has put together a phenomenal year. With depth in the infield, Coach Casey often rides the hot bat which explains why Falkson leads the team in such a category. Hitting .394/.468/.504, Falkson has consistently been one of Tufts’ best and most clutch hitters. Sitting in the heart of the lineup, he has hit in 34 runs and scored another 29. However, what stands out most about his season is the correlation between his success at the plate and team wins. In the 25 wins this season, Falkson has hit .430/.516/.540 with 31 of his 34 RBIs. In the team’s 7 losses, his averages drop significantly to .250/.240/.250. The Jumbos will look for Falkson to lead the offense in this first round matchup. If the trend continues, a big game from him could mean a Tufts win.

Amherst X-Factor: Harry Roberson ‘18

Harry Roberson
Harry Roberson ’18 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

While slightly overshadowed by teammate Yanni Thanopoulos ’17, Harry Roberson has been a crucial part of this Amherst lineup. Leading the team with 135 at-bats, the shortstop has hit .363/.418/.548. These hits have led to a conference leading 38 runs scored. When facing a pitcher like Varinos, runs are hard to come by, so Roberson must continue to be aggressive on the base paths. He is 8 for 8 on stolen base attempts, but has additionally hit for power. Of the seasons 49 hits, 17 have been for extra bases including 11 doubles and 4 triples. Amherst will continue to rely on Roberson for these extra base hits as they will not be able to win leaving men on base. Roberson will likely need a big game for Amherst to beat Varinos and the Tufts staff.

Final Thoughts:

Despite the powerful offenses from both teams, this game will likely be a pitchers’ duel. Tufts will look to get Volle’s pitch count up and get to the bullpen while Amherst will have the same approach on their side. Either way, both teams are capable of not only winning this game, but making a run deep in the postseason. However, getting a win with their respective ace would prove to be a huge advantage in this two loss elimination format. After the grind of the regular season, both teams are ready for playoff action to get underway.

Prediction:

Varinos will put up another outstanding performance, but Volle will keep it close with a strong effort of his own. The Tufts lineup will then get to the Amherst bullpen late and come out on top in game one of the postseason.

Tufts 5 Amherst 2

Heating Up: Power Rankings 4/10

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

East

Bates

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

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

 

Bowdoin

Brandon Lopez ’19 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics).

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

 

Colby

Brooks Parker ’19 (Courtesy of Colby Athletics).

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

 

Trinity

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

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

 

Tufts

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

 

West

Amherst

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

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

 

Hamilton

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

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

 

Middlebury

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

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

 

Wesleyan

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

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

 

Williams

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

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

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.

Why You Should Care about NESCAC Baseball in 2016

Peter Rantz '16 will try to fill the gaping whole left in the Wesleyan rotation. (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)
Peter Rantz ’16 will try to fill the gaping whole left in the Wesleyan rotation. (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

Editor’s Note: Our baseball coverage this spring is not going to be as comprehensive as in the past two seasons. Blame senior spring and most of our writers also being baseball players.

Every year February sneaks up on me because I’m busy not freezing to death while being caught up in the excitement of NESCAC basketball. So every year Bates begins their season and I’m blindsided. Players have been hard at work getting in practices either late at night or early in the morning. The season really gets going this Saturday with five NESCAC teams playing games, but the NESCAC regular season doesn’t begin until April 1 so you (and us too) have plenty of time to get up to speed.

The 2015 baseball senior class was a loaded one, and the additional loss of the two most talented underclassmen (more on them later) to Major League Baseball makes the returning talent pool even smaller. A lot of new names are going to make a major impact on this season, and it is unlikely the predictability of last season holds again. Wesleyan has reigned supreme for the past two years. They dominated last season going undefeated in the regular season and winning the NESCAC tournament, and they won the NESCAC tournament in 2014 as heavy underdogs.

Brief aside: we began this site in the spring of 2014 with coverage of baseball. For some reason, I had illusions that when we started the blog that it would spread quickly and our readership would quickly develop. That didn’t quite happen, and it took us a LONG time just to get 100 Twitter followers. I was a little discouraged by the end of the spring, but then something happened after Wesleyan won the NESCAC championship. I had been writing all spring about how I didn’t think the Cardinals were that good and had picked them to lose early in the tournament. After they won, one of the Wesleyan players (I’m pretty sure they’ve deleted their Twitter since then) tweeted at the blog handle saying something to the effect of, “How you like us now?” A ton of other guys on the Wesleyan team retweeted and favorited it, and that was when I knew that things were going to be all right.

Back to this year. Wesleyan is going to look a lot different this season. They have already started their season in Arizona, and boy did things go badly in the first game Sunday. Wesleyan went down 24-0 after the third inning in a game that was an unmitigated disaster. You shouldn’t read too much into it, though. The first game of a baseball season, especially for a team that has barely been able to practice outdoors because of the New England weather, is notoriously fickle. Trips down south count on the official record, but they are still viewed as glorified spring training games by most. Anyways, Wesleyan swept a doubleheader the next day.

Wesleyan loses Donnie Cimino ’15 and Andrew Yin ’15, their two hitters at the top of the lineup, and three other positional starters. That doesn’t hurt as badly as the losses in the rotation where Sam Elias ’15, Nick Cooney ’15, and Gavin Pittore ’16 are all gone. That trio threw basically all of the high leverage innings a season ago, and the rotation is a mystery behind Peter Rantz ’16 who threw 60.2 innings with a 2.97 ERA in 2015. The good news is that slugging shortstop Guy Davidson ’16 is back and is mashing the ball so far. Guys like Robby Harbison ’17, who had a great freshman year but didn’t play much last year, and Marco Baratta ’16 need to have huge years offensively. Their best bet for winning a third consecutive NESCAC title is by mashing their way there, a very different story from their first two titles.

The two teams most likely to knock Wesleyan from their perch are Amherst and Tufts, traditional powers that also lost a good amount from last season. The loss of Mike Odenwaelder ’16 a year early is a major blow to Amherst, but they return a lot of other pieces in their lineup including Harry Roberson ’18 who is looking to build on a freshman year when he had an OBP of .429. The rotation was young a year ago, and guys like Sam Schneider ’18 have the chance to be cornerstone pieces now. Amherst pushed Wesleyan all the way to extra innings in a winner-take-all NESCAC championship game, and I think the presence of Odenwaelder overshadowed some of the other phenomenal players on the team.

The Jumbos meanwhile are in a similar spot with the loss of some big lineup pieces like Connor McDavitt ’15 and Bryan Egan ’15. That hurts, but the duo of Tim Superko ’17 and Andrew David ’16 gives them two legitimate frontline starters to trot out every weekend. In a wide open league, that is a luxury. The possibility of strikeout wizards Speros Varinos ’17 or Zach Brown ’18 replicating that ability over a larger amount of innings is intriguing. The other playoff team from the East, Bates, has a chance to be very good on the mound. Guys like Connor Colombo ’16 and Rob DiFranco ’16 have proven themselves to be above-average pitchers. I’m worried about the lineup because their three best hitters are all gone, but I had the same worry last year and guys stepped up then.

When looking for a team that could jump into the playoffs, no single team jumps out, honestly. The East was so even last year with every team having at least four wins that you would expect one of those teams to jump out. The problem is Trinity loses their three top hitters and ace, Sean Meekins ’15, leaving some big gaps to replace. Then Bowdoin has to find a way to win games without Henry Van Zant ’15 pitching them to it. A strong senior class featuring Chad Martin ’16 and Harry Ridge ’16 gives the Polar Bears hope, but like so many others, freshmen and sophomores have to step way up. Colby has nobody primed to replace Greg Ladd ’15 or Scott Goldberg ’15 in the weekend rotation, but their lineup should be improved.

Williams has a chance to make a big jump behind their young bats, but getting over the two giants in the West is so hard to do. The pitching for the Ephs was better a year ago, but it coincided with a drop in offensive production. Hamilton and Middlebury both look to be deeper than they were last season, but I think it’s a long shot for one of them to make such a big jump.

Overall, the season has a lot of uncertainty. The junior class is a weak one overall (more 2018 grads than 2017 grads made All-NESCAC teams last season), and that is the primary reason why so many young players are going to see playing time. I expect the talent bases of the elite teams to be strong enough to keep the status quo in place. But again, it’s March 9, and not even coaches really know what they have.

I’m still a few weeks away from being able to watch NESCAC games in person, but I’m excited for when I do get to watch some baseball. A NESCAC doubleheader can be over in a brisk four hours, and the large college rosters makes for a lively atmosphere even if not many fans besides parents show. We will get there eventually folks, just hang in there.

Ranking the Individual Team MVP’s Thus Far

Mike Odenwaelder '16 has thrived in his junior year. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
Mike Odenwaelder ’16 has thrived in his junior year. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

When I started to put together the Power Rankings for this week, I realized something important. Not much has really changed. While we still don’t know how things are going to shake out in the East, so far things have played out predictably and we have a good idea on how good each team is. So I decided to switch things up and go back and figure out who the MVP for each team was. Then once I had those settled, I went back in and ranked each player in order of performance so far this year. Just for kicks, I put the team’s Power Ranking from two weeks ago next to it just to give you an idea of how they match up.

10. Catcher Max Araya ’16 (.317/.442/.349): Middlebury (Team Rank: 10): Admit it, you were expecting Dylan Sinnickson ’15 in this spot. However, Sinnickson has come back to earth after that earth-shattering start. He hasn’t hit a home run since Middlebury’s third game of the year and has an OBP of .286 in NESCAC games. Araya, meanwhile, has continued his year-to-year improvement and stepped into full-time catching duties with great success. Offensively, Araya leads the Panthers with 11 bases on balls (and no one else is particularly close) and generally puts the ball in play with authority. The one thing lacking from his offensive game is a bit more pop, as he has just two extra base hits on the year. But Araya really gets the nod here for his work behind the dish, where has has emerged as one of the league’s best defensive backstops.

9. Shortstop Jack Roberts ’17 (.386/.429/.542, 0 HR, 19 RBI): Williams (Team Rank: 7): As a group the Williams’ offense has taken a step back from a year ago, but that has not stopped Roberts from cementing himself as one of the better players in the league. He rarely walks, but that isn’t his role as the three hitter. Roberts fits the mold of the team’s best athlete playing shortstop given his speed has allowed him to steal five bags and propelled him to four triples, tied for the league lead. His production has slipped ever so slightly in conference, but not by an alarming amount.

8. Right Fielder Nate Pajka ’15 (.353/.434/.659, 4 HR, 15 RBI): Bates (Team Rank: 5): The fact that Pajka is ranked eighth in this list is an indication of the quality of players that are to follow. After all, Pajka is fourth in the league in slugging percentage and has 14 doubles, the most in the league. In the Bobcats’ five conference games he is getting on base at a .458 clip. There isn’t really a good knock on his play either. The only reason others are above him is that they are just a smidgeon better in a couple of areas. A hit here and there really is the difference. Pajka can hold his hat on being one of the most improved players on this list; oh and that his team has a good shot at making the playoffs.

7. Starting Pitcher Sean Meekins ’15 (2-1, 1.91 ERA, 10.36 K/9, 33.0 IP): Trinity (Team Rank: 8): Yes, we are proud of our own Nothing but NESCAC contributor, but don’t accuse us of any type of bias. I think the sub-2.00 ERA speaks for itself after all. He is striking out gobs of hitters and still working late into games, a somewhat rare and valuable combination. He had been struggling a little in his previous couple of starts before getting back on track and throwing that gem on Saturday against Bowdoin. A year ago Meekins was an average starter in what amounted to an average rotation, but in 2015 Meekins, and the staff as a whole, has raised their level of play.

6. Starting Pitcher/First Basman Soren Hanson ’16 (.326/.380/.565 and 4-0, 1.78 ERA): Colby (Team Rank: 4): Hanson get serious consideration merely for his work on the bump, and when you add in his hitting contributions it is clear how important he is to Colby. Like another pitcher we will see in a bit, all three of his team’s NESCAC wins have come in Hanson’s starts. He is hitting only .263 in conference, but he is also second in RBI over that stretch so his timely hitting makes up for it somewhat. Why don’t we see more two-way players in the NESCAC? I’m not really sure, but Hanson is the best one going this year.

5. Pitcher Sam Elias ’15 (5-0, 3 Saves, 1.94 ERA, 41.2 IP, 9.94 K/9): Wesleyan (Team Rank: 1): One of several seniors to raise his game in his final season, Elias has been pulling double duty for Wesleyan as both a starter and reliever. A year ago he started only one game but was still a big part of the Cardinals success appearing in 19 games and throwing more than 40 innings. This year he has been the best pitcher on Wesleyan, which is saying something considering Gavin Pittore ’16 and Peter Rantz ’16 have ERA’s right at 2.20. Elias, like all the other Wesleyan pitchers, certainly benefits from Wesleyan having the best defense in the league, but don’t let that diminish his accomplishments. That Elias is only fifth but Wesleyan is clearly the best team in the league to this point is just another representation of the depth the Cardinals possess.

4. Center Fielder Joe Jensen ’15 (.419/.470/.568, 1 HR, 10 RBI): Hamilton (Team Rank: 9): Jensen was the original inspiration for this list because he is the player with the most obvious disparity between his team and his own personal performance. Not that there aren’t others playing very well for Hamilton this season, but as a group the Continentals have not been able to take a step forward. Jensen has not delivered on the power that we thought would come this season after he hit a home run in his first game of the year. But he has continued to run wild on the basepaths with 14 steals which is sort of incredible when you consider that everybody knows he is going to run. Though he has come back down a little recently, Jensen is still having his finest season yet as a senior.

3. Tufts: Catcher Bryan Egan ’15 (.402/.510/.573, 2 HR, 36 RBI: Tufts (Team Rank: 3): When I was putting this list together, this was the one that I had the hardest time slotting in. Ultimately Egan landed higher than I thought he ever would. At first I thought Tommy O’Hara ’18 was a clear choice for MVP for Tufts, but then I looked again at the conference stats for Tufts and noticed that Egan had an incredible .571 AVG. Also, did I mention that Egan is a catcher who wasn’t even a starter a year ago. Even though he has not thrown many runners out, he deserves some credit for shepherding the Tufts’ staff. At the end of the day, Egan has hit his best in the games that matter the most which is why he ended up so high on this list.

2. Starting Pitcher Henry Van Zant ’15 (5-1, 1.26 ERA, 37 K, 43.0 IP): Bowdoin (Team Rank: 6): We saw a big year coming for Van Zant, but we didn’t see this type of dominance on the horizon. He leads the league in ERA, and that number gets even better when you isolate for just NESCAC games where he has an 0.82 ERA. All three of Bowdoin’s conference wins have come in games that he has started, and you can chalk up their 1-0 non-conference win over Wesleyan to his complete game shutout, too. Van Zant looks poised to follow in the steps of his older brother, Oliver Van Zant ’13 and win NESCAC Pitcher of the Year honors.

1. Center Fielder Mike Odenwaelder ’16 (.444/.521/.697, 5 HR, 23 RBI, 8 SB): Amherst Team Rank: 2): You probably saw this one coming from the beginning. Nobody else in the NESCAC has the combination of size, power, speed and whatever else it is that makes some baseball players so good. Odenwaelder is both tied for the league lead in homers and leads the league in OBP, pretty decent for a guy who has eight steals to boot. Now consider the fact that I spent 30 seconds considering putting Harry Roberson ’18 in this slot instead of Odenwaelder. Gives you an idea of the type of year that the freshman is having. Odenwaelder is a special player who you don’t see very often come through the NESCAC.

Rivals Meet in Busy Slate: Weekend Preview 4/11

Connor Speed '18 and Bates are ready for their series against Colby. (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)
Connor Speed ’18 and Bates are ready for their series against Colby. (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)

Week by week we get closer to that bonanza of baseball they call the NESCAC playoffs. We are now officially less than a month from when the tournament will kick off, but oh boy is there a lot of baseball still to be played, baseball which, at least this weekend, has been postponed another day due to weather.

The series between Colby and Bates will be a big piece in the puzzle for figuring out what two teams will emerge from the East. Trinity will try to force their way into the playoff conversation with a win or two against Tufts. Meanwhile out West, the always charged matchup between Amherst and Williams will take place, most likely with a playoff berth on the line. Still a lot of baseball after this weekend, but the winner of the series will have a serious leg up. Middlebury and Hamilton play in our first chance to see the Continentals in conference play.

Keep an eye on the weather too. The rain and snow that has fallen over most of New England is mostly gone at this point, but it has forced every series to change their schedule to a Saturday doubleheader and Sunday matinee game.

Three to Watch

1. Right Fielder Nate Pajka ’16 (Bates)

Pajka caught the entire league’s attention when he hit four home runs on Bates’ spring trip, and he has continued to show his power with a double in four of his last five games. He has not cooled down much and has a season long OBP of .467 to go along with his exceptional .776 slugging percentage, tied for second in the NESCAC. In 2014, Pajka showed he had power with three homers, but he saw a dip in his batting average from his sophomore year. Now he is hitting for power and average. Despite losing their two best hitters from a year ago, the Bobcat offense has been nearly as good in large part because of the improvement from Pajka.

2. Starting Pitcher Spencer Vogelbach ’18 (Hamilton)

The freshmen from Oaks Christian School in Sothern California, also known as Hollywood High, appears to be on the cusp of being a big part of the rotation for Hamilton. The number that jumps out from his three starts is his 19 strikeouts which looks even better when you realize he has walked only three batters. Vogelbach is 6’3″and comes over the top in his windup making him tough to pick up on at times. Vogelbach could get his first NESCAC start this weekend, but even if he doesn’t, he is one to keep an eye on going forward at Hamilton.

3. Starting Pitcher John Cook ’15 (Amherst)

This series against Williams is a big opportunity for Cook to place himself in the running for NESCAC Pitcher of the Year. At this point the field is still wide open because pitchers have still only had a few starts each. The Jeffs want a big series opening game on Friday. Amherst has an ace, something that the Ephs desperately lack. We have not seen too much of Cook so far, but he has an ERA below 3.00. He is also someone capable of racking up a lot of strikeouts quickly. Even if the rest of the Amherst rotation is not great, a fantastic Cook and that loaded lineup should be more than enough for the Jeffs.

Predictions:

We are not going to predict every series this weekend, but these are our quick thoughts on the Middlebury-Hamilton, Tufts-Trinity, and Williams-Amherst series.

For Middlebury, they are really looking to get the monkey off their back and win one game. It will take somebody on the pitching staff stepping up and pitching deep into a game to make it happen. The offense has scored enough runs to win. Hamilton meanwhile needs contributions up and down the lineup. Kenny Collins ’17 has been a more than capable Robin to Joe Jensen’s Batman. Hamilton knows they need a sweep to keep up with the other teams in the West.

Tufts and Trinity could end up having a very low-scoring series. At least the Bantams are hoping that it goes that way given how their offense has struggled. Jed Robinson ’16 and the rest of the rotation will have to pound the zone and make Tufts beat them by hitting the ball hard instead of getting on through walks. The Bantams are going to have to find some way to score, most likely by taking chances on the base paths and playing small ball. The Jumbos want to score early and allow their pitchers to attack the Trinity hitters.

After last week’s missed opportunity against Wesleyan, the Ephs are hoping their last stand doesn’t turn into a Pickett’s Charge where their pitchers are the Confederates and the Amherst batters are the entrenched Union forces tearing apart everything in front of them. Harry Roberson ’18 has more than lived up to the hype with a batting average ABOVE .500. Outside of Cook, every Amherst pitcher has his flaws which the Williams lineup will have to exploit. The Ephs are also hoping that Luke Rodino ’17 can repeat his solid start against Wesleyan. Getting a quality start from one of their other starters is also a must. Amherst has much more talent, but there is enough on the Williams roster to spring a series upset and take two of three.

Series of the Week: Bates (6-8, 1-1) at Colby (11-4, 2-1)

Saturday 12:00: Connor Colombo ’16 (Bates) vs. Scott Goldberg ’15 (Colby). Saturday 3:00 PM: Will Levangie ’16 (Bates) vs. Greg Ladd ’15 (Colby). Sunday Time TBA: Connor Speed ’18 (Bates) vs. Soren Hanson ’16 (Colby).

This series will have the first NESCAC games of the year played in Maine. Or at least we hope so, as the Bates grounds crew works hard to get the field ready. A lot is at stake in this one up north. A year ago Bates taking two of three from Colby ended up being the deciding factor in the Bobcats making the playoffs.

The big difference between Bates and Colby is in the pitching department. The Mules have a very clear top three while the Bobcats rely on a carousel of arms. Not that Bates is that necessarily worse than Colby (Bates has a lower team ERA), but they have a different approaches given their rosters this year. However, in conference play, having a clear top three is a big advantage, especially when that three is as good as Colby’s is. Soren Hanson ’16 has not allowed an earned run yet in his twelve innings. If Bates can knock out a starter early, then the lack of pitching depth could come back to haunt the Mules.

Pajka and Colby’s Tommy Forese ’16 are somewhat mirror images of each other. Both flashed a little power last year (Pajka more than Forese) and are now enjoying big breakout years where they are tied for the league lead with four homers. The supporting cast for Colby has been a little bit better this year, but their statistics are probably a little bit inflated by their early season schedule. Ryder Arsenault ’17 has the potential to swing a game for Colby with his speed on the bases.

In the end we prefer the certainty in pitching that Colby brings to the table more than the Pu Pu platter of pitchers Bates has. And for the record, I love Pu Pu platters from the local Chinese take-out.

Prediction: Colby wins two of three.

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.

Talent Aplenty for the Jeffs: Amherst Baseball Season Preview

Mike Odenwaelder is back to mash baseballs which is good news for Amherst. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)
Mike Odenwaelder ’16 is back to mash baseballs which is good news for Amherst. (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

2014 Record: 30-11 (9-3, Second in NESCAC West), 0-2 in NESCAC Tournament, 2-2 in NCAA New England Regional.

Returning Starters: 8 (7 Position Players, 1 Starting Pitcher)

Projected Starting Lineup: (Stats are from 2014)

CF Brendon Hardin ’15 (.179/.304/.179, 0 HR, 6 RBI)
2B Andrew Vandini ’16 (.309/.401/.315, 0 HR, 25 RBI)
1B Mike Odenwaelder ’16 (.400/.452/.607, 6 HR, 31 RBI)
LF Yanni Thanopoulos ’17 (.312/.375/.409, 0 HR, 24 RBI)
C Connor Gunn ’16 (.307/.382/.444, 4 HR, 23 RBI)
RF Tyler Jacobs ’15 (.289/.331/.389, 2 HR, 27 RBI)
3B Sam Ellinwood ’18
SS Harry Roberson ’18
DH Max Steinhorn ’18

LHP John Cook ’15 (5-3, 1.93 ERA, 9.32 K/9, 64.2 IP)
RHP Keenan Szulik ’18 (6-0, 4.56 ERA, 6.93 K/9, 49.1 IP)
RHP Drew Fischer ’18

Offensive Overview:

If you didn’t look carefully at those stats from 2014, look again at Odenwaelder’s. Those were good enough for him to win NESCAC Player of the Year as a sophomore, and he followed that up by winning the Futures Collegiate summer league MVP award as well. The expectation is that Odenwaelder will be drafted at some point in the draft this spring, and it is possible that he gets picked somewhere in the top 15 rounds. There are plenty of other boppers around Odenwaelder, too. Both Gunn and Jacobs hit multiple home runs a season ago. Vandini will get on base a lot while Hardin will have to show he belongs at the top of the lineup. The bottom of the lineup looks completely different with three freshmen getting the first chance at those spots. The shortstop Roberson in particular is one name to keep an eye on as he was the ISL (Independent School League) MVP last season. There are a lot of new faces from a season ago, all of which have high expectations.

Defensive Overview:

The major change on defense is on the left side of the infield where the duo of Jacobs and Taiki Kasuga ’14 combined for 26 of Amherst’s 50 errors a season ago. That is why Jacobs is now playing right field, and the freshmen Roberson and Ellinwood are getting a crack at starting. They should be more steadily reliable defenders which will go a long way. Gunn threw out only 19 percent of runners who stole against him. That number will need to be much higher or else Amherst might look elsewhere and move Gunn to DH. Hardin is also a new center fielder so there are some big question marks surrounding the Amherst defense. The key will be Roberson and Ellinwood making the simple play. Having Vandini as his partner in the middle infield will help Roberson a little, too.

Pitching Overview:

The Jeffs lose a ton from their rotation a year ago. Two of their three top starters, Dylan Driscoll ’14 and Quinn Saunders-Kolberg ’14, along with two others who pitched more than 25 innings, graduated. Odenwaelder likely won’t pitch because of shoulder concerns, and he was dominant for the Jeffs when he came in for relief in 2014. Cook will be an ace at the top for them, but after that things get a little dicey. Szulik ended up pitching 49.1 innings, but he was a reliever for most of the season. He will need to become an important piece very quickly. Jackson Volle ’17 is  another returning pitcher who might make a major impact, but it will be the freshman Fischer who gets first crack at a weekend slot. That third spot could ultimately go to somebody else, though. If Cook replicates his dominant junior season, that will give the rest of the rotation a little bit more leeway to get their feet under them.

Storylines to Watch

1. How good are the freshman?

Trotting out three freshmen in your starting lineup is unusual, and it is even more so when you consider the three are playing SS, 3B and DH. Those are usually some of your best hitting positions for college players. The youth in the Amherst lineup stands in contrast to their West division rival Wesleyan who has upperclassmen manning every position. Don’t let the DH label fool you with Steinhorn. He is actually a speed demon who will see some time in the middle infield but is simply blocked by Vandini and Roberson. Throw in the fact that Fischer should get major run in the rotation, and the Jeffs are going to be one of the teams most heavily reliant on freshmen.

2. What is Odenwaelder’s ceiling?

He had a spectacular freshmen year and then managed to easily top that last season. Then last summer he was the best player in a league that includes a decent amount of Division-I players. Throw in the fact that he is 6’5″ and weighs 225 and you start to get an idea for why MLB scouts are going to be showing up for a good amount of the Jeffs games. It is a real shame is that we are unlikely to see Odenwaelder throw 90+ like he did a season ago. However, his ability to absolutely MASH should keep us happy. The only real potential speed bump is that some of the hitters around him struggle. Then you could see teams pitch around Odenwaelder. That is very unlikely to happen given all the talent on the Amherst roster. We expect his on-base percentage to top .500 and his slugging percentage to rise also. Think 2002 Barry Bonds, but without all the steroid baggage.

3. Does the bullpen hold up?

Even though the rotation looks shaky right now, I expect a reliable top three to emerge by the time that conference play begins. The problem might be that there is no depth behind that top three because of all the losses from a season ago. The Jeffs have almost nobody who threw innings last season ready to step into a big time role. Last year Eric Kotin ’14 appeared in an astounding 22 games over the course of the season. He got touched for runs a couple of times, but overall he was a big stabilizing force for Amherst. They need somebody like him to step up and help Amherst to close out close games.

Biggest Series: April 24-25 against Wesleyan

This is really the only series that matters in the West. That might sound harsh, but this is very much a two-tier division. Wesleyan and Amherst will make the NESCAC playoffs unless one of the three bottom teams comes out of nowhere. The winner of this series should take the West division. Yet, this series is really more of a measuring stick than anything else. The championship format for the NESCAC this year is different, and instead of the top team hosting, all games are being played in Nashua, New Hampshire. That won’t change the Jeffs’ desire for revenge for last season when Wesleyan took two out of three.