After spending the first month of the NESCAC schedule beating up on the rest of the NESCAC West, Wesleyan and Amherst met this weekend to settle who would finish on top in the division. The answer was quite a resounding one in favor of the Cardinals. They dominated the Friday game racing out to a 10-0 lead before Amherst scored five runs late to make the final score look closer. On Saturday, Wesleyan completely shut down the Amherst offense winning 1-0 and 2-0.
The series meant little in practical terms because both teams were making the playoffs regardless, but this was a huge win for the Wesleyan program. First of all, it clinched a third consecutive Little Three Title. Secondly, the weekend reinforced that the Cardinals are the best overall program in the league right now.
The gap between this Wesleyan team and the rest of the NESCAC is sizable, but it certainly isn’t an uncrossable chasm. The Cardinals are winning because they are a more complete team, but they tend to play close games. They rely on their pitching and defense much more than their hitting, and if a team can find a way to string a few hits together, we will see them lose at some point.
Show me a team with better chemistry in the country and I'll show you a liar #dirtybirds
— Will (@WOSullivan4) April 26, 2015
Wesleyan Starting Pitching
The principal reason for the sweep was the trio of Nick Cooney ’15, Sam Elias ’15 and Gavin Pittore ’16. The three had almost identical starts, all of which were extremely impressive. Cooney set the tone on Friday when he went seven scoreless innings working around four walks. Pittore got stronger as the second game went along and retired 15 of the final 16 batters. Then Elias ended things by going all nine innings and faced only two batters more than the minimum. All three have pitched like legitimate aces this year, and both Pittore and Elias own ERAs below 2.00. Cooney has also been fantastic except for one rough start against Pomona-Pitzer. All three are also exceptional at going deep into games and average more than six innings per start. That ability to go deep into games has helped Wesleyan hide their only potential weakness: lack of pitching depth. Only nine players have pitched innings for the Cardinals this year. No other NESCAC school is in the single digits.
Drama in the East
As expected, that race for the second spot in the East has descended into near chaos. Worth it to go look at the standings, but Bates is still in the second spot at 4-4 with four games still to play. Bowdoin and Trinity are still also in the mix at 5-6 and 4-5 respectively. There is a crucial game on Tuesday night as Bowdoin and Bates are meeting to finish up their series. Obviously the game is a must-win for Bowdoin, which kept its playoff hopes alive by taking two of three from Colby this weekend. As for Bates, they had a chance to get close to locking up their playoff spot after taking the first game of their series against Tufts. However, since they lost the next two games to drop to 4-4, they fell back into the confusion. We won’t know who captures the spot until Saturday when Bates and Trinity play their doubleheader.
Starting Pitcher Jjay Lane ’15 (Hamilton)
This year has been a tough one for Lane overall, but he came up huge for the Continentals this weekend. He had been roughed up in his first two starts in conference, but he found a way to come up huge on Saturday. He got the start in the series opener against Williams and was able to go eight innings allowing two runs and Hamilton won 3-2. Lane had success in part because he was able to finally strike some people out. Before Saturday, he had not struck out ONE batter since March 17, an eternity for the NESCAC baseball season. Then out of nowhere he struck out six Williams batters which quadrupled his season total. Cole Dreyfuss ’16 continued his fantastic pitching in the next game to give Hamilton the sweep of the Saturday doubleheader. This is a resilient group, and they will be hungry to hand Wesleyan their first conference loss next weekend.
Disappointing finish for the Ephs dropping two of their three games to Hamilton and dropping to 4-8 for the year. They lost seven of their last eight after starting the conference season by sweeping Middlebury. That makes now two of the last three years that Williams has finished at 4-8 and well outside of the playoff race. We were hoping for more balance this year from Williams, and they did end up being more balanced though not quite like we were hoping them to be. The offense came up just short in the a lot of spots where the pitching was good enough to give the team a chance. The good news is that the top four OBP performers on the team were all sophomores and freshmen. Adam Dulsky ’18 will be able to take over full time catching duties which will ease the departure of Phil McGovern ’15. Also, the easiest place for Williams to improve is their fielding which also cost them a couple of games.
Well, in a way this is a stock up, but I’m sure Colby would consider it a negative. A year ago Bowdoin saw their playoff chances come crashing down when an error against Colby extended an inning and allowed the Mules to score four more runs. This year a Colby error in the top of the second let Bowdoin score four runs in the first game of the Saturday doubleheader. Three consecutive two out hits from Sean Mullaney ’17, Chris Cameron ’15 and Erik Jacobsen ’15 were the straws that … wait for it … broke the Mules back. Colby ended up falling 5-3 and the loss brought them to 4-7 and officially out of the playoff race. They were our pick to capture that final playoff spot, but they will miss the playoffs because they were not able to sustain the pitching gains they made a year ago.
NCAA Tournament Chances
I have to confess that I know little about the inner workings of the Division-III NCAA Baseball tournament. In part because it takes place during Finals or the beginning of summer vacation, I have never gotten very invested in the results the same way I do the basketball tournament. Still, I have to think the NESCAC will have trouble matching the three teams that made the tournament last year. Wesleyan should be solidly in, but both Tufts and Amherst have worse resumes than they did a year ago. Useful tool to look at is the D3Baseball.com Strength of Schedule Page. From that we can tell Tufts and Amherst have opposite problems. The Jumbos own a gaudy win-loss record but are only 125 in SOS while Amherst has a good SOS but lacks the record. My gut says that only one of those two teams is going to make it depending on who finishes stronger the next few weekends (and assuming that Wesleyan can repeat as NESCAC champs).