(Almost)Taking the Head Off the Jumbo: Week 1 Power Rankings:

1: Trinity (1-0)

Trinity now runs its winning streak to 10 games going back to 2015 following a blow out win over Colby. They were expected crush them and played nearly flawlessly, but still could improve. QB Sonny Puzzo’s INT should’ve come as a shock to the Bantams, but other than that, they played great football. Max Chipouras decimated the Colby defense and this team looks primed to blow out Bates in week two. The secondary looked great following the graduation of many All-NESCAC players, and that was the biggest hole. There’s honestly not a whole lot else to say, the Bantams are rolling.

2: Middlebury (1-0)

Jared Lebowitz and the Panthers couldn’t have started off 2017 in better fashion as they knocked off a top tier team, learned about numerous first year weapons, and didn’t totally screw up on special teams. Without RBs Diego Meritus and Will McKissick, Peter Scibilla ’21 took the reins on the ground and was serviceable, but not great. Once the other running weapons return (Meritus should be back this week), the ground game will drastically improve, making Midd even more dangerous. Their receivers are the best in the league and that isn’t open for debate. Not player by player necessarily, but between Maxim Bochman ’20 who went off on Saturday in his first year shot, 2016 breakout Conrad Banky, athletic freak three sport college athlete Frankie Cosolito, and All-American track runner and special teams player of the week Jimmy Martinez, there are so many options for the already established Lebowitz. Opposing secondaries, watch out.

Middlebury’s Ian Blow downs a punt at Wesleyan’s one yard line last Saturday.

3: Amherst (1-0)

There are still some questions for the Mammoths despite their win over the weak looking Bates team last weak. When will Reece Foy come back and how good will he be when he does? If he isn’t healthy, is Ollie Eberth ’21 the real deal? Why am I so bummed that Mike Odenwaelder didn’t have a bigger role? Granted, not all of these questions are bad, and Amherst has an answer to all of them, resulting in their placement barely below Midd on these rankings. Foy was in uniform last weekend and should be back in week two, but even if he doesn’t start, Eberth looked good and had a real connection with Craig Carmelani in the air. Odenwaelder is still raw as a football player and played on special teams, although I still hope he breaks out as a tight end. Jack Hickey was great in his limited action (5 carries, 9.4 yds/carry) and should see more time against Hamilton. I would like to see a better rush defense from the Mammoths as they allowed two TDs to Bates, but Hamilton’s game isn’t running. They should outlast the Continentals and will only get better from here.

4: Wesleyan (0-1)

Some Jumbo fans might be mad that the Cardinals are in this spot, but they simply played a better team in Middlebury and had a solid game. Mark Piccirillo didn’t get off to a fantastic start with two INTs but still threw for four TDs and 432 yards. Dario Highsmith performed poorly in his limited sample size, but the large deficit in the first quarter leading to a passing offense was not a product of him. The Panther receivers simply dominated the Cardinal secondary and while no team is arguably as deep in their receiving core as Midd, Ben Thaw and Elias Camacho will need to pick up the slack against Tufts. We learned last year not to read too much into Wesleyan’s week on result after they lost to Tufts, so I’m going to stick with them as my favorite against the Jumbos, but they are in a must win scenario.

5: Tufts (1-0)

While they were manage to pull out the win in week one, it seemed pretty flukey. Backup QB Ryan Hagfeldt entered the game on the final drive in a tie game in the fourth quarter after an injury to starter Ryan McDonald and landed on his own fumble to score the game winning touchdown. McDonald had a solid game with 26 completions and two TDs and 92 yards rushing, but his status for week two against Wesleyan is up in the air. Their linebackers and DBs didn’t play well and will need to step it up against what is a better QB in Mark Piccirillo. Their ‘bad’ game was as much a product of their own poor play as it was Hamilton’s breakout game, and the Continentals deserve a lot of credit. Tufts will be fine and still found a way to win which is what good programs do. The Jumbos could still be a top tier team this year, but they still lack a Chance Brady. They simply aren’t the same team as last year simply as a product of not having an all world RB, and Dominic Borelli is not even close. Andrew Sanders will be the X-Factor in week two as he has the biggest play potential. Whether it is Hagfeldt or McDonald, the QB won’t be a big issue as the two were in competition to begin the year anyways.

6: Hamilton (0-1)

At the end of the day Hamilton is still winless, however, they made a big challenge to move towards the top tier of the conference in week one. An OT finish after a furious fourth quarter comeback, led by an incredible performance from QB Kenny Gray (370 yards passing, 4 TDs, 0 INT) would have resulted in glory if not for Tufts QB Ryan Hagfeldt recovering his own fumble in the end zone for a TD on fourth down. The Continentals were on the Jumbo’s seven yard line in OT before turning the ball over to end the game, but should still be epically proud of their performance. As a win/lose game goes, no team is happy with a loss, but Hamilton prove to be the real deal if they can manage a close game or win this weekend against Amherst.

7: Williams (1-0)

I’m sure some Ephs fans are upset that they are so far down the rankings after an undefeated start, they did play a weak opponent. Nobody is awestruck that Williams pulled out a win, especially Pete, who called it. There were a host of positives for this team though as they found their first win in over a year, found a QB in Bobby Maimaron ’21, a top receiver in Frank Stola ’21, and saw a breakout performance from RB Connor Harris who had the best game of his college career. Maimaron even kicked off once and Stola returned the punts, showing that this two headed monster, if they are the real deal, should roll over the Colby Mules on the road this weekend. A 2-0 start for the Williams Ephs? When was the last time we predicted that?

8: Bates (0-1)

I’ve always liked the way Coach Harriman runs and recruits the Bates offense as they are the only team so run oriented and with so many slot players. They have a lot of play action passes to open things up, but showed that too few play making receivers leads to a lack of big play potential. QB Sandy Plashkes is in his second year as the starter and was able to find just nine yards for his biggest completion and just 44 in the air total. While he was able to make a dent in opposing defenses by breaking off some big runs in 2016, he rushed for a total of zero yards on twelve tries last Saturday. Ouch. Sure, not all of them were designed runs, but he’s got to make a big play in one area of the offense. Matt Golden’s one completion of 33 yards nearly matched Plashkes’ total, and that should scare the junior signal caller as he needs to step it up against Trinity or he could lose his job. RB Tyler Baum was one of the lone positives as he was able to break off a 42 yard rush at the end of the first half, and could see more carries this week. The Bobcats did play a tough opponent in Amherst, but without their starting QB, and got roughed up by a first year who found the end zone four times as new DB starters Coy Candelario and Jack Maritz were not able to fill the big holes left by Sam Francis and Mark Upton from 2016’s secondary

.9: Bowdoin (0-1)

Losing to one of the teams that didn’t win in 2016 isn’t the start the Polar Bears were looking for. While the Ephs did look much improved, Bowdoin still allowed 439 yards on defense and flat out were beaten. Noah Nelson tried to salvage his lackluster passing day with his two rushing scores, but was still only able to tally 111 yards in the air, with Nick Vallas’ 46 receiving yards the tops on the team. They weren’t able to score fast enough with their style of play and allowed two Williams’ first year players to smoke them on defense. Ejaaz Jiu, Nick Vallas, and Bo Millet were my favorite offensive playmakers for this team heading into the season and as a result of Nelson’s paltry passing, none were able to make a big impact. Look for Vermont high school legend Griff Stalcup ’21 to see some more snaps this weekend, especially if they get down early, and hopefully he will find the diamonds in the rough in the receiving core. Chris Markisz looks to have successfully lost the starting RB or 1b rushing role as he managed just 1.8 yds/carry, putting the ball in Nate Richam’s hands more this week. The offense might look different this weekend against and they need to find small victories in what is likely to be a blow out against Middlebury.

Williams’ Frank Stola makes a Bowdoin defender miss and heads towards yards after a catch.

10: Colby (0-1)

While the Mules did face the league’s toughest opponent in week one, since they didn’t score a point I didn’t have much choice in this rank. Obviously they have some work to do as their defense was torched on the ground by Max Chipouras. This is as much a credit to Chipouras as it is a lack of credit to Colby’s run D. The top two Bantam backs averaged almost nine yards per carry on Saturday, and the Mules had just four tackles for losses. They had several bright spots though as they managed to recover two fumbles and Patrick Yale ’20 was able to pick off Puzzo. Their offense was no better though as they were just 1/15 on third down conversions, and threw for 119 yards in the losing effort. Their run game was OK as Jake Schwern’s 4.5 yards per carry weren’t a huge issue, but 73 yards passing from the starting QB is. They need to figure out how to find some completions to move the chains on third down and then they will have a better chance against the weaker teams.

Can’t Keep a Good Mammoth Down: 2017 Amherst Football Preview

2017 Record: 4-4

Projected Record: 8-1

Projected Offensive Starters: (*Seven Returning)

QB: Reece Foy ’18*

RB: Jack Hickey ’19*

WR: Bo Berluti ’20*

WR: James O’Regan ‘20

WR: TBD

TE: Mike Odenwaelder ’16***

RG: Elijah Zabludoff ’18*

RT: Mitch Arthur ’18*

LT: Jack Tyrell ’19*

LG: Kevin Sheehan ’18*

C: Dan Papa ’20

Projected Defensive Starters: (*Five Returning)

DL: Bolaji Ekhator ’18*

DL: Markel Thomas ’18

DL: Drew DeNoble ’19

DL: Robert Needham ’18

OLB: Andrew Yamin ’19*

ILB: John Callahan ’19*

ILB: Andrew Sommer ’19*

OLB: Justin Berry ‘20

CB: Nate Tyrell ’19*

FS: Zach Allen ‘19

CB: Avery Saffold ‘20

Projected Specialists: (*Two Returning)

K/P: John Rak ‘19*, Andrew Ferrero ’19

KR/PR: Hasani Figueroa ‘18

Summary:

In their first year as the Mammoths, Amherst fell out of the top of the NESCAC, where they are usually dominant, due to a preseason ACL injury to QB Reece Foy. With Foy, RB Jack Hickey, and Bo Berluti returning for Amherst in 2017, these three dynamic playmakers could lead this team to a perfect season. The key word there is “could.” I do not expect this to come true. Jack Hickey enters his junior season after rushing for a pedestrian 368 yards but still found the end zone seven times. Hasani Figueroa should offer depth at the position and also will be the return man. Their offensive line should be deep and experienced with mainstays from 2016, and even though I picked Dan Papa as a projected starter, Billy Rotella, Brendan Coleman, and John Griffiths are also in discussion and competition for the final spot.

Jack Hickey ’19 scored 7 touchdowns for the Mammoths last year, but might need to be a more consistent force for them to return to former glory.

On defense, John Callahan and Andrew Sommer both return at inside linebacker after starting in their sophomore seasons. OLB Andrew Yamin will be threatening opposing QBs again after leading the Mammoths in sacks with five, and joining him will be Justin Berry who should also see significant time. In the secondary, Nate Tyrell and Avery Saffold should see most of the time at corner while Zach Allen will be the primary safety. As far as the specialists go, Amherst is deep and will have an edge on the rest of the conference. Both punter Andrew Ferrero and kicker John Rak have huge legs and could easily win close games for the Purple and White. Rak made a 52 yard field goal with the wind look easy against Middlebury last season that would have easily been good from over 65 yards away. He has a Matt Prater-esque leg and has accuracy to boot.

I obviously am not a fan of Amherst as a member of the Middlebury faithful. However, I can’t help but be excited to see what Mike Odenwaelder can do on the football field. Odenwaelder, as reported long ago by NbN, was planning to play college basketball before taking a prep year in high school, eventually choosing baseball. Therefore, football was his third ranked sport. So now he is focusing on it as his last chance at playing competitive athletics. The 6’5’’ beast should give Foy a great option assuming that he can learn the ropes quickly in the shortened preseason. This is going to be a prime example of how this ninth game can shorten the playbook early on, as Odenwaelder, unfamiliar with a college football offense, will likely start off with more simple responsibilities and routes before transitioning into a bigger role. Amherst is loaded with potential, and now that their signal-caller Foy is back, they have a real shot at a title. 

 Offensive MVP: Reece Foy ‘18

Reece Foy
Reece Foy ’18 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Amherst’s sudden drop off can be attributed to the loss of Player of the Year Foy, who tore his ACL in a workout before preseason last year. While Bates and Amherst nearly finished with the same record, the Mammoths didn’t quite drop down into the second tier of the NESCAC. Foy returns with a strong O-Line and receiving core, led by Bo Berluti. He threw for over 1,500 yards in his sophomore season, ran for 286, and accounted for 13 touchdowns. He should bounce back for the Purple and White and return them to on field dominance. 

Defensive MVP: Bolaji Ekhator ‘18

Bolaji Ekhator
Bolaji Ekhator ’18 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

While this may come as a surprise pick to many as Andrew Yamin is an easy choice to lead the defense, captain Ekhator has a big role to play. Ekhator leads a group of relatively inexperienced linemen who need their captain to make plays and control the first tier of the defense. Ekhator played in six games and recorded two sacks a season ago and none of the other projected starters on the line started in 2016. In fact, one of them, Robert Needham, hasn’t played since 2015 due to a torn ACL. OLB Yamin will be the statistical MVP, but for Amherst to return to the mountaintop, Ekhator will need to have an equally important off the field role to push the Mammoths towards a championship.

Most NCAA Ineligible: Mike Odenwaelder

Mike Odenwaelder
Mike Odenwaelder ‘??? (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Although he can no longer play college baseball, Mike Odenwaelder, once the bane of Middlebury baseball’s existence and former Baltimore Oriole, will be a contender to start at Tight End with one year of college sport eligibility remaining. In his junior baseball season he went 11-17 with seven extra base hits in a series against Middlebury in aggressive snowfall, and while I wasn’t yet on the Panther team, I know the story well as it is the stuff of legend. Although he hasn’t played football since his senior year of high school, this uber-athletic soon to be 25 year old could be the breakout player of the year. The real question is, will he be more of a Tim Tebow/Michael Jordan or more of a Bo Jackson/Steph Curry two sport athlete.

*** Note: Odenwaelder is not a returning starter, although he did start once-upon-a-time for Amherst’s baseball team. Also, although he was due to graduate in 2016 were it not for his two year stint in the minors, his new graduation year is up in the air. 

Biggest Game: September 16 vs. Bates

While there are plenty of more notable games in the 2017 season for Amherst, they will need to show early on that they are far better than the second tier of NESCAC football, led by the Bates Bobcats. If they can prove that they are back to compete for the championship with Foy at the helm, then they should be able to easily put away a Bates team that made great strides in 2016 but should not be in the discussion for a NESCAC title at this point. 

Best Tweet:

This one is just too classic from a NESCAC team. This is actually a retweet, but I’m going to allow it, simply because of its academic nature on an athletic team’s twitter account. They retweeted the ACT testing dates, just so all of the new recruits know that while nobody on the team really goes there to play school, it has to look that way to the admissions department. 

 

Late Morning Musings about the NESCAC Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

While you’ve been at home crying over your destroyed March Madness brackets, NESCAC baseball teams have swarmed to warmer climates to start their seasons. Players have already been hard at work with practices and games for weeks – and a month, if you’re Bates -, but it’s these crucial games during break in which coaches and teams determine starting lineups for many home openers set for this coming weekend. Teams may just be trying to find the right lineups, but the stats and results can’t hide from the official record.

While the makeup of Wesleyan’s roster may be different than in previous seasons, its potential for success has hardly diminished. Nevertheless, the Cardinals continue to excel thanks to veteran players like OF Jordan Farber ’16, P Peter Rantz ’16, P/C/2B Nick Miceli ’17, and SS Guy Davidson ’16. Davidson’s spring break run has clinched his position as one of the best hitters in the NESCAC: during the two-week period, he hit .444/.500/.685 as he went 24-for-54, driving in 19 runs and scoring 16 times.

Like the Cardinals, Amherst has continued to dominate the diamond, despite also losing the team’s star, current-MLB player Mike Odenwaelder ’16. Yet, Amherst is currently boasting an 8-1 record and shows no signs of slowing down going forward into the season, especially with the starting outfield of Yanni Thanopoulos ’17, Anthony Spina ’17 and Ariel Kenney ’18 hitting an outrageous .371 through nine games. Kenney himself has gone 16-for-35 and currently leads the team in batting average (.457), on-base percentage (.500), and slugging percentage (.657). Pitcher Jackson Volle ’17, who on Monday was named the NESCAC Pitcher of the Week, opened the season strong, claiming two wins in his first two starts to help Amherst secure their exceptional 8-1 overall record. Volle wrapped up spring break with a tidy 0.64 ERA.

Perhaps the greatest surprise in the early going has been Bowdoin’s brilliant winning streak. They’ve opened the season 7-0 on the strength of some great pitching to the tune of a 2.68 team ERA through the first five games (yesterday’s stats vs. Greenville were not available at the time of this posting).

Now for the first stock report of the what is going to be a very interesting season.

Stock Up

  1. P/C Nick Miceli ’17 (Wesleyan)

Throughout the Cardinals’ first 12 games, Miceli has proven that on the field, he’s a man for all seasons: already he’s stood out in the conference for stellar pitching, hitting and fielding. He’s the ultimate NESCAC Triple Threat.

The junior, having already thrown in five games, is ranked in second in the conference with a 16.2 IP, 8.54 K/G and ERA of 2.16. Miceli’s strength on the mound was clear in Wesleyan’s second game against Bethany Lutheran College on March 7. Bethany Lutheran scored six runs in the first two innings, thanks in large part to some shoddy defense, giving them a generous 6-2 lead heading into the third. The two teams were almost even in hits, with Bethany Lutheran only outhitting Wesleyan by one. During innings 3-6 Miceli was nearly untouchable, allowing four hits but no runs with no walks and five strikeouts. He then impressed in relief on March 11 against Marian University, allowing one run on three hits with four strikeouts in five innings. But that’s not all: Miceli boasts a .474/.500/.632 line in 38 at bats while seeing time mostly at second but also catcher and DH.

In short, Miceli is good. Really good.

  1. Fresh Pitching Faces

Around the NESCAC plenty of youngsters have shown some great potential on the mound in the early going.

After graduating Elias and Cooney and losing Pittore, Wesleyan hasn’t missed a beat on the mound. Miceli has looked good throwing the ball, and Peter Rantz has picked right back up where he left off, but Mike McCaffrey ’19 has shown some potential, too. His first outing was disastrous, to say the least, but so was everything else for the Cardinals in their season-opening 29-14 rout at the hands of Hamline. McCaffrey improved in his second outing, and then shined in his third appearance, a complete game victory over Carleton when he allowed four hits and one walk while striking out 10.

Hamilton’s Spencer Vogelbach ’18 first made a name for himself as a first-year at the beginning of last season. In the Continental’s spring break game against Alfred State, his 11 strikeouts were the most by a Hamilton baseball pitcher in a single game in five years — an accomplishment that should not and cannot be ignored. Vogelbach pitched in three of Hamilton’s seven wins last week, striking out 11 batters and racking up a 14.0 IP with just one walk. The rookie was sixth in the NESCAC with a 2.25 ERA and a 4-1 record last season. Clearly, his rookie season was just a preview of what is to come for Hamilton’s pitching rotation. Dan DePaoli ’18 has also impressed on the bump; he went 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA in two starts that covered 11 innings. In Hamilton’s 7-1 win at Bard on March 12, DePaoli only allowed one unearned run on two hits in six innings of work. Then, in Friday’s 17-6 victory against Lawrence, he gave up three runs on four hits, struck out six and didn’t walk a batter in five innings. He also handled four chances in the field without an error.

Two freshmen started on the bump for Middlebury in their season-opening doubleheader against Bates. Colby Morris ’19 spun a complete game gem but was let down by his offense in a 2-1 loss. In the second of the twinbill, Jack Bunting ’19 was dominant through three innings before a pair of mistakes resulted in a three-run inning and one long left center field homer that was aided by a windy day that saw three balls leave the yard. Bunting finished with 4.0 IP, 3 ER, 5 K and 1 BB. In relief three members of the formerly beleaguered Middlebury staff, including newbie Conor Himstead ’19, combined for five scoreless innings.

  1. Walk Off Victories

It’s hard to tell what the Continentals love more: actually winning with a walk off or showing off the swagger of the moment on social media (as a loyal Continental, I’m personally a fan of both, but I confess I’m biased).

On March 14, the walk-off homerun of OF Kenny Collins ’17 won Hamilton’s first game against Minnesota-Morris by a narrow margin, 3-2. You have to love Collins’ elaborate helmet toss, shown towards the end of the video shared on Hamilton Baseball’s Twitter. I’m pretty sure hurling your helmet into the air is frowned upon by NCAA regulations, but in this situation, how could you not?

Andrew Haser ’17, the NESCAC Player of the Week, built off of Collins’ momentum ending Hamilton’s first game against Allegheny. With bases loaded in the seventh inning, Haser laced a homerun that freed the Continentals from a tied score (and this comes just two days after his grand slam contributed to Hamilton’s 17-6 victory against Lawrence). Haser currently leads the Continentals with 10 runs, seven extra-base hits, 13 RBIs, five doubles and a .706 slugging percentage. The junior is hitting .382 (13-for-34) and has only made one error in 54 chances at shortstop.

The Continentals cheered that they couldn’t believe they managed to escape defeat twice this early into the season? Neither could we.

It’s not just Hamilton walking off in style these days, though. In the second game of the doubleheader between Middlebury and Bates on Saturday, both teams threatened to score in extras of the originally seven-inning ball game. It was all ended with one swing though, when rightfielder Sam Graf ’19 notched his first career hit by smacking a long no-doubter to left field. The Panthers did a solid job of celebrating in their own right.

  1. Bowdoin: 7-0

Starting pitcher Henry Van Zant ’15 was unquestionably Bowdoin’s pride and glory last season, tying the program’s single-season record for wins by going 7-1, including a 5-0 mark in conference games. The stats don’t lie: he was the primary reason Bowdoin kept swimming throughout the season, even if he alone couldn’t launch the Polar Bears into the playoffs. Without him, Bowdoin has to redesign its entire pitching structure, to find a way to be victorious without their star.

In spite of pre-season doubts, Bowdoin really has come out on top, winning all seven of their games so far. And it’s worth noting that only two wins were by a narrow margin — in five of the Polar Bears’ wins to date, they have defeated their opponents by five or more runs.

Seniors Harry Ridge ’16 and Michael Staes ’16 impressed on the mound in Bowdoin’s sweep of Utica on March 15, pitching 5.2 and 7.0 innings, respectively. Ridge earned Bowdoin’s win on the mound while allowing just six hits and two earned runs. He struck out eight with only one walk. Staes turned in a complete seven inning performance in game two, allowing nine hits and only one run to earn the win. He struck out four Pioneers with no walks. Rookie Brandon Lopez ’19 earned his first collegiate win on the mound on March 17 against Dickinson, going six innings and allowing four hits and as many runs. Lopez struck out six and walked a pair.

Offensively, Chad Martin ’16 is clearly building upon his past success at bat. His .311 AVG last season placed him in the middle of NESCAC ranks, but he shows potential to outperform himself in the games ahead. Peter Cimini ’16 added ferocity to the Polar Bears’ deep offense, batting .400 with a .733 slugging percentage through the first five contests, collecting three extra base hits and six RBIs.

Stock Down

  1. Tufts’ 3B Tommy O’Hara ’18

Last spring training, rookie O’Hara was the wiz kid on the Jumbos, developing a .564 OBP in 42 at-bats with six walks during spring break. Throughout the season, the freshman infielder led the team’s offense with a .405 ABG, .518 OBP and .603 SLG. And let’s not forget that he also hit a team-high 14 doubles while registering four home runs, 42 runs scored and 42 RBIs.

The Jumbos may have seen only five games at this point, but their 2-3 record and poor showing at the plate are cause for concern. In his first 16 at bats, O’Hara has amassed a .188/.435/.188 line. That OBP is nice, and is carried by six walks, but he also has seven strikeouts already. O’Hara struck out 25 times all of last season for a 14.9% K rate. Right now he’s walking back to the dugout 30.4% of the time. It’s very early, still, but let’s hope the sophomore isn’t putting too much pressure on himself.

2. Trinity Pitching 

The Bantams are 4-6 to open the year, but it’s pretty obvious that the biggest hurdle they will have to climb this season is replacing SP Sean Meekins ’15, he of the 2.01 ERA a year ago. The experienced and usually reliable Jed Robinson ’16 has gotten knocked around in two starts to the tune of a 5.84 ERA, and the other pitchers with two starts already – Anthony Elgein, Jr. ’18, McLane Hill ’18 and Nicholas Fusco ’18 – have ERAs of 3.97, 5.87 and a ghastly 10.38. The bright spot for the rotation so far has been newbie Erik Mohl ’19, who shut down Plattsburgh St. in his one start, throwing six scoreless innings, but his 2:4 K:BB ratio over 7.1 IP does not bode well for the future.

Speaking of Plattsburgh St., the 37 runs that Trinity posted on the Cardinals during their doubleheader last week may be bolstering the team’s .314/.410/.433 slash line, but I’d bet more heavily on the Bantams’ offense than pitching staff right now.

 

3. Live Stats

I have many bones to pick with the stability of live stats programs this week. It’s hard enough trying to follow a baseball game using play-by-play stats rather than a video stream. A live stats program that continues that constantly lags or repeatedly—or permanently—freezes is just torture.

Over the years, I have accumulated quite a list of grievances about these streams, and the Hamilton vs. Fredonia stats stream probably embodied them all. In the first game, the program showed the stats of Fredonia’s previous game for the first two innings; when it finally switched to the Hamilton game, it never changed the lineup and eventually froze in the bottom of the third inning. It never adjusted for the second game.

Perhaps this was the most extreme of cases, but so far, none of my experiences with live stats during spring training have been positive. Help a fan out, NESCAC! Get it together. I hope, and expect, that the ability to follow along with NESCAC games will improve once all teams return up north, as is usually the case.

4. Editors

On Thursday, March 17, Trinity lost to Rutgers-Camden 9-4 in Auburndale, FL. According to Trinity’s website, however, the team actually played against Rugers-Camden. Now, as a New Jersey native, I was extremely skeptical that “Rugers-Camden” actually existed—I even looked up “Rugers” just to confirm that it’s not a slang way of referring to Rutgers University that I’ve never heard of. But no, Trinity corrected itself in the line below the flawed headline, accurately spelling out “Rutgers-Camden.”

Yet, Rugers appeared again. And then again. And then the website switched back to Rutgers. Then back to Rugers.

I can’t condemn an occasional typo (we’ve all been there), but having exorbitant inconsistencies regarding a nationally known institution on an official college website is inexcusable. Note that the errors still remain throughout the game recap.

The Bantams may have won the game, but the college itself lost in quality coverage. Shame on you, Trinity!

I thought that was all, but then this little nugget was brought to our attention. As noted above, Middlebury walked off on Bates 4-3 in the second game of a doubleheader on Saturday, March 21. According to the NESCAC Weekly Release, however, “Bates def. Middlebury, 4-3”. They have the records right in the Team Standings category, but we couldn’t help backing the Panthers on this one.

 

The Biggest Storylines of 2015 and What to Expect in 2016

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

The 2015 NESCAC baseball season was one for the history books: from a star-studded senior class to a handful of record-breaking underclassmen claiming the spotlight, the players made an impact not only on their own teams but in the entire NESCAC conference. With the season underway, it’s time to review last year’s hits and misses and predict what we can expect from this year’s competition.

But ICYMI, for any reason (like me—they don’t play baseball in London, where I was last spring!), here’s a rundown of the biggest storylines from the 2015 season:

  1. Wesleyan, Wesleyan, Wesleyan: the Continual Rise of the NESCAC Underdog

The Cardinals made history in 2014 when the underdogs grabbed the NESCAC Championship for the first time; they stunned us yet again in 2015 by holding on to the title in a nail-biting match-up against longtime rival Amherst in the final. It was wild. If you missed it (guilty), you really missed out.

Wesleyan just had everything in their arsenal and all the odds in their favor. The Cardinals didn’t graduate a single hitter after the 2014 campaign, and in 2015 the team ultimately produced the program’s record-breaking 31 wins. Offensively, Sam Goodwin-Boyd ’15, Andrew Yin ’15, current Cubs’ minor leaguer Donnie Cimino ’15 and Jonathan Dennett ’15 all produced in their final season. In the field Wesleyan was led by a trio of All-NESCAC performers: Cimino (CF), Goodwin-Boyd (1B) and Guy Davidson ’16 (SS), all of whom were eager to build off the momentum they developed during their summer with the Cape Cod League. Together, the trio helped produce the strongest defense in the NESCAC.

But the talent didn’t stop there: on the mound Wesleyan was a serious force to be reckoned with. Returning starters Nick Cooney ’15, a 2014 All-NESCAC selection, and Gavin Pittore ’16 both pitched in the Cape Cod League in preparation for their season. Sam Elias ’15, who competed in the esteemed New England Collegiate Baseball League the summer before last, was honored with the 2015 NESCAC Pitcher of the Year Award after accumulating a 7.78 K/9 ratio and 1.53 ERA over 76.1 IP. Elias turned into an ace, doing double duty as a starter (seven starts) and closer (four saves), and his 1.03 BB/9 rate was among the league’s best as well. Pete Rantz ’16 rounded out the Cardinals’ dominant rotation, and has big shoes to fill after the graduation of two rotation mates and Pittore’s early departure.

  1. The Man, The Myth, The Legend: the Unstoppable Odenwaelder

At 6’5″ and 225 lbs., Mike Odenwaelder ’16 is the type of baseball player you used to look at and wonder why he wasn’t playing Division-I ball, or even pro. After all, in his first two seasons alone, the player was crowned the 2013 NESCAC Rookie of the Year and 2014 NESCAC Player of the Year and selected for the NCAA Division III Gold Glove Team, the D3Baseball.com All-American team and First Team All-New England.

The real question going into the 2015 season was whether or not Odenwaelder could continue to surpass expectations. He returned to the Jeffs last year fresh off his most successful season. In 2014, he hit .400 with six HRs and 31 RBI, posting a jaw-dropping slugging percentage of .607. On the mound he had a 1.74 ERA over 20.2 IP. Though the Amherst star didn’t pitch for the majority of 2015 because of a shoulder injury, he continued to dominate the NESCAC with his powerful hitting. By the end of the 2015 season, Odenwaelder had racked up a total of 118 games, during which he developed a career batting avg. of .372 with 16 homers, 86 RBI, and 39 stolen bases.

  1. Tufts’ Secret Weapon: Tommy O’Hara ’18

O’Hara transitioned from “rookie” to “phenom” the moment he stepped onto the Jumbo diamond. The freshman third baseman was Tufts’ best hitter on their trip to Virginia and North Carolina. He had an incredible .564 OBP in 42 at-bats with six walks. But the question no one wanted to ask remained in the minds of Tufts’ NESCAC opponents: can a first-year really transform a team?

The answer was a thousand times, yes. Tufts’ offense was undoubtedly questionable at the beginning of the season and definitely needed bolstering if it was to make it to the NESCAC playoffs. O’Hara single-handedly delivered. The freshman infielder led the team with a .405 batting average, .518 on-base percentage and .603 slugging percentage. He also hit a team-high 14 doubles while registering four home runs, 42 runs scored and 42 RBIs.

Oh, and did I mention he was First Team All-NESCAC as well as NESCAC Rookie of the Year? I guess you could say he’s kind of a big deal.

  1. Hamilton’s Franchise: Joe Jensen ’15

The former three-season athlete (football, track, and baseball) gave the Continents serious bragging rights last year, breaking records both on the diamond and off.

In March of last year Jensen outplayed the lofty expectations set out for him after a successful junior year in which he hit .398/.495/.430 and a sophomore campaign during which he set school records with 137 at bats, 30 runs scored and 29 stolen bases. He was in the top three in the NESCAC in batting average (.525), on-base percentage (.587), and slugging percentage (.775) at the end of the month. His trip to Florida was probably his shining moment in the 2015 season, as he had multiple hits in all six games. While his numbers dropped off once the Continentals returned home, he remained one of the best hitters and defensive outfielders in the NESCAC.

Jensen received NESCAC All-Conference honors last spring for the second time, earning second-team recognition after leading the league with 24 stolen bases and a gaudy .450 on-base percentage. His .398 batting average ranked third in the NESCAC.

“His ability to affect the game both defensively and offensively with his speed is something that sets him apart from his peers, both on the field and as a professional prospect,” Hamilton coach Tim Byrnes said following Jensen’s senior season. “Joe is a true take-away center fielder with a plus arm for this level. He’s able to use his plus speed to beat out infield singles, stretch singles into doubles and steal bases at will.”

  1. Bowdoin’s Starting Pitcher Henry Van Zant ’15 (the NESCAC’s Best Non-Cardinal Pitcher)

Van Zant closed out a fantastic career for the Polar Bears by recording one of the finest seasons in program history; he tied the program’s single-season record for wins by going 7-1, including a 5-0 mark in conference games, with a 1.95 earned run average. That some rainy weather allowed Van Zant to pitch and win five NESCAC games is a miracle. Nobody had started five conference games since two players did so during the 2013 season, and Van Zant’s five wins in conference games is a NESCAC record. His complete game shutout over Wesleyan, which ended in a 1-0 victory for the Polar Bears, made him 6-0 overall against NESCAC teams.

Van Zant’s career amounted to 17 win (tied for third in school history) and 168 career strikeouts (ranking him fifth all-time at Bowdoin). Van Zant was named a second-team selection for the All-NESCAC and D3baseball.com teams.

Though Van Zant ultimately lost the Pitcher of the Year nod to his top rival, his remarkable senior season no doubt gave the conference a difficult decision to make.

So with that in mind, here are some of the biggest questions you should have as the 2016 season unfolds:

  1. The Pitcher Problem: Who will take the mount in place of former starters?

Year after year, graduation and the pros inevitably lead to casualties on teams’ rosters, but the damage inflicted this year, especially on the mound, is shocking. Reigning champs Wesleyan lost three—Elias, Pittore, Cooney—of their four top pitchers, leaving Rantz, who threw 60.2 innings with a 2.97 ERA in 2015, to pick up the pieces. After losing Van Zant, Bowdoin has to redesign its pitching plan, and Trinity loses ace Sean Meekins ’15, (3-1, 2.01 ERA, 10.48 K/9, 44.2 IP). Tufts lost Tom Ryan ’15 and Willie Archibad ’15. Amherst lost John Cook ’15. Even Middlebury lost Eric Truss ’15, who finished 9th in the NESCAC.

The pitching lineups of Hamilton, Williams, Bates and Colby appear unscathed, but time has yet to tell how the returning starters will mesh with the young up-and-comers on the roster.

While the teams’ are grateful for the underclassmen they set as starters last season, they still need to figure out how inexperienced pitchers will contribute to NESCAC competition during spring training. The clock’s ticking.

  1. The Odenwaelder Inheritance: Who will fill the shoes left in centerfield?

As anticipated, Odenwaelder was picked by the Baltimore Orioles in the 16th Round (493 overall) of the 2015 Major League Draft. But anticipation didn’t seem to lead to effective planning: Odenwaelder’s incredible talent overshadowed several, if not most, of the other Jeffs, and has consequently left a gaping hole to be filled.

Thankfully, Amherst returns several promising team members, including Harry Roberson ’18, he finished his breakout freshman year with an OBP of .429. Yet, while Roberson is unquestionably a standout hitter, it’s unknown if he can carry the team like Odenwaelder. Yanni Thanopoulos ’17 and Connor Gunn’16 have promising stats, but it’s unlikely Amherst will be the same offensive dynamite as last spring.

Nevertheless, Amherst pushed Wesleyan all the way to extra innings in a winner-take-all NESCAC championship game, so all hope is not lost for the Jeffs.

  1. The End of an Era? How will reigning NESCAC champs Wesleyan compete against the competition after losing most of their starters?

Elias, Cooney, Goodwin-Boyd, Dennett and Yin are off the field and into the real world of post-college life. Pittore signed as an undrafted free agent with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Cimino is with the Cubs organization. Guys essential to the Wesleyan machine, and part of the epic 2015 class of athletes at Wesleyan, are no longer a part of its construction, and for the two-time reigning NESCAC champions, that’s pretty frightening.

Shortstop Guy Davidson ’16 had a notable 2015 season and is back to up his game, but there are very few sure bets in the Cardinals’ lineup. On the flip side of that, though, the early returns on Wesleyan’s shiny, new lineup are darn right impressive. The Cardinals are hitting .386/.469/.600 as a squad through eight games down in Arizona. Gotta love that thin Tucson air.

Wesleyan has been so successful because it has been a complete, practiced team—the players worked for years to mesh together and become the reigning champions. There are a lot of gaping holes in the lineup now, and it’s unlikely the Cardinals will be able to fill them all this season. We’re looking at a dramatically different team than those we’ve grow accustomed to seeing come out of close games victorious again and again.

So, with Wesleyan in a sort of limbo, who will take up the mantle in the West? Amherst lost its beloved star to MLB, but still packs a ton of talent. Middlebury and Hamilton have promising players, but it’s unlikely that they are ready to step up to the plate. Williams has been in a sort of middle tier limbo for awhile now. I’d wager that Hamilton may have an inside track on a playoff spot; the team lost only one starting player going into this year, guaranteeing a solid lineup.

  1. The Spring of Tufts? Do the Jumbos have what it takes to win the NESCAC East this season?

The Jumbos aren’t without any losses: their lineup will have to make do without big contributors like Connor McDavitt ’15 and Bryan Egan ’15. However, Tufts’ fantastic pitchers Tim Superko ’17 and Andrew David ’16 give them a solid baseline on the field, and in a re-building season for many teams, that is a real boon. And then there’s O’Hara. Tommy O’Hara earned D3baseball.com Preseason All-America accolades following a tremendous freshman campaign last spring.

By putting faith in underclassmen—and phenomenal ones at that—early on, the Jumbos have outsmarted other NESCAC teams struggling to pull together competitive lineups.

  1. Chemistry on the Continentals: Is Hamilton the next NESCAC powerhouse?

Hamilton lost just one starter from the lineup, and the strength of the pitching rotation returns.

Even though the Continentals will play without Alex Pachella ’15 or JJ Lane ’15, co-captain Cole Dreyfuss ’16 stood out as the real pitching MVP for the Continentals last spring. Dreyfuss assembled a 5-2 record in seven starts and struck out 41 batters. He ended up third in the conference with a 1.89 earned run average in 47.2 innings.

Overall, the rotation is promising: hard-throwing right-hander Spencer Vogelbach ’18 was the No. 4 starter in 2015 but should be in the weekend rotation this season. Vogelbach went 4-1 with one save and was sixth in the NESCAC with a 2.25 ERA, averaging 9.90 strikeouts per nine innings and fanning a total of 44 batters in 40 innings, but with the propensity to get wild at times. Last season, Finlay O’Hara ’17 also emerged as a versatile arm, earning a 2-2 record and two saves. F. O’Hara struck out 28 hitters and walked just five in 28.2 innings. Depth in the bullpen is added by Dan DePaoli ’18, who fanned 22 batters in 22.2 innings. Charlie Lynn ’18 and Mike Borek ’18 provide depth in the bullpen.

Offensively, Hamilton has fostered a dangerous core group of juniors in twins Kenny and Chris Collins ’17, designated hitter Andrew Haser ’17 and outfielder Ryan Wolfsberg ’17. Kenny Collins, one of this year’s captains, finished with 32 hits in 102 at-bats for a .314 average and scored 21 runs, while hitting six doubles and three triples. He was fourth in the NESCAC with 16 stolen bases and represented the Wellsville Nitros in the 2015 New York Collegiate Baseball League All-Star Game. Chris Collins, meanwhile, hit .309 (30-97), cracked six doubles and stole 14 bases. Haser showed great improvement last season after having an OBP below .300 in 2014. To finish off the group, Wolfsberg developed his skills in the California Collegiate League last summer after finishing in fourth in the NESCAC with a .396 batting average (36-for-91) in 2015, smacking nine doubles, three triples and four homers and driving in 25 runs. The outfielder posted a .692 slugging percentage and a .449 on-base percentage.

Second baseman Zack Becker ’16 also proved to be an incredible offensive player last season, rebounding after a disastrous sophomore campaign. He was eighth in the conference with a .365 batting average (27-for-74) and enjoyed his best season at Hamilton with five doubles and a pair of round-trippers to go with an on-base percentage of .447.

In just two weeks, the season will begin in full force. While you can never really be sure what’s going to happen in baseball, it’s certain that these questions will significantly linger throughout the spring.

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

Mike Odenwaelder at Amherst.
Mike Odenwaelder at Amherst.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donnie Cimino at Wesleyan.
Donnie Cimino at Wesleyan.

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

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

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

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

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

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 (http://www.sevenstrong.net/TrinityFootball)
Middlebury brought Trinity’s streak to a crashing end. Courtesy of Greg Sullivan (http://www.sevenstrong.net/TrinityFootball)

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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now for a quick Stock Report.

 Stock Up

Shortstop Guy Davidson ’16 (Wesleyan)

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

Amherst

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

Stock Down

Amherst Base Running

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

Tufts

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

 

Random Thoughts for Kicks and Weekend Preview 4/31

Sam Berry '15 has emerged as a stud for Bates down the stretch. (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)
Sam Berry ’15 has emerged as a stud for Bates down the stretch. (Courtesy of Bates Athletics)

Before diving into a somewhat amended weekend preview, I wanted to get a couple of thoughts out there that have nothing in common with each other. Also a note on the relative down tick in articles this spring: things come up (schoolwork mostly, nothing serious) and so I have written less. Apologies, and we want to thank everybody for sticking with us this spring.

1. Tufts loves to get hit by pitches: One of the few statistics I don’t keep track of really is HBP, but it really is a skill for hitters. The Jumbos excel at it with five of the top-six most-struck players hailing from Medford. As a unit, Tufts has been hit by a pitch 82 times; Bates is the next highest at 49. What we have heard is that this fits into a more general strategy for Tufts where they tend to crowd the plate and hit the ball the other way a lot. Considering that this year will be the seventh consecutive when they lead the NESCAC in that category, it certainly makes a lot of sense.

2. Mike Odenwaelder has a shot at 100 Total Bases: Getting to the century mark is something that no NESCAC player has done since 2010 when three players broke the mark. They must have been juicing the balls or something because Trinity’s James Wood hit 13 homers but didn’t even lead the league in that category because Noah Lynd hit 15 for Bates. These were, of course, the BESR days as well. Ah, the good old days… It’s actually worth it to take a trip down the rabbit hole and look at the NESCAC Statistics Page from that year. Anyway, Odenwaelder leads the league with 78 right now through 29 games (2.69 per game). Amherst has five games left in the regular season, and then there is the NESCAC tournament and potentially the NCAA tournament as well. At his current pace he needs 8.2 games to reach 100. It could be tight.

3. Two Freshmen on Bowdoin are named Max Vogel:  Alright, so one is named Max Vogel and the other is Max Vogel-Freedman, but still pretty crazy right? We haven’t been able to figure out the exact story behind it, but you should know that both are capable ballplayers deserving of their spots on the team. One can imagine that it can be difficult for the coaching staff to talk to them. Also, one is a catcher and the other is a pitcher. I for one am rooting whole-heartedly for a Max Vogel-only battery someday.

4. Amherst gets caught stealing a lot: The generally accepted breakeven success rate for stealing bases is about 75 percent according to Fangraphs.com. Most teams are well above that success rate. Middlebury has the best success rate (7-8), but they hardly ever steal so they’re not a great example. But the Jeffs are an outlier. They are third in the league with 48 stolen bases, but where they blow everyone away is in the caught stealing department. They have been caught stealing 23 times. No other team has been caught more than nine times! A good amount of those caught stealings come from early in the season which is probably the Jeffs just testing if different guys can steal, but that still doesn’t account for the whole difference.

Huge start this weekend for Sean Meekins '15 as he tries to get Trinity back to the playoffs. (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)
Huge start this weekend for Sean Meekins ’15 as he tries to get Trinity back to the playoffs. (Courtesy of Trinity Athletics)

Weekend Preview

Only one series matters this weekend: Trinity at Bates to decide the second playoff spot in the East. The rest of the games are basically white noise that could tell us which players are doing well and which are struggling, but they don’t matter much in the big picture of things. Just to lay it out for you: Bowdoin is 6-6, both Trinity and Bates are 4-5. Trinity gets into the playoffs if they win two or all three games, Bates gets in if they take all three, and Bowdoin gets in if Bates takes two of three. Bad news for Bowdoin is that no matter the outcome of the first two games, either Bates or Trinity will enter the final game already eliminated.

Trinity X-Factor: Starting Pitcher Jed Robinson ’16

The Bantams have leaned on their starting pitching to get into this position, but Robinson does not have a win in conference play. He owns a 4.74 ERA in conference play but has a 2.41 ERA over the course of the year. Now is the perfect time for Robinson to come up big and go deep into a game for Trinity. He has never pitched against Bates which gives him a major advantage early in the game as they try to figure out his stuff. Robinson should also eschew from chasing strikeouts and focus on pounding the zone. Six of his nine walks on the season have come in his conference starts, and he has also had more strikeouts in those starts. Better for him to keep things simple and rely on his defense.

Bates X-Factor: Third Baseman Sam Berry ’15

The senior Berry has been far and away Bates’ best hitter in conference play. He is hitting .447 and has an astronomic .816 slugging percentage. He has hit safely in his last 14 games, and half of those games have been multiple hit performances. Just last weekend against Tuft he went off and had three home runs. He and Nate Pajka ’15 supply the vast majority of the power in the middle of the lineup. The guys in front of him need to get on base and force Trinity to pitch to Berry, who is one of the hottest hitters in the league right now.

Projected Starters:

Friday 3:00 PM: Jed Robinson ’16 (Trinity) vs. Connor Colombo ’16 (Bates).
Saturday 12:00 PM: Sean Meekins ’15 (Trinity) vs. Connor Speed ’18 (Bates).
Saturday 2:30 PM: Nick Fusco ’18 (Trinity) vs. Will Levangie ’15 (Bates)

Expect a playoff atmosphere at Bates with a larger than normal crowd because Bates students are on their ‘short term’ and have minimal class commitments at the moment. That should make it a fun one to watch.

The pitching matchups in this one carry a good amount of uncertainty. Both teams will start one freshman in a big spot. Both managers will also be ready to pull one of the starters early at the first sign of trouble. In this respect Trinity might have a slight advantage because Bates was forced to pitch some of their relievers in their loss to Bowdoin on Tuesday. The advantage is pretty minimal, mind you. We have talked before of how important Sean Meekins ’15 has been for Trinity, and Connor Colombo ’16 has been of similar importance for Bates.

The Trinity offense is certainly not what one would call dynamic, but they have come through with a lot of big hits. Having Brendan Pierce ’18 back in the lineup after he had to miss five games for a suspension is big for them. He is really the only player who can say they have hit particularly well as the team has only a .244 average in conference games.

The outcome of this series will probably rest on the shoulders of the Bates offense. Even though the Bates pitching might be shaky, Trinity is not going to blow anybody out. They have not scored double digits in a game all season. Bates needs to be able to get at the starter quickly and force the Bantams into their bullpen early. The Bobcats are a patient team overall but they can’t simply wear down the Trinity starters. Rockwell Jackson ’15 at the top of the lineup has to get on early and often. Winning all three games is not going to be easy for the Bobcats.

Somewhat hard to believe that the Bantams simply need to win this series in order to make the playoffs. They were 2-5 after dropping their opening game to Bowdoin, but the morass in the East has made it possible. I don’t think this will be the prettiest series to watch, but the end result is that one team will be celebrating a playoff berth.

Prediction: Trinity wins two of three and makes the playoffs.

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.