And then there were four. The final four for NESCAC women’s basketball is set. The usual suspects are present: Amherst, Bowdoin, Tufts, and Wesleyan. Last weekend’s match ups produced blowouts, so many of the games weren’t really entertaining. This week should be different. Let’s look at the preview:
Wesleyan pulled off an upset win over Middlebury last weekend. The Cards rolled up to Vermont, and stole the show. As always, Maddie Bledsoe stole the show. She recorded a monster double-double (22 pts, 11 rebs), and carried the team like she has all year long. A point of concern, however, is that Wesleyan’s bench only contributed two points the entire afternoon. That abysmal statistic will not fly if the Cards want to know off Amherst. Amherst, of course, comes into Saturday afternoon undefeated. They’re always one of the best teams in the country year in and year out. Hannah Fox led all scorers in the game against Trinity last weekend with 17 points along with five steals. Similar to Wesleyan, Amherst only posted three bench points, but dominated the paint. These two teams are a good match for each other, because they both focus a lot of attention on the paint.
This game is going to be closer than people think. This Amherst team is unbeaten, yes, but they are not unbeatable. Their bench can be shaky, as I mentioned above, and this matchup could be tough for them because Wesleyan has the size and athleticism to handle the Mammoths in the paint. The playoffs implications create an opportunity for the underdog to rise up. So, with all that said, I’m gonna pick the huge upset.
Score prediction: Wesleyan 60-58
(Editor’s Note: Absolutely no chance, but we love Andrew’s enthusiasm.)
This game is going to be one of the best games all season. Bowdoin already smack Tufts, but that was in January. Playoff basketball is different than regular season games. The intensity is up. Bowdoin absolutely throttled Williams last weekend. Kate Kerrigan led the scoring with 16 points, and Abby Kelly dished out five assists. Bowdoin dominated the inside game—much of their 77 points came from inside the paint. Bowdoin’s depth was on display too with 36 bench points. Tufts, on the other hand, smacked Conn College. The Jumbo defense was on full display—only allow the Camels to shoot 34% from the field. The Bo’s also forced seventeen Camel turnovers, and converted them into points. As always, Melissa Baptista was a force inside. She notched 21 points in the decisive victory. Both of these teams are high scoring; however, Bowdoin has proved that they’re special this year.
I may sound like I’m beating a dead horse when I say, yet again, that the NESCAC is crazy and anyone can beat anyone. Parity has been a recurring theme in NESCAC basketball over the years, and we love to talk about how exciting this makes the league. Well, the regular season has come to a close, and this parity reared its ugly head after this weekend when the dust settled and there were five teams tied for first place. Yes you read that right. The top FIVE teams finished at 7-3 in conference, and the only thing worse than having to deal with that is the fact that Amherst came out on top. Coach Hixon and the Mammoths grabbing the #1 seed feels a lot like Nick Saban and his Crimson Tide receiving the #1 seed – literally no one wants them to win besides them and their fans, yet here they are again. Not to say that they didn’t deserve it – the Mammoths had the best record against teams tied for the top spot – but this team hasn’t been the same type of dominant that past #1 Amherst teams have been. The lack of a true standout team is sure to make the postseason as exciting as ever, so let’s see who’s trending in the right direction as we move into playoff time:
I’ll start with the obvious one: the Mammoths had two HUGE victories at home this weekend in convincing fashion that ultimately gave them the top spot in the league. Michael Riopel ’18 looked every bit the star they need to make a run in the postseason. He exploded for 19 points and 8 rebounds in the rivalry win over Williams, and followed that up with a 17-point, 7-rebound effort in which he went 9-9 from the line. Johnny McCarthy ’18 also continued his dominance as a rebounder, posting 8 and 14 boards respectively. This duo will have to continue to lead the way, providing experience to an otherwise unproven lineup. The key for Amherst, however, has been their defense. They stymied two of the league’s premier offenses, holding the Ephs to a jaw-dropping 57 points and keeping the Panthers at just 68. They lack the firepower to win a shootout, so their defense has to remain strong if they want to make a run, beginning this weekend when Bowdoin comes to town.
Defeating Bowdoin and Colby isn’t a particularly impressive weekend, but the Cardinals did what a good team should do. The reason they fall in the “stock up” column this week is because it appears as though things are coming together at the right time in Middletown. After the loss to Trinity on February 2, Wesleyan was graced with the return of point guard Kevin O’Brien ’19, who had been out for almost a month with illness. They proceeded to dominate Amherst 71-57 in what was technically a non-conference affair, and then had convincing victories over the weaker teams in the league. Nathan Krill ’18 has been a force, delivering a 17-point, 10-rebound double double against Colby and dropping 24 points on Bowdoin. First year standout Austin Hutcherson has also stepped up his game in a big way, and he looks to continue to make an impact sharing the ball, as he posted 8 assists in each of their weekend matchup. Wesleyan hosts Middlebury in the 4-5 matchup of the NESCAC tournament. The Cardinals took down the Panthers in the regular season, but this is definitely a matchup to highlight for the weekend.
Williams G Bobby Casey ’19
I’ve talked about two of the Little Three schools, so why not mention the third? It seems that every week we find either James Heskett ’19 or Bobby Casey ’19, who have taken over as the dominant scorers in Williamstown. Well, this week it’s Casey’s turn. He seemed to be the lone bright spot in the loss at Amherst, putting up 22 points on 8-16 shooting. The next day in the big win over Hamilton, Casey went off for 31 points on 8-14, including 7-10 from behind the arc. When Casey gets hot, there is seemingly no way to stop him. The good news for Williams is that they also have Heskett ’19 who has a similar effect. If they’re both off, then the Ephs are in trouble. If they’re both on, then the rest of the league needs to watch out. They should have no trouble with Trinity in their first round matchup, but you never know because things can get crazy come tourney time.
Heading into the weekend, Middlebury controlled their own destiny, needing a win to secure the top seed. They came up empty, with two somewhat demoralizing losses to Hamilton (102-83) and Amherst (80-68). The Panthers have been one of the top scoring teams in the conference all season, but their shots simply weren’t falling this weekend. They were ice cold from beyond the three-point line, and they now find themselves last in the NESCAC in three-point shooting percentage at 31%. The scoring drought needs to come to an end if the Panthers want to have any shot at winning their matchup with the tough Wesleyan defense this weekend. It starts with the leadership of Jack Daly ’18 and Matt Folger ’20, who are the team’s leading scorers. They were both average against Hamilton, and neither cracked double digits in the scoring column against Amherst. Middlebury is picking a bad time to go cold, but we’ll see if they can turn things around this weekend in their quarterfinal matchup.
The Bantams are one of the streakiest teams out there. They’ve taken down Amherst and Wesleyan, but they’ve also lost to Bates and Colby. They struggled mightily this weekend, getting trounced by Bates, then dropping a tight contest to Tufts. They certainly lack a true star player, although Jeremy Arthur ’19 and Eric Gendron ’18 provide most of the scoring. There isn’t much to say about Trinity other than that they’re a scary first round matchup. If the shots are falling, they are very tough to beat because they play exceptional defense at times. They are essentially a giant question mark, but are definitely not to be taken lightly as they are capable of stealing a win in Williamstown.
Well, it was a tough year for the three Maine schools who finished 7th, 9th, and 10th respectively. Bowdoin still has a chance to make a run, but all in all, the NESCAC’s northernmost schools were as cold as their weather. That said, these schools have shown promise. Bowdoin made the playoffs, and their best players are David Reynolds ’20, Jack Simonds ’19, Hugh O’Neil ’19, Jack Bors, and Zavier Rucker ’21. Bates narrowly missed a playoff birth, losing the three-way tie with Trinity and Bowdoin, and they are lead by Jeff Spellman ’20, Nick Gilpin ’20, Kody Greenhalgh ’20, Nick Lynch ’19, Tom Coyne ’20, and James Mortimer ’21. Colby only has two seniors (neither of whom play a huge amount of minutes) and two juniors (only one of whom plays a decent amount of minutes), so there are also lead by breakout underclassmen Sam Jefferson ’20, Dean Weiner ’19, Matt Hanna ’21, and Ethan Schlager ’20. Things looked a bit bleak this year, but this could potentially just be the calm before the storm for the CBB Consortium.
Tufts (13-1-2, 7-1-2) vs. Hamilton (4-5-1, 8-6-2), 11:00 AM, Medford, MA
Tufts has absolutely steamrolled through the NESCAC this season, and with a merciless 3-0 victory over Bates last week, the Jumbos showed no signs of nerves when it comes to playing championship soccer. Superb play from last Saturday’s goal scorers Conor Coleman ’18, Dexter Eichorst ’18, and Sterling Weatherbie ’19 proved that their defensive players can get it done all over the pitch. Tufts’ defense is as talented a group of players as you’ll see on a NESCAC field together. Responsible for all three goals last weekend, and having still conceded only one goal this season, it’s hard to draw up a feasible scenario in which their squad could actually lose, not just this game, but any game.
HOWEVER, do not sleep on the Hamilton College Continentals. Hamilton lost narrowly to Tufts 1-0 during the regular season, and is coming off their best game in recent memory. After falling behind 2-0 last week to the defending champion Amherst Mammoths, the Continentals came storming back with 4 unanswered goals in the second half. Aidan Wood ’20 led the charge with a second half hat trick, truly the stuff of legends, and if he’s in top form again this weekend, Hamilton could pull off the unthinkable. Yes, everyone loves a Cinderella, but even a Hamilton squad in top form may not be enough to put an end to Tufts’ incomprehensible season.
Prediction: Tufts 3- Hamilton 2 (Penalties)
Bowdoin (10-3-3, 6-2-2) vs. Middlebury (11-5-0, 5-5-0), 1:30 PM, Medford, MA
Middlebury (11-5), a team that does not believe in ties, is coming off a huge overtime win against perennial powerhouse Connecticut College. Everybody loves a game that ends in dramatic fashion, and that’s exactly what Brandon Reid ’21 provided us with last week, when he connected on a pass from a man familiar with the score sheet himself, Drew Goulart ’20 in the 95th minute of play. Not to be outdone, Bowdoin (10-3-3) pulled out a win in penalties last week, as Stevie Van Siclen ’18 showed he just may be the best keeper on the planet, saving multiple penalties in the shootout.
When the Panthers and the Polar Bears met earlier this season, Moctar Niang ’19 slotted a pair of goals for the Bears, en route to a 3-1 victory. Bowdoin won’t have it as easy in this match though, as they face a Middlebury squad that’s won 6 of its last 8 matches. It’s worth noting that every single one of these victories has been a 1-0 result, meaning that if the Panthers can keep the Bears off the board early, they have what it takes to sweat out a low scoring affair. If Niang and company catch the Panthers on their heals though, they could run away with the one, just as they did in late September. One more thing, if you’re looking for an X-factor, Bowdoin’s Drake Byrd ’21 would be happy to oblige. The super-sub has found the score sheet just twice this year, both for 1-0 victories against conference opponents. Don’t be surprised if he’s got his footprints all over this one, too.
As the GOAT of all GOATs Herm Edwards once said, “Playoffs?!?!?” Indeed, the season of single elimination is upon us. This time last year Williams was heading into the playoffs as the dominant force in the league only to lose in cinderella fashion to Trinity. There’s a definitive answer as to why the NFL playoffs, World Cup, and March Madness are more fun to watch than other playoff games: they’re single elimination. Anything can happen. The NESCAC is such a strong conference that any one of these teams can make a bid at a national championship. Let’s look at this weekend’s quarter final match ups.
Amherst College (7) vs. Connecticut College (2), 11:30 AM
Connecticut College was shocked by Bowdoin last Saturday in an abysmal 2-0 loss. The high powered offense of the Camels just couldn’t get going. A loss going into the playoffs doesn’t bode well for the team because of shaken confidence. However, the Camels are the number two seed for a reason. All year they’ve proved to the league why they’re one of its best teams. The opponent, however, should scare the Camels. Amherst is 3-1 in its past three games. In any time of struggle or doubt, individuals turn to people they can depend on. Conn’s Michelle Medina ‘18 and Lauren Steele ‘18 are those people. The senior midfielders lead their team in scoring, while providing leadership as well. As noted in earlier articles, Conn is a diverse team filled with young playmakers and veterans. Look for the seniors to set the tone for the Camels. Hannah Guzzi ‘18 barely squeaked Amherst into the playoffs. A disappointing regular season almost kept Amherst out of it all together. Guzzi’s astonishing eleven goals allowed Amherst to obtain a coveted playoff spot. Now that they’re here, the team can’t fully rely on Guzzi if she’s shutdown. I think Conn will be too much for Amherst.
Prediction: Connecticut College 1-0.
Hamilton (6) vs. Middlebury (3), 12:00 PM
Middlebury did what Conn and Tufts couldn’t: beat Williams. The shocker gives Middlebury all the confidence in the world. Midd isn’t a flashy team that depends on scoring at a high rate. In fact, its offensive metrics are mediocre at best. The team simply wins games, however. Beating Wesleyan on a late cross in overtime and squeaking out a tight win against Williams show that Midd is a force to be reckon with because it plays a full ninety minutes. Eliza Van Voorhis ‘21, Virginia Charman ‘20, and Sabrina Glaser ‘20 are tied with a team leading eleven points thus far in the season. Hamilton is 4-2-1 in its last seven games. The team’s strong play is a result of stellar goalkeeping by Emily Dumont ‘18. Dumont’s 0.57 GAA is outstanding, and is a major reason why the team has played so well. Similar to Midd, Hamilton doesn’t have one player that dominates the offensive output. Therefore, it’s tough as an opponent to focus on whom to shut down. I like the way both teams are playing, but Midd is just too strong down the stretch.
Prediction: Middlebury College 2-1
Bowdoin College (8) vs. Williams College (1), 12:00 PM
Bowdoin has been a sleeper the entire season. Many people, including myself, wrote the team off at the halfway point. The Polar Bears handily beat Conn in a 2-0 fashion. This fact should scare Williams. Earlier in the year, the Camels almost pulled off the upset against the Ephs, only to be denied by an Eph corner kick in overtime. The Polar Bears are led by Morgen Gallagher ‘20, who has eleven points on the season. The sophomore F/M is a playmaker, dishing out five assists and scoring four goals. Williams doesn’t want last year repeating itself. Like I said in the introduction, single game elimination scares the Ephs. Like Herb Brooks stated, “If we play them [Soviets] ten times, they may win nine. But not this game. Not tonight.” Any team playing the Ephs know that they could pull off the miracle. Williams has to stick to its game plan and play its game. That being strong defensive play with aggressive steps by defenders and crisp passing. The Ephs generally don’t make too many mistakes, but they can’t start the game flat. Building a lead early on in a playoff game is a necessity and confidence builder. Alison Lu ‘20 and Natasha Albaneze ‘18 lead the team with sixteen points. I don’t see the Ephs letting last year or last Saturday against Midd repeat itself.
Prediction: Williams 2-0
Trinity (5) vs Tufts (4), 12:00 PM
I picked Tufts to beat Williams last week because the Jumbos were hot. Instead, they got trounced by the Ephs in an embarrassing fashion. The Jumbos had all the momentum in the world until they ran into the Ephs. The Bo’s need to remember that they’re still a really strong team. A 1-0 win against Bowdoin on Tuesday should remind them that. Like all year, Emily Bowers ‘19 has led the team; she continues to be at the top of the league in all goalkeeper metrics, along with Williams’ Olivia Barnhill. Bowers must continue to be the best Jumbo on the field if they want to make a deep run into the playoffs. After a shaky start to the season, the Bantams are coming into the playoffs hot. 4-1-1 in their last six games is a great accomplishment with playoffs starting right now. Tricia Pollock ‘20 has been the woman I’ve mentioned in all Trinity articles as the key to the Bantam’s success. She’s the leader in points for the Bantams, and will be the difference maker for them down the stretch. Picking the hot team in the playoffs is the smart choice, however. I’m going with the Bantams.
Williams (22-8, 7-6) at Middlebury (27-3, 11-2): Pepin Gymnasium, Middlebury, VT 7:00 P.M.
What this means:
Throw out all of the statistics, the strength of schedule numbers, the bad losses, and the blowout wins. This is the Elite Eight and no matter how Williams and Middlebury got to this point in the season, they are in the NCAA quarterfinals on the road to the glory of a national championship. Expect a battle in Pepin tonight.
Williams and Midd are 1-1 against each other this year, and as Pete mentioned yesterday, the unwritten rules of pickup basketball dictate that there must be a rubber match. This is THE rubber match of all games. Both teams are coming off of relatively easy wins where they outmatched their opponents and haven’t been tested to this point in the tournament. These teams are a great match up for one another as Williams shot out of this world back in regular season NESCAC play to beat the Panthers, and Middlebury returned the favor to bring home the championship in Medford two weeks ago.
How They Got Here:
Coming off of stellar shooting performances from both Matt St. Amour ’17 and Jake Brown ’17, Middlebury looks to be firing on all cylinders as they head into the final stretch of the season. Their 4/5 rotations between Nick Tarantino ’18, Adisa Majors ’18, Matt Folger ’20, and Eric McCord ’19 has left other teams scrambling not knowing what combination of big men they are facing. McCord plays an aggressive, (sometimes out of control) game and Majors has a beautiful mid-range jumper and led the NESCAC in FG%, Tarantino is great at finishing near the rim and gets his share of offensive boards, and Folger has joined St. Amour and Brown as a splash brother with his ability to drain the long range shot. Middlebury has toppled Farmingdale St., Lycoming, and now Endicott, looking like a much better team than all three of their competitors. The closest game was surprisingly against Farmingdale as they won by just nine points after St. Amour shot just 5-18 from the field. He still added 18 points, but didn’t quite lock down the game like he did so well in both the rounds of 32 and Sweet 16. St. Amour has been playing out of this world, making Lycoming’s coaches exchange glances and shake their heads in disbelief after several of his plays. Against Lycoming, entering as the #15 team in the country, St. Amour was headed for the media table after forcing a turnover, scooped the ball with his left hand and threw it behind his back around the Warrior defender, hitting Jack Daly perfectly in stride for an and-1 basket, summing up the ridiculous nature of his senior season. The rest of the Panthers helped St. Amour out last night, shooting 41.9% from deep last night as a team. When they shoot that well, they are unstoppable.
Williams has several players who are threats from both long and short range. They have up and down shooting days but have been playing much closer to their season average recently, a big part of the process that
has led to their deep run into the tournament. Mike Greenman was lights out last night, showing off his handles and draining contested threes all night, dishing it out to Kyle Scadlock and Daniel Aronowitz throughout the whole game. Aronowitz said after the game against Susquehanna that “when I was getting down low in the first half, my teammates were getting open on the perimeter,” showing how Susquehanna couldn’t stop the Ephs on both fronts of offense. Kyle Scadlock started getting more aggressive down low when Susquehanna’s center got into foul trouble, smartly recognizing the weakness that the big man was put into, unable to contest Scadlock’s shots. The entire Susquehanna defense was centered around stopping Scadlock, who added a triumphant turn around dunk in the second half. Despite the added attention Scadlock faced, he dropped 22 points for the Ephs. Williams offense has become multi-dimensional in this tournament.
What to Expect:
Williams survived some below average shooting numbers against Susquehanna (36.8% FG and 31.0% from deep.) Those numbers will have to improve tonight. Atypically for them, it was their defense that won them last night’s game. Ephs coach Kevin App said their defensive game plan last night was to stop the “back-breaking threes” from Susquehanna’s star point guard Steven Weidlich, who is comparable in style to Midd’s St. Amour. Now, I do believe that St. Amour has an edge over Weidlich, but the way St. Amour plays as a part of the Middlebury teams is similar to the way Weidlich played for his. Williams mixed up the man on man defense on the point guard all night, mixing in both big and small players, throwing Weidlich out of rhythm and unable to heat up from deep and
keep his team in the game late. The Ephs should use a similar strategy tonight, putting pressure on Jake Brown and Jack Daly to step up in place of the NESCAC POY. St. Amour is impossible to defend if he makes the contested shots like he did against Lycoming, but it’s better than leaving him open.
Middlebury took a 48-24 lead over Endicott to enter half time, and then came out on a 16-3 run to start the second half, finding a lead of 41 points at one point. They really weren’t tested at all in the round of 16, but did lose to Endicott earlier in the year after they were up 12 at the half on November 27th. This shows that not only did they make an adjustment this time around, but were just a far better team. Jake Brown scored 19 points last night, getting hot and attempting a few heat check threes from well beyond the arc, using the Middlebury crowd well as a momentum push for his team. The Middlebury crowds have been intimidating these past few weeks, and I wouldn’t want to be Williams heading into Pepin after having an easy go at it in terms of crowds last night. Williams brought a good fan section in their own right, not comparable to the home team, but should bring some good clean college back-and-forth banter throughout the night as the NESCAC final rematch takes place with bigger stakes this time—a ticket to the final four in Salem, VA on the line.
Every pickup basketball player knows the importance of the rubber match. If a team wins one game, and the opposing team wins the next one, it is a cardinal sin to not play that third game to determine the outright winner. No matter if you have work, class, or a hamstring that is closer to snapping than my mom when I forget to bring my dishes upstairs, you have to play the rubber match. This is the case in higher levels of basketball as well. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson met in the NBA Finals three times, with Magic taking the rubber match in 1987. Many NBA fans are praying that Lebron and the Cavs meet Steph and the Warriors for a rubber match this season. And on a smaller scale, Williams and Middlebury have a chance this weekend for a rubber match of their own. If they both win on Friday, they would match up in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, with bragging rights and a trip to Salem on the line.
Middlebury (26-3, 11-2, Beat Williams in the NESCAC Final)
Friday Opponent: Endicott (24-6, 15-3, lost in their Conference Final)
Middlebury has the rare chance this weekend to avenge two of their three losses. Williams of course blew out Middlebury in league play, but Endicott also bested the Panthers before league play. And the Gulls have the added honor of their win being in Pepin Gymnasium, a feat only they have accomplished in the last two years. Endicott was able to beat the Panthers at their own game; namely, guard play. Like Middlebury, the Gulls boast one of the best backcourts in the country. Max Matroni ‘17 and Kamahl Walker ‘17 combine for 32 points a game on the season, and have combined for 99 points in their two NCAA games. Against Middlebury Walker put up 28 and forced both Jack Daly ‘17 and Jake Brown ‘17 into foul trouble. Endicott is one of the only teams in the country who has a backcourt that can give Middlebury guards a run for the money. Expect them to go at Daly and Brown (who will likely start the game on Walker and Matroni) early and attempt to again get them on the bench with fouls.
Endicott also attacked Middlebury on the glass. Daquan Sampson ‘17 was able to roast the Middlebury big men to the tune on 19 points and 14 rebounds. The Gulls outrebounded the Panthers overall 40-31 and had 12 offensive rebounds. Endicott matches up well with Middlebury because their team is constructed in a similar way. They have an excellent backcourt who drive the team on both ends of the floor, and the big men are effective role players who benefit a great deal from terrific guard play.
X-Factor: Eric McCord ‘19 (and the new big men)
Middlebury’s biggest improvement since that loss to Endicott is in the front court.When the two teams last met, Zach Baines and Adisa Majors ‘18 dominated the minutes at the two forward spots. Eric McCord ‘19 and Nick Tarantino ‘18 combined to play 19 minutes and went 1-6 from the floor. Baines’ transfer has allowed McCord and Tarantino (as well as Matt Folger ‘20 and Majors off the bench) to flourish into one of the deepest frontcourt rotations in the country. McCord in particular has blossomed, and should play a pivotal role in Middlebury’s game plan. Sampson and the rest of Endicott’s bigs are long, but they are not extremely strong, and Sampson in particular spends a considerable amount of time on the perimeter. McCord has become an effective scorer and passer in the paint, both playing off of a two man game with one of the guards or one-on-one. There is mismatch on the block that the Panthers didn’t have the personnel to exploit earlier this season. But the team is constructed differently now, and is far better suited to beat the Gulls down low if the guards play each other to a draw.
How They Lose:
We already have a blueprint for how Middlebury loses this game. Daly and Brown get into foul trouble, forcing St. Amour to expend more energy on defense chasing around either Matroni or Walker. Matroni or Walker take
advantage of this and go off. And the Endicott bigs use their length and athleticism to terrorize the Middlebury bigs on the boards. Sampson also uses his quickness to draw McCord or Tarantino out of the paint and create driving lanes and putback opportunities. Both teams have seen that this can happen. We will see on Friday if Middlebury’s new look will prevent it from happening again.
Williams (21-8, 7-6, lost to Middlebury in the NESCAC Final)
Friday Opponent: Susquehanna (23-5, 11-3, lost in Conference Semifinals)
The rare team to make the Sweet Sixteen after not even making their conference championship, the River Hawks have been on something of a Cinderella run here in the NCAA tournament. They beat Eastern Connecticut State 72-67 in the round of t32, a team that beat Trinity and Amherst earlier in the season. Susquehanna is top heavy scoring wise, as the duo of Steven Weidlich ‘17 and Ryan Traub ‘18 combine to average 38 points per game (21 and 17 respectively.) No one else on their team averages more than seven. Weidlich is a Matt St. Amour type perimeter threat. A dangerous outside shooter, he connects on 39.5% of his threes and 45% of his field goals overall. However, he is also very versatile, averaging 5.1 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. Daniel Aronowitz ‘17 is Williams best perimeter defender (as well as best everything else) and will likely start the game on Weidlich. If he gets in foul trouble, the Ephs can be left with very few guys who create their own shots.
Traub is a very effective frontcourt partner for Weidlich. At 6’7” and 230 pounds, he is a load underneath and creates match up problems for
Williams’ series of skinny big men. He is also tremendous around the rim, shooting 57.4% from the field. He can step outside the arc (40% in a limited sample size,) and anchors a defense that only allows 41% shooting to opponents on the season. Williams three point heavy attack is not conducive to defensive struggles, therefore Susquehanna matches up well with the Ephs. Weidlich and Traub will try to occupy Aronowitz and Kyle Scadlock ‘19, while the rest of the River Hawks run the Ephs off of the three point line.
X Factor: Mike Greenman ‘17
As I mentioned above, Aronowitz and Scadlock, Williams’ two most important players, will both likely have difficult defensive assignments. Therefor Williams will at times need someone else to create shots for themselves and others. That is where Greenman comes in. The senior point guard can be an electric scorer (see his 7-9 three point shooting performance against Becker in the first round,) and can be an effective passer (11 assists last round against Scranton.) If Susquehanna tries to slow the game down and pound the ball into Traub, Greenman will be largely responsible for keeping Williams’ pace and energy up without turning the ball over. He has played two of the best games of his career in this tournament, largely explaining Williams impressive blowout wins in the first two rounds. He will be just as important in this game, and maybe even more so.
How They Lose:
NESCAC fans have seen throughout the season how Williams loses. If they are not hitting threes, they generally don’t win. The three point shot is the key to everything the Ephs try to do on offense. It opens up driving lanes for Aronowitz and Scadlock, post ups for big men off the bench like Michael Kempton ‘19, and it forces defenders to overplay on the perimeter, opening up the backdoor cuts that killed Middlebury during their regular season loss to Williams. The Ephs simply don’t have enough shot creators to overcome a shooting slump. Aronowitz is a terrific player but his burden is at times too great, and Scadlock is prone to disappearing in big spots. Their game becomes something of a “Chuck and Run” style, with contested threes being taken too quickly. Williams lives by the three and dies by the three, and living has been very good lately. Let’s hope it continues into Saturday, because, as all basketball fans know, there’s nothing better than a rubber match.
In years past, the NESCAC West Division has been lacking in any meaningful regular season drama outside of seeing whether Amherst or Wesleyan would finish first. The East has been the site of all the action with teams jumping in and out of the top two. Those roles were reversed this year with the East playing out their games without much consequence and the West up in the air until the bitter end.
In the end, though, Wesleyan and Amherst sit at the top yet again. However, they do so with identical 7-5 conference records. That’s a far cry from two teams that went a combined 58-14 over the past three years. The two played each other this weekend, and Wesleyan came into the weekend looking like they were the team in danger of missing the playoffs with a 5-4 record. Then, on Friday Wesleyan won over Amherst and beat Williams beat Hamilton. Entering Saturday the West standings looked like this:
A Saturday sweep by Williams of Hamilton combined with either Amherst or Wesleyan sweeping the other doubleheader would have resulted in the Ephs making the playoffs. Heck, even if Williams split they could have snuck in with an Amherst sweep because the Ephs beat the Cardinals twice. A three-way tie scenario still would have favored the eventual playoff teams, but the point is that even though Wesleyan and Amherst made it back to the playoffs, things were close to going very differently.
Of course, they didn’t go differently. And I feel confident that the Cardinals and Amherst really are the two best teams in the West Division, though the gap has shrunk. They have much better overall records and are still more talented. But the divisional race was awesome to watch unfold in such a tight way. The playoffs don’t start for another 10 days, but we still have a lot of regular season baseball to enjoy before then.
Starting Pitcher Peter Rantz ’16 (Wesleyan)
Rantz clinched the Cardinals’ place in the playoffs by going all eight innings in the first game of the Saturday doubleheader. The ace had struggled his past two weekend starts, losing both games and throwing up a 6.35 ERA in them. Things looked bad as he allowed three runs in the bottom of the first. From there, he turned things on and scattered six hits over the next 7.0 innings without too many problem spots. Holding Amherst scoreless for seven innings is some pretty nifty stuff for the senior, and it is the type of resilient performance we have grown to expect from Wesleyan.
It’s a cliché at this point (see my last sentence about Rantz), but the Cardinals really do seem to have some sort of secret sauce or something for making things happen. They won the series opener for the first time this weekend by hitting four home runs. Then they rallied from that three run deficit to win in extra innings in the second game. That was their second extra inning win in a NESCAC game this year, and they have trailed late in a few of their wins. Marco Baratta ’16 has not slowed down from his scorching start, taking home NESCAC POTW honors and having a OBP of .538. Other big performances included that of first baseman Jordan Farber ’16, who hit four homers in conference and shortstop Guy Davidson ’16 who has been great at the plate again this year. The Cardinals ended up winning the West for the fourth straight year. Now that they are in, the two-time defending champions are the team that no one wants to play.
Centerfielder Cody McCallum ’16 (Tufts)
The senior has carried on the strong tradition of Tufts outfielders with a first name starting with C and a last name starting with Mc, which began with Connor McDavitt ’15. Seriously though, McCallum has been huge for the Jumbos this year, and he was great this weekend. He batted .400 in their four NESCAC games (the Jumbos had to makeup a game against Bates). He also had one RBI in each of them. He leads the league in walks with 25, making him the perfect leadoff hitter. That crazy walk rate is why he has a .455 OBP.
I think the stolen base is one of the most exciting plays in baseball, but this year the NESCAC basically has decided that stealing bases is stupid. The numbers for elite base stealers are way down. Trinity’s Nick Pezella ’16 leads the league with 15 stolen bases. Last year four players had more than that. Just four players are in double digits this year compared to 13 in 2015 (there are two guys at nine and a bunch at seven, though, so a few more should reach that plateau). However, it isn’t just the top guys stealing less. This is a league-wide change. Consider that Wesleyan has led the league with 46 steals this year, and yet five teams (half the league!) had more than that last year. Overall teams have stolen 27.8 percent less bases this year to date than a year ago. That is a huge drop, and while there’s still a lot of games to go, it would take Dee Gordon rediscovering his eligibility and playing the next few weeks for the Wesleyan Cardinals in order to get back to last year’s steal numbers (something that I bet Dee would be happy to do right now). I don’t know whether to give better catchers or slower runners the credit, but the evidence is there that managers had good reason to pull in the reins on their players this year. Teams got caught stealing 120 times last year; this season, already 118.
It’s unfortunate for this trio of schools that they are all in the same state, because when things go bad for all of them we almost have to write about it. Bowdoin, Colby and Bates all finished 4-8, far away from the playoffs. Is baseball harder in Maine? I kid, of course. What killed all of them was their inability to hit. The three teams finished last in the NESCAC in both OPB and SLG. We expected that it was going to be tough sledding for all these teams, and they showed a good amount of fight. The problem going forward is that all of them are graduating a lot of talent. Bates is probably the best positioned for next year in terms of making the playoffs, but in the longer term I like the youngsters on Bowdoin to return the Polar Bears to real prominence.
Saturday brought more excitement and intrigue with two teams going home in the NESCAC tournament’s version of moving day.
Wesleyan jumped into the driver’s seat with a scintillating 3-2 victory over Tufts. Both starters shut down the offenses early with the game scoreless through four innings. Tufts struck first in the top of the fifth on a Max Freccia ’14 double to score Wade Hauser ’15. Wesleyan battled back when they played some small ball. Andrew Yin ’15 plated Nick Miceli ’17 on a bunt single. After a Donnie Cimino ’15 single, both runners moved up on a double steal, and scored on a Sam Goodwin-Boyd ’15 single. Gavin Pittore ’16 made sure the lead held up with 4.2 innings of one run ball in relief. He jumped all over Tufts’ hitters with nine strikeouts and moves to 6-1 on the season. A more complete recap can be found here. Also a thanks to Wescores for providing pictures of the game here.
Now the Cardinals head into tomorrow in complete control. Manager Mark Woodworth made clear how much he wanted to win when he brought in Pittore so quickly in relief. The move made perfect sense since a loss would have made Wesleyan need three more wins to take the championship. It is unclear who will get the start tomorrow for the Cardinals, but Woodworth will probably be ready to use any of his pitchers including Pittore and Nick Cooney ’15.
In the loser’s bracket Bates beat Amherst in what was the most surprising result of the day. Bates rallied from down 2-1 to score three runs in the eighth to win 4-2 and bounce Amherst from the tournament. No doubt a disappointing finish for Amherst, but all the credit should be given to a Bates team that proved they are right there with the best teams in the NESCAC this weekend. Dean Bonneau ’14 was spectacular in relief allowing only one hit in 3.2 scoreless innnings. A complete recap can be found here.
The last game of the day was another elimination game between East Division foes Tufts and Bates. Tufts used a five run third inning to take much of the suspense out of the game. Christian Sbily ’14 and Tom Ryan ’15 made sure the lead had no problem holding up for Tufts as they cruised to a 7-1 victory. Recap is here. Bates finishes the season at 20-21, but that record vastly undersells the quality of team they were. Tufts moves onto the championship where they will have to win two games tomorrow against Wesleyan.
It will be a tall task for Tufts to beat Wesleyan twice especially given that their three top pitchers have already started this weekend. The potential ability for pitchers to quickly turn around and pitch even one or two innings will be a huge difference maker. Right now a Wesleyan team that started only 5-4 looks primed to finish off a dominant run through the NESCAC regular season and playoffs.
We promised predictions so here they are. One thing to keep in mind here is that we have no info about what the pitching matchups are going to look like this weekend. For instance, last year’s NESCAC Pitcher of the Year John Cook from Amherst pitched the second game while Bowdoin opted to pitch their ace Oliver Van Zant in the first game. We will tell you who we think will be pitching each game, but the variability is high here. Yes, we are already making hedging our predictions before we even make them.
East 1. Tufts (30-5,9-3) vs. West 2. Amherst (28-7, 9-3)
The Prediction: Tufts 4- Amherst 2
Why: Expect Tufts to start Kyle Slinger ’15 here in order to get Tufts off to a fast start. Projecting Amherst’s starter is a little harder, but we think John Cook ’15 to get the call. This pick comes down to Slinger being too good for even the powerful Amherst lineup. Cook has been pitching almost as well, but Tufts’ depth will challenge him.
West 1. Wesleyan (24-10, 10-2) vs East 2. Bates (19-19, 7-5)
The Prediction: Wesleyan 6- Bates 3
Why: Both teams should go with their lefty aces: Nick Cooney ’15 for Wesleyan and Brad Reynolds ’14 for Bates. Wesleyan knows their conference best record means nothing if Reynolds shuts them down and sends them to an elimination game against Amherst. They will make Reynolds work and try to get him out of the game early before scoring late to advance.
West 1. Wesleyan vs East 1. Tufts
The Prediction: Tufts 7- Wesleyan 5
Why: This is where things start to get tricky in projecting pitchers, but expect Wesleyan to go with Jeff Blout ’14 and Tufts to start freshman phenom Tim Superko ’17. The winner of this game is in the drivers seat needing only one more game to win while the loser needs to win three more games to win the championship. Tufts roughs up Blout enough to hold off a late Wesleyan rally after Superko leaves a short but successful outing.
West 2. Amherst vs East 2. Bates
The Prediction: Amherst 9- Bates 1
Why: Bates turns to Chris Fusco ’14 on the mound who can’t contain the Amherst offense led by Mike Odenwaelder ’16. Facing elimination Dylan Driscoll ’14 rebounds from recent tough outings to go the distance and save the other Amherst pitchers for later in the weekend.
West 1. Wesleyan vs. West 2. Amherst
The Prediction: Amherst 8- Wesleyan 7
Why: The weekend’s most intense and exciting game will end with a late inning Amherst rally downing their rival. Gavin Pittore ’16 gets the call for the Cardinals while Amherst counters with Quinn Saunders-Kolberg ’14. Neither pitcher is able to last more than six innings, but the difference is the Amherst bullpen holds up when the Wesleyan one can’t.
East 1. Tufts vs West 2. Amherst
The Prediction: Tufts 6- Amherst 4
Why: The advantage of the winner’s bracket is that Tufts can use their final weekend starter Christian Sbily ’14 while Amherst has to go with Keenan Szulik ’16 who only entered the rotation near the end of the season. Tufts won’t let this go to a winner take all championship game by jumping on Szulik early. A potential wild card for Amherst is Fred Shepard ’14 who pitched a complete game for Amherst to clinch the championship last year but has only one appearance since April 14.
Sorry if you think our predictions light on game analysis, but predictions are inherently tricky tasks. Predicting specific games is even more of a toss-up. Enjoy the games this weekend if you can make watch live in Massachusetts or watching online with Northeast Sports Network.
We wrap up the Power Ranks with the two West playoff teams. Same format as the East, and the numbers coincide to their overall ranking this week. We will have our predictions for the weekend up tomorrow morning so make sure to check back in.
3. Amherst (28-7, 9-3)
Why They’ll Win: Amherst might be the only team who could give Tufts a running in the “most sheer talent” category. Their lineup is filled with dangerous hitters, most notably ace leadoff hitter and shortstop Taiki Kasuga ‘14, who comes into the playoffs batting .366, and Mike Odenwaelder ‘16, the Miguel Cabrera of this NESCAC season. Odenwaelder comes into the playoffs at least in the top three of every major offensive category known to man, and leading in batting average and slugging percentage, at .417 and .658 respectively. As if that wasn’t enough, Odenwaelder also sports a 1.74 ERA out of the bullpen. When you combine these offensive threats with the three-headed beast in the rotation of Dylan Driscoll ‘14, John Cook ‘15 and Quinn Saunders-Kolburg ‘14, Amherst looks as deep as any team except maybe Tufts.
Why They’ll Lose: The blueprint for beating Amherst was shown two weekends back when Wesleyan took two out of three from the Jeffs. In that series, Wesleyan was able to get to Driscoll early in game one, making the other matchups more even. Each game in the series was close, decided by 2 runs or less, and Wesleyan’s propensity for clutch hitting helped them in the first two games, one of which went 9 innings. The final game of the series was a classic, going 11 innings, with Odenwaelder hitting a two run homer to end it. If teams follow this formula, and scrape out a win against Driscoll, than either of the other matchups in the double-elimination weekend could come out against Amherst’s favor. By the way, Driscoll has been another pitcher in NESCAC play, with a below average 4.10 ERA.
Sleeper-Catcher Connor Gunn ‘16: As his last name implies, Gunn is a superb defensive catcher, who certainly deserves some credit for the success of Amherst’s pitching this season. While his overall offensive statistics are not eye-popping, he has shifted into another gear in NESCAC play, batting at .349 with a .899 OPS. This success has firmly planted him in the fifth spot in the lineup, behind season-long sluggers Odenwaelder and outfielder Alex Hero ’14. This middle of the order probably constitutes the best in NESCAC, and if Gunn can continue to constitute the back end of that threat, Amherst is probably pretty well set to repeat their tournament success from last year.
2. Wesleyan (24-10, 10-2)
Why They’ll Win: Wesleyan’s confidence is at an all-time high right now after posting a league best 10-2 record in NESCAC play, including taking two out of three from Amherst on the weekend of April 25. While Wesleyan certainly has the all around balance of any great NESCAC team, it’s their offense that carries them. Sam Goodwin-Boyd ‘15 has been solid all season, but in league play he has been unbelievable, batting .422 with a ridiculous .711 slugging percentage. Jonathon Dennett ‘15 and Guy Davidson ‘15, both of whom also rank in the top ten in NESCAC for RBI, flank him in the lineup. When you pair these sluggers with table setters like Andrew Yin ’15 and Donnie Cimino ’15, it makes for a potent lineup that any pitching staff would struggle to contain.
Why They’ll Lose: Wesleyan certainly has chinks in their armor that could cost them in this weekend. Although their pitching has stepped up to the plate (pardon the pun) in NESCAC play, posting a 2.10 ERA, for the season they come in with a mediocre 3.72, pointing to early inconsistencies in the rotation. Their main starting pitchers, Nick Cooney ‘15, Jeff Blout ’14 and Gavin Pittore ‘16, have all been solid, but can struggle with their control at times, leading to extra base runners. And against a well-oiled machine like Amherst or Tufts this weekend, mistakes like that are not often forgiven.
Sleeper- Relief pitcher Peter Rantz ‘16: If Wesleyan does have shaky performances from any of those three key starters, Rantz will be crucial in righting the ship, and giving the offense a chance to slug their way back into the game. Rantz was putting together a nice year out of the pen, with a 3.06 ERA, but has struggled mightily in NESCAC play. At his best, he is a guy who can relieve a struggling starter in the third inning and keep them in the game. It is likely this weekend Wesleyan will need to have that option.