Similar to last week, week 3 produced results that continue to show the polarized hierarchy that is NESCAC football. Four teams won via the blowout (Middlebury, Amherst, Tufts, Wesleyan), so only one game had any semblance of competition (Trinity toppled Williams 17-9). The abundance of blowouts, however, means that some players put up some eye-popping statistics. Jared Lebowitz ’18 continued his impressive season (28-52, 389 yards, 3 touchdowns), Amherst’s Jack Hickey ’19 rushed 13 times for 118 yards, and Hamilton’s Cole Burchill ’19 racked up 16 total tackles against a prolific Wesleyan offense. This weekend did very little to affect the NESCAC standings, but the Williams-Trinity game was low-key fascinating. Let’s get into some of the emerging storylines.
The ‘Rebounding’ Middlebury Offense
This seems like a storyline as old as time. Earlier this season, we wrote on how the Middlebury receiving corps had a long way to come after graduating 2 perennial studs. In the past two weeks, the Panthers have silenced those doubts in a dramatic fashion. Against Bowdoin last week, junior wideout Conrado Banky ‘19 torched the Polar Bears for 101 yards on 5 receptions, averaging 20.2 yards per catch. Tanner Contois ‘18 also added 3 deep catches that exposed the Bowdoin secondary. On Saturday against Colby, Middlebury put up 34 unanswered points, thanks in large part to 6 Panthers hauling in at least 40 receiving yards. This offensive explosion was led by Banky, who tallied 136 yards on 9 receptions, and Jimmy Martinez ’19, who ran back another punt 61 yards for a touchdown, his second of the season already. He has become the most dangerous return man in recent NESCAC memory, and also added three catches for 48 yards. Middlebury has proved that it still has plenty of weapons, and are the most dangerous offense in the league.
Despite the loss on Saturday, the Williams team had a lot of positive takeaways. The Ephs were able to put up 9 points against a daunting Trinity defense that had yet to allow a point in its first two games this season. The offense had 19 first downs, 9 more than what Trinity could muster. The Williams defense was solid too: the only points it let up were the result of turnovers, and a 46-yard field goal by one of the best kickers in NESCAC history. Though this loss was the first blemish on an otherwise perfect start to a season, I believe this game further proves that Williams is on the rise. This game, maybe more so than their two wins, should send a message to future opponents. Look for Williams to take care of business next week against a struggling Bates team.
In the first three weeks of the season, Amherst has silenced all skeptics that have claimed that the Mammoths no longer belongs atop the NESCAC leaderboards. It is unclear what Reece Foy’s ‘18 role will be going forward, as he is returning from a knee injury but playing very few snaps. Regardless, QB Ollie Eberth ‘20 has filled in nicely, and he lit up Bowdoin for 254 yards on Saturday, That said, Amherst’s three impressive wins have come against the dredges of the NESCAC (Bates, Hamilton, Bowdoin). Amherst will be tested in the next few weeks, and a win next weekend against the formidable Middlebury team will further prove that the Mammoths are still a force to be reckoned with.
The objective of any professional league should be to create competitive balance among its teams, so as to keep all fans engaged and to grow the league’s brand. That being said, it’s a good thing the NESCAC isn’t a professional league. None of the games in week 3 were particularly close, and, as a desperate fan of Bowdoin football, this season has been a struggle. The prevalent storyline this season has been Amherst, Middlebury, and Trinity beating up on the rest of the league, while Bates, Bowdoin, Colby, and Hamilton have fruitlessly tried to get into the win column. As a fan of the sport, it would be nice to see some weekly unpredictability in these games, but that just hasn’t happened yet. It’s been most interesting to follow Williams’s strong start to the season, and to watch some individual players put on showcases week after week. Going forward, though, I hope to see a little less polarization, and a little more parity.
Special Editor’s Stock Down: Trinity’s Undefeated Chances
I know this is one of the needlessly alarmist “hot takes” that has made sports talk shows totally unlistenable (except for Shannon Sharpe on Undisputed.) But I didn’t think I’d get to write anything about Trinity other than “they’re the best” all season, so hear me out. Trinity had nine fewer first downs than Williams that weekend, and couldn’t generate any offense that didn’t come off of turnovers by a jittery, young Eph offense. Williams stuffed the running game, keeping Max Chipouras ’19 to 2.8 yards per carry, and locked up the receivers, keeping Sonny Puzzo ’18 to 163 yards. This says a great deal about Williams’ defense; it may well be the best in the league, and they have a real chance of finishing 6-2 or even 7-1. And of course, the Bantams still won, and used their own elite defense to make huge plays at the right time. But the Ephs laid down a formula to slay Trinity. Stuff the run and force Puzzo to make tough throws to a depleted receiving core (that is Trinity’s greatest weakness, they don’t have an elite weapon in the passing game.) If a team with a more consistent offense (like Middlebury or Wesleyan) can follow this defensive formula, this season could get a lot more interesting.
A lot of experts predicted that the Ninth Games would be defensive affairs, filled with turnovers and sloppiness. Well, a lot of experts were wrong. Week One was more offensive than Steve Bannon’s existence, and there were several tremendous performances, more than can be included in this Stock Report. Here are a few of the things that we noticed from Week One, both positive and negative.
A loss doesn’t usually land you on the coveted Stock Up list, but this was Hamilton’s most important performance in years. They hung tough with Tufts, on of the elite teams in the league, and even could have won had they tried to go for two instead of settling for the tie (more on that later.) They had the Offensive Player of the Week in WR Joe Schmidt ‘20, who tore the Jumbos apart to the tune of 214 yards and four touchdowns. And as if that wasn’t enough, they also had the Co-Defensive Player of the Week in LB Tyler Hudson ‘19, who had 19 tackles. Hamilton has weapons galore right now, and don’t be surprised if they break out this year.
Middlebury WR Jimmy Martinez ‘19-
Middlebury’s WR situation right now is a disaster on paper. They graduated two of their biggest threats in James Burke and Ryan Rizzo, and junior stud Conrado Banky ‘19 hasn’t looked himself all preseason. But Jared Lebowitz ‘18 had plenty of guys to throw to against Wesleyan, and Martinez was one of the biggest targets. He had 5 catches for 66 yards and a touchdown, but his biggest impact was on special teams, where he a returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown. Assuming Banky finds his way, Middlebury is still loaded with weapons thanks to Martinez, as well as sophomores TE Frankie Cosolito ‘20 and WR Maxim Bochman ‘20.
It’s been a while since the Ephs had legitimate weapons on offense, but they certainly do now. WR Frank Stola ’21 had 7 receptions for 168 yards and two touchdowns, but the real revelation was first year quarterback Bobby Maimaron ‘21. Quarterback play has been arguably the biggest reason for Williams’ struggles, as they turned the ball over constantly last season. Maimaron threw for 257 yards and two touchdowns, and most importantly threw all his passes to Williams players. These two first years have Williams football rapidly back on the up and up.
Damn you, Hamilton! If the Continentals had pulled off the upset, I would have been a perfect five for five. In any case, look at the actual scores versus my predictions.
Middlebury 31, Wesleyan 28
Middlebury 30, Wesleyan 27
Williams 27, Bowdoin 10
Williams 28, Bowdoin 14
Amherst 28, Bates 17
Amherst 41, Bates 17
Trinity 40, Colby 10
Trinity 35, Colby 0
Hamilton 17, Tufts 14
Tufts 35, Hamilton 28 (we can’t win em’ all)
Not a bad start! This is how you get to be editor, folks.
The group that terrorized NESCAC last year lost two key members in Jordan Stone and Justin Sanchez, but they still return a great deal of talent. However, against Middlebury the Cardinals looked like they were feeling those losses. They gave up 20 points in the first quarter, and although they made a furious fourth quarter comeback to pull within three points, the defense didn’t look nearly as threatening as the 2016 iteration. Although QB Mark Piccirrillo ‘18 had a huge game while he tried to throw them back into the game, Wesleyan is not really equipped to win shootouts. The defense will have to improve fast, as they play Tufts next week and the suddenly-threatening Hamilton offense the week after.
Middlebury’s Fourth Quarters-
With all that said about Wesleyan’s defense, they still had a shot at pulling off a miraculous comeback in the fourth quarter. However, it is just as valid to blame Middlebury for letting them back into it as it is to credit Wesleyan for coming back. The Panthers defense, which had been stringent for the rest of the game, allowed two touchdowns in a five minute span, and the offensive line began letting Wesleyan’s linebackers into the backfield, forcing Lebowitz into rushed throws. Given the early start to the season, this can be partially attributed to conditioning, and Middlebury has Bowdoin and Colby over the next two weeks to get in shape for Amherst. And based on this game, it looks like they’ll need to.
Hamilton’s Dillon Panthers Impression-
I’ve already given a great deal of credit to Hamilton in this article, but there’s one thing that is stuck in my mind about their game. They scored their final touchdown with four minutes left, and instead of going for two and taking the lead, they opted to kick the extra point and tie the game. This is, of course, the smart and correct thing to do. As I’m reminded pretty much daily by email or Twitter DM by readers, I don’t know anything about football. But Coach Eric Taylor does, and in a similar situation during season three of Friday Night Lights, he went for two. This was during the state playoffs, no less! Hamilton was closing in on the most important win in the program’s recent history, so all I’m saying is that I, and Coach Taylor, would have thrown caution to the wind.
And then there were eight. The NESCAC field is narrowed down to the quarterfinals of the conference as three squads have fallen into the abyss of the offseason. For some, their college careers are over, for others, ultimate glory awaits. While I like to think NBN is pretty democratic in our reporting, I’m not going to spend much time on Colby, Bowdoin, or Conn College as it’s safe to say that their stocks are all down with their failure to make the conference tournament.
I’ll focus on the stocks of the collective other eight teams, ordered by their first round playoff match-ups this weekend in the highly anticipated start to the March Madness merry-go-round as the dominoes are starting to fall towards the national championship.
Hamilton (15-8, 4-6) – Stock Down
Hamilton started out hot in the NESCAC season at 3-2, a 1-4 finish heading into the playoffs isn’t what the Continentals had in mind. Consecutive losses to Amherst and Trinity were expected at this point, but still pivotal for this team as they are now stuck with #1 seed Tufts. While this is actually more favorable a match-up than if against Middlebury or even Amherst, Hamilton seems to be scrambling to figure a plan of attack out. Switching up their starting lineup against Amherst didn’t do the trick as Carlos Fineman and Kyle Pitman had little production. They don’t have the same consistent output from Tim Doyle, Joe Pucci, or Andrew Groll as they did earlier in the year and are increasingly reliant on freshman sixth-man standout Kena Gilmour who is now second on the team in PPG with 13.3. Peter Hoffmann is still doing well but without the whole starting five shooting well, they will have a tough time in Medford.
#17 Tufts (19-5, 8-2) – Stock Up
While beating Williams isn’t something that will necessarily improve Tufts’ national ranking, it is a big confidence booster heading into this weekend. After weeks of struggles since Tom Palleschi’s injury, the Jumbo’s finally put it all together against a NESCAC playoff team. In their #1 seed clinching win the Jumbo’s showed the depth and difference in style needed to take them all the way. Since their big man has gone down, Tufts’ identity as a team has shifted. They needed to find a rebounder to replace their center, but Drew Madsen hasn’t stepped up into the same role. Against Williams, they managed to play a different type of game, losing the rebounding struggle (35-32) to the Ephs, but nailing shots with great accuracy at 50% from deep and 52.4% from the field. Eric Savage, KJ Garrett, and Ethan Feldman all had double digit points off of the bench, and in order to keep their NESCAC championship hopes alive, the Jumbos will have to keep seeing production from non-starters. Hamilton hasn’t been playing well, but they have still had great moments this year. However, if Tufts brings the same accuracy as this weekend they will be in good shape.
Trinity (15-9, 6-4) – Stock down
Though Middlebury is seeded higher than Trinity, a poor showing on Saturday must’ve had to sting. After losing to Midd in the NESCAC playoffs last year, the first rematch brought on that familiar feeling of defeat. A 14 point halftime deficit was too much to overcome as Langdon Neal and Eric Gendron couldn’t stop Matt St. Amour. While Wesleyan’s guards aren’t as quick and don’t have as nice of a jump shot as St. Amour, they played exceptionally against Amherst last week and if the Bantams stay as a team ruled by one player, Ed Ogundeko, then they could give up a couple 20-spots to Harry Rafferty and Kevin O’Brien. Ogundeko only had nine boards against Midd and only had eight last time they played Wesleyan. Without a big game from Ogundeko, the Bantams don’t have a great shot at winning, so he needs to play like it’s the finals and get some help from his teammates for a change. I’d say they are an underdog, but everybody knows #5 seeds always win in tournaments (see: my D1 bracket from last year.)
Wesleyan (19-5, 6-4) – Stock Up
The Cardinals did nothing wrong this past weekend, but Colby and Bowdoin were heavily predicted wins and won’t change their stock at all. A home game against Trinity offers a rematch of the January 14th game that Wesleyan won 65-61. After beating Amherst in OT last Tuesday, riding a three game win streak into the playoffs is the best case scenario this team could see. While their win against Amherst isn’t technically a league game (the NESCAC is weird) it still showed enough to bump this squad’s stock up. Their perimeter defense against Amherst was great, helping to limit them to just 37.7% from the field and 32.0% from three point range, but their lack of rebounds is still concerning. Harry Rafferty and Kevin O’Brien are rolling recently, with Jordan Bonner adding a double-double against the Purple and White. While their early season turbulence is behind them, the Cardinals still need to neutralize Ed Ogundeko to take their quarterfinal game. If they can defend the outside like they did against Amherst, while keeping Ogundeko near the eight rebounds he got against them on Jan. 14th, then they could dribble straight into the semifinals.
#13 Middlebury (20-3, 8-2) – Stock Up
Midd knocked off higher ranked Amherst and put down Trinity in back to back home games, giving them a share for the league’s best record and the #2 seed in the ‘CAC tourney. They forced some key turnovers late in the second half against Amherst and forced them to shoot from deep, creating a quick scoring gap after the Purple and White’s missed opportunities. Eric McCord was able to body up Ogundeko against Trinity and Matt St. Amour continued to do his thing and make ridiculous jump shots with no angle on the hoop. Let’s hope Jake Brown’s twisted ankle doesn’t slow him down as this team is firing on all cylinders heading into the playoffs, and with Palleschi’s injury for Tufts, there is no reason why the Panthers shouldn’t be the favorite heading into the quarterfinal games.
Bates (15-9, 4-6) – Stock Down
Bates did not help themselves out last weekend. Instead of finishing in conference at 5-5, heading into the playoffs with a confidence boosting win and a matchup against a lower seed in Amherst, they travel to snowy Vermont to take on Middlebury in what should be a loud and packed gym. The Delpeche twins had noteworthy senior seasons, but they couldn’t get it going last time against the Panthers and couldn’t find a way to win against the Ephs. Williams didn’t really stop the twins, but since nobody else on Bates showed up to play, the two on five game didn’t fare in the Bobcats’ favor. Without monster performances from the Delpeches this weekend, others like Jeff Spellman (1-7 from three on Saturday) and Nick Gilpin (29 minutes, two points) are going to have to step up in a major way and drain some shots.
#8 Amherst (17-6, 7-3) – Stock Down
Despite their (unreasonably in our eyes) high national ranking, Amherst played sloppy basketball against Middlebury last weekend. Getting their pockets picked and missing straight on unguarded threes spelled out their doom as any comeback attempt was quickly halted by quick and concise offensive execution. Lacking major power down low, Amherst is going to need to hit their open shots as Michael Riopel and Jayde Dawson didn’t get their inner Steph Curry going on last weekend. Despite Dawson’s 24 points, he had slow second half production and performed in waves that hurt the Purple and White when they needed to go on a run. They were able to turn it around against Hamilton as Dawson found his shot going 6-8 from deep and Riopel added a 3-5 line, but lack of consistency is deadly in the playoffs. They better find a way to keep replicating their A game.
Williams (17-7, 5-5) – Stock Up
The Ephs suffered a beatdown against Tufts, but an expected loss won’t hurt them too much. Finishing at 5-5 coming from nowhere to reach the .500 mark in NESCAC bodes well for the confidence of a young team heading into an underdog stretch run. Their narrow win over Bates put them in the conversation as a bracket-buster even in a road game at Amherst. If Daniel Aronowitz can rain fire like he did against Bates (8-10 FG and 3-5 from deep) to match Johnny McCarthy and if Cole Teal can put up a double double to match Jayde Dawson, then anything is possible. Everybody likes a good upset and I nearly counted Williams out of the playoff race a while back. A 5-5 team against a 7-3 team? It seems like that kind of upset happens all the time. It might not be quite that simple, but the Ephs have weapons and it is the playoffs.
Conn College (13-10, 3-7), Colby (10-14, 1-9), Bowdoin (12-11, 3-7)
Week Four saw another undefeated team fall, as Trinity placed themselves squarely at the top of the league with a 36-28 win over Tufts. The game wasn’t as close as the score indicates, however, as Trinity dominated the first half and then sat back in the second half. The top tier of NESCAC is even clearer than it was at the beginning of the week, with Trinity relegating Tufts to “best of the rest” status.
In the rest of the league, Middlebury got a scare from the suddenly energized Ephs, only leading 28-23 at the end of the third before dominating the fourth to win 49-23. Amherst took out their frustration on Colby 41-0, Hamilton topped Bowdoin in a good one 26-25, and Wesleyan topped Bates 28-7. At first glance this was not a thrilling week here in the CAC, but there were some interesting performances and developments to look at here in the Stock Report.
Running Back Diego Meritus ‘19
The Panther back had already been having a nice season as a change of pace option for the rapid fire Middlebury passing attack. But in Williamstown Meritus played like a feature back, adding a previously unseen dimension to the Middlebury offense. He overcame an early fumble to finish with 122 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown. The Panthers were able to ride Meritus as Jared Lebowitz ’18 struggled early, an option that will be crucial in Middlebury’s looming matchups with Trinity and Tufts.
The Ephs must have been reading their own press last week when we put them on the “Stock Down” list, because they came out against Middlebury as ready to play as they’ve been all year. They got good pressure on Jared Lebowitz in the first half, forcing him into a red zone interception. For the game he completed barely over 50% of his passes, his most uneven performance of the season. They also showed flashes of a dynamic offense, thanks in large part to the return of sophomore tight end Tyler Patterson, who tore Middlebury apart. He ended up with 176 yards on 7 catches, including a 79-yard touchdown on the first offensive play of the game. The Panthers outscored Williams 21-0 in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach, but Williams showed that 2016 might not be a lost season after all.
Quarterback Kenny Gray
To borrow from Season Four of Friday Night Lights, Hamilton versus Bowdoin was shaping up to be something of a “Toilet Bowl.” However, it was actually a very exciting game, thanks in large part to an electrifying performance from Hamilton QB Kenny Gray ‘20. Gray didn’t start the game, but in the final three quarters he threw for 300 yards and a touchdown, and
added a dramatic, game winning rushing touchdown with 34 seconds left. Hamilton hasn’t had a ton to cheer about in the last few years, but Kenny Gray might have shown a glimpse of a bright future for the Continentals.
Tufts’ Elite Status
With Rory taking a deserved break from Stock Reports this week, we can finally get a less biased perspective on Tufts. Their matchup with Trinity offered the Jumbos a stellar chance to prove themselves as a contender for the NESCAC crown. However, Trinity quickly shut down the Jumbo’s momentum, scoring 27 points in the second quarter en route to a 36-13 lead. Tufts scored twice in the fourth to make it dignified, but there was never a doubt about who was in control. The main culprit for Tufts was quarterback play. Quarterbacks Alex Snyder ’17 and Ryan McDonald ’19 combined to go 9-22 and throw two interceptions, while Trinity QB and Sopranos mobster Sonny Puzzo was 20-30 with two touchdowns. NESCAC is becoming a quarterback’s league, and the Jumbos simply cannot keep up right now.
The NESCAC Playoff System (Or Lack Thereof)
I think we should grandfather this one into every “Stock Down” section from here until ESPN purchases Nothing But NESCAC in 2024. But the lack of a playoff is particularly frustrating in the face of the continued lack of parity in the league. Middlebury, Amherst and Trinity are again clearly the best teams. And that’s okay! In most sports leagues there are teams you can rely on being at the top year in and year out. But in NESCAC, those three teams can be penciled in as the best, and there is no playoff system for them to battle it out in. Maybe I just want to see more NESCAC football because it gives me something to write about that isn’t Marxist Literary Theory, but it seems to me that the league would benefit from having the top teams play more instead of all beating up on the lower teams and ending up tied at the top with the same record.
Amherst’s Losing Streak
We were all hoping for Amherst to fall apart after their first loss a la White Goodman at the end of Dodgeball. But the Artists Formerly Known as the Lord Jeffs came back strong against Colby, owning the Mules like a tribe of desert nomads in a 41-0 romp. Third string QB Nick Morales ’18 looked like he’s trying to keep the job, with over 300 yards passing and three touchdowns, and Amherst was able to rest many starters to gear up for a looming matchup with Trinity on November 5th. The Purple and White aren’t going anywhere, folks.
Week 1 of 2016 was exactly what we’ve all been waiting for since the NESCAC football season ended last November. We had a couple blowouts in favor of familiar faces (Amherst, Middlebury, Trinity), and a couple of games that went right down to the wire. The Colby-Williams game was crazy, but not in a pretty way. This was a low-scoring, offensive battle…AKA, it was a battle to see who could have a worse day offensively. Luckily, it ended on a high note, as Colby needed their final drive to take the lead with under a minute left (read below for more details on the ending). Over in Somerville, MA, on the other hand, fans witnessed a battle between two great teams. It involved some terrific defensive plays, a 4th quarter comeback, and a whole lot of excitement as the Jumbos stormed back to win in front of their fans at the first home night game in Tufts football history. Below is our first stock report of the year – check it out to see whose stock rose and whose plummeted over the first weekend of the season.
Running Back Jack Hickey ‘19 (Amherst): If it wasn’t already certain, Hickey solidified himself as the goal line back for Coach Mills’ offense this weekend, punching in 3 touchdowns in Amherst’s absolute (yet unsurprising) domination of Hamilton this weekend. The 6’1” 218 pound sophomore fits the bill perfectly for short yardage situations, and he will certainly continue to get touches as Amherst nears the goal line. Hickey ended up with 67 yards on 18 rushes, but if it wasn’t a blowout these numbers might have been MUCH higher.
Linebacker Greg Holt ‘20 (Tufts): Holt surged onto the scene in the Saturday nightcap with a game-high 14 tackles. The freshman showed us that he is not going to gradually get his feet wet in college ball, he is going to dive headfirst into the action. It seemed like Holt was everywhere on Saturday, and if he keeps up that level of play along with fellow Jumbo linebacker Steve DiCienzo ‘18 (another Tufts linebacker who had 11 tackles of his own), the Powder Blue and Brown defense will be a nightmare for their opponents.
Quarterback Jared Lebowitz ‘18 (Middlebury): In the biggest blowout of the weekend, Lebowitz threw 5 touchdown passes and added a rushing touchdown to go along with them, accounting for all 6 of Middlebury’s touchdowns against the Polar Bears. There were some questions about whether the Middlebury aerial attack could be maintained after the departure of Matt Milano ‘16, but Lebowitz has silenced the doubters. Bowdoin is obviously in the lower tier of the conference, but still a strong showing from Coach Ritter’s gunslinger, who tallied 369 yards on the day.
Kicker John Baron ’18 (Colby): The Mules needed Baron to come up clutch on Saturday as he lined up for the game-deciding field goal with just seconds left against Williams. After a failed 2-point conversation earlier in the game, Colby was down one during the final possession. If Baron makes the kick they win, if he misses they lose. Last year Baron missed an extra point against Bates which ended up being the difference in the game (10-9), but this week’s NESCAC Special Teams player of the week has clearly wiped that from his memory. Two words: cash money.
Hamilton Offense: It goes without saying that the Amherst defense played a heck of a game on Saturday, but seriously, Hamilton, 168 yards of total offense? 6 rushing yards on 18 attempts?? You can’t combine these numbers with a -3 turnover differential and expect to win football games. Film, film, and more film is in store for the Continentals.
NESCAC Ball Boys: There were five fumbles in each of the Bates-Trinity, Colby-Williams, and Wesleyan-Trinity games on Saturday. FIVE. Interestingly enough, Trinity had more fumbles than Bates (Trinity-3, Bates-2), but it didn’t hurt them as the Bantams won handily, 38-7. However, both Wesleyan and Williams had more fumbles than their opponents, likely leading to each of their downfalls. Either the teams were a bit too accustomed to no-contact practices or the PSI was far too high in the game balls…you be the judge. All I know is that these coaching staffs are going to be extra hard on their ball carriers in practice this week.
Wesleyan’s Killer Instinct: The Jumbos looked pretty horrible for three quarters, but they hung around because Wesleyan just couldn’t put them away. After a touchdown with 6:50 to go in the 2nd quarter, Wesleyan seemed to hold a pretty commanding 14-3 lead. Things just looked and felt like a blowout waiting to happen. But the Tufts defense kept them in the game until the 4th quarter rolled around, and boom, a Cardinals missed field goal was followed up by a 33 yard run by Chance Brady ‘17, which set the stage for a 39 yard pass to Mike Rando ‘17 a couple plays later. From that point on, the Jumbos had the momentum, and it felt like Wesleyan was just trying to hold them off as opposed to continuing their attack.
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.
I titled the weekend preview a few days ago “Separation Weekend” because I was expecting the usual suspects to make a statement that the status quo was still very much in place. Well, I was dead wrong, as Williams rocked Wesleyan to win two of three. On Friday, starting pitcher Luke Rodino ’17 worked around five walks to pitch seven innings, and the Ephs got production up and down the lineup to get the win. Then in Game 1 of the doubleheader Saturday, shortstop Kellen Hatheway ’19 dropped a three-run homer in the bottom of the seventh and the Ephs walked off with the win. Wesleyan battled back to win the third game handily, but they are still just 3-3 halfway through their conference schedule
Want to know something crazy? Middlebury has as many conference wins as any other NESCAC team. Sure, they also have four losses, but this has still been an incredible run for the Panthers. They took two of three from Hamilton in a sloppy series that was filled with runs. The Friday game in particular was a doozy. Hamilton raced out to a 7-2 lead and seemed to be in control until Middlebury took advantage of a bajillion (it was five but whatever) errors by Hamilton in the 5th inning and scored 10 runs. Hamilton almost came back to win in large part because Chris Collins ’17 was a man possessed at the plate going 5-5 with four runs, seven RBI, and two home runs. That wasn’t enough though, and the Continentals are now 2-4 in conference while Collins left the Saturday twinbill with an injury and he could be affected going forward.
It is still entirely possible that Amherst and Wesleyan emerge from the West, but the two still have to play each other in their series so the math isn’t easy. Considering that Amherst didn’t even play a NESCAC series, they had a great weekend watching the rest of the division beat up on each other. The Amherst-Middlebury series suddenly has serious playoff implications on both sides, a sentence that I didn’t think I was ever going to write. Two wins from the Panthers locks them into a NESCAC Tournament spot. Williams is feeling great after taking two of three from Wesleyan, but they are still just 4-5 with Hamilton still on their docket. The Ephs likely need to sweep Hamilton to have a hope of making the playoffs. For years, the West has been a boring time, and I’m glad that this year has proved to be different.
Relief Pitcher Ian Kinney ’18 (Tufts)
In the final game of their series, Tufts grabbed a 7-0 lead after the first inning, but starting pitcher Andrew David ’16 could last only 2+ innings on the mound. So Kinney, seldom used in high leverage situations this year, had to come on with the score 7-4, runners on first and second, and nobody out. Kinney got out of the inning by getting a strikeout and double play ground out. He then held the Bantams scoreless for the next four innings, and Tufts came away with the victory 11-4. The win completed the sweep of Trinity and moved Tufts to 5-0 now in the NESCAC. The Jumbos are three losses clear of anybody in the East, and they are now virtual locks for the playoffs.With the top teams in the West not looking as strong as usual, this could be the year that the Jumbos convert their domination of the East into a NESCAC championship.
P/DH Joe MacDonald ’16 (Middlebury)
Let me give dear friend of the program and Nothing But NESCAC’s co-founder a little love here. MacDonald has moved over the past two years from playing primarily at third base to now being a weekend starting pitcher and occasional DH, too. On Friday at DH he went 3-6 and had four RBI as a big part of the Panthers comeback. Then on Saturday, he pitched five innings and kept Hamilton in check allowing three runs (two earned). Middlebury has now won two of his three conference starts. He isn’t overpowering many hitters and has a very low strikeout rate, but also only one walk in 18.2 IP. He is doing a good enough job of mixing up his pitches to keep hitters off balance. We have focused mostly on the impact of young players in improving Middlebury’s fortunes, but a large part can also be attributed to contributions from old standbys like MacDonald and John Luke ’16. Max Araya ’16 has also been sensational with a .447 OBP.
3B Zach Ellenthal ’16 (Colby)
Ellenthal hit a not too shabby .667 (8-12) over the three games against Bowdoin. Four of those hits were doubles, and the senior had five RBI. Ellenthal has been in and out of the lineup a little bit this spring, but I’m guessing he is going to get plenty of playing time the rest of the way given that he has a .526 OBP in conference games. Colby’s offense has been much better of late, and they blitzed Bowdoin in the first two games of their series. There isn’t a ton of power on the roster (just four home runs as a team), but they can still hurt you because of the ability for the entire lineup to get on base. I know it sounds cliché, but I saw Bowdoin lose to the Mules in part because Colby put the Polar Bears into situations where they had to make a lot of plays.
There is nothing terrible about losing to Tufts, but getting swept by them has put the Bantams into a much more precarious position. Trinity had chances to win each of the three games, and that makes the losses even harder in a way. They led 3-1 in the first game, forced the second game to extra innings, and threatened for a brief moment in that third game as mentioned above. Trinity didn’t play particularly bad in any aspect, but if you have to pin the sweep on any one thing, it would be the inability of the offense to string together hits. They scored four runs in each of the three games, an almost frustrating consistency that allows you to be in every game but have a hard time winning one of them. The Bantams still very much hold their own destiny, and they get a chance at Bates this weekend. Trinity was in basically the same situation last year: 4-5 with only their series against Bates left. The Bantams lost all three of those games to finish in last in the East. A repeat performance of that would be devastating.
Bowdoin’s Veteran Hitters
The Polar Bears offense has ground almost to a complete halt, and the biggest reason is that the guys expected to carry the lineup have instead been huge drags on it. Be warned, some of these conference numbers are tough to swallow. Shortstop Sean Mullaney ’17, who was batting well above .400 for a while, has a .094 BA in conference. Chad Martin ’16, the big bopper in the middle, has a .111 BA and just one extra base hit. Peter Cimini ’16 has a .233 average in conference. Along with Trinity, the Polar Bears are well below every other team in BA for NESCAC games at .217. In fairness to Bowdoin, they do have a much better OBP than Trinity does, but the Bantams have slugged the ball better. Bottomline, nobody on Bowdoin is really hitting the ball that well, and the team has now lost three consecutive series against teams in the East not named Tufts.
The old Bull Durham quote goes, “This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.” Well, Hamilton has been failing in the catching department, and it really bit them badly on Saturday. We noted already that they had five errors in one inning against Middlebury. They had eight total in that game. For the weekend series, the Continentals had 13 errors. Hamilton is good, but it is hard to win when you keep giving the other team extra outs and opportunities to score. The weekend was a frustrating one for Hamilton because they played well enough in areas to win. And they could see the window of opportunity for making the playoffs open with Williams beating Wesleyan twice. However, they couldn’t capitalize and get it done on their home field. They can still get hot and make a miracle run to the playoffs, but they are going to have to field a lot better to do so.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What has appeared to be a pretty chaotic NESCAC season suddenly got a lot more clear when the top four teams all pulled out wins in the NESCAC quarterfinals. It wasn’t that clear cut, considering that Colby led Trinity for a good 30 minutes of their game and Bowdoin was down three points with under six minutes to play. Still, the top four teams won, and a big reason for that is the impact of home court advantage.
Trinity, Amherst, Tufts and Middlebury combined to go 18-2 in their NESCAC home games. And those two losses both came at the hands of a fellow top four team with the Bantams knocking off the Jumbos in Medford and Amherst beating Trinity in Hartford. The biggest upsets of the regular season all came on the road: Middlebury falling to Hamilton, Colby topping Amherst, and Bowdoin getting the best of Wesleyan (not that big of an upset in hindsight but still).
Winning on the road is hard, even when there aren’t big raucous crowds to deal with. Athletes are creatures of comfort, and whether it’s the ability to have the same pregame routine or the familiarity of shooting in your home gym, teams undoubtedly do better at home at this level. As an aside, this makes Wesleyan’s championship run last year with two road and one neutral site wins all the more impressive.
SG Matt St. Amour ’17 and PF Adisa Majors ’18 (Middlebury)
Pepin Gymnasium was ROCKING on Saturday, and these two were supplying a lot of the fuel for the crowd to feed off of. After two subpar shooting performances last weekend, St. Amour did not hesitate from long distance early scoring 19 points in the first half as the Panthers built a substantial lead. As he cooled off in the first half, Majors took over, scoring 16 enormous second half points. Eleven of those points came in the final 5:30 of the game. After Nathan Krill ’18 pulled Wesleyan to within five points at 68-63, Majors scored the next six points for the Panthers to get the lead back up to 74-65. The difference in play from Majors this season from last year when he was a seldom used backup has been incredible. The sophomore works his butt off, has a really nice touch around the rim, and is a great mid-range shooter.
Forward Connor Green ’16 (Amherst)
Green has OWNED the Polar Bears over the past two seasons. In four games against Bowdoin, he averaged 24.0 ppg. That includes a clunker in the NESCAC semifinals last year when he had just seven points on 3-14 shooting. That didn’t matter though as Amherst won that game easily 76-56. In the other three games, Green has been sizzling hot from deep, going 19-36 (52.8 percent) on what have been very high difficulty shots. On Saturday, Green finished with 29 points, four rebounds, three assists and no turnovers. His big performance helped Amherst overcome subpar games from Jayde Dawson ’18 and Jeff Racy ’17. I have no idea how Green is going to play next weekend: he could either shoot Amherst out of the tournament or carry them to a NESCAC title. Regardless, I think that Saturday reminded us that he is still Amherst’s best scorer, and it clinched Green’s spot on the All-NESCAC First Team.
Tufts’ Offensive Balance
It is no secret that the Jumbos work their offense through Tom Palleschi ’17, but the junior center is not capable of being the scoring threat that some of the perimeter scorers in the league can be. The offense for Tufts works because all five starters are capable of creating their own shot. And even though Palleschi doesn’t shoot threes very often, he is shooting 45.5 percent from three this season. That means that every Tufts starter is also capable of hitting the three. That puts a lot of strain on a defense. On Saturday, four of the five Jumbo starters were in double figures (the other, Ryan Spadaford ’16, had 8 points), and each of them made a three pointer to boot. The downside for Tufts is that their bench has become somewhat of a non-factor down the stretch. That starting five will have to carry them next weekend.
What a weird season for Wesleyan. They were great against an admittedly soft non-conference schedule to rip off an 11-game winning streak heading into the conference season. Then they started 1-3 in NESCAC before winning their next five games (all vs. NESCAC teams) at home. Would it surprise you if I told you the Cardinals losses in their final three games were all on the road? Wesleyan was #7 in the last regional rankings, and it’s extremely unlikely they get an at-large bid.
On Saturday the fight that Wesleyan possesses was clear even though they fell short. They got a big performance from Harry Rafferty ’17 to come back in the second half. The game looked to be over with just over a minute left and Middlebury holding a nine-point lead. Then BJ Davis ’16 and Jack Mackey ’16 hit two absolutely ridiculous threes to pull the lead back to five points. However, that was as close as Wesleyan would get. The season didn’t go quite as planned for the defending champions, but you have to admit that they went down fighting.
Some fans of the Ephs have been bemoaning the combined inability of Williams to get assists and not turn the ball over for much of the season. And I haven’t bought into those complaints until Saturday. In the second half, there was a stretch when Williams seemed to be turning the ball over on every possession. And when they didn’t, they weren’t able to generate any good shots. The Ephs finished the game with 15 turnovers and 10 assists. For the season, Williams finished last in the NESCAC averaging as a team 13.4 apg. The offense that Coach Kevin App runs is one predicated on constant cutting and screening, but it wasn’t great at creating good looks inside. The Ephs instead took a lot of threes, the second most in the NESCAC. The return of PG Mike Greenman ’17 from injury next season will do this offense a lot of good.
Expectations for Colby were high entering the season. The six Colby seniors were all good NESCAC players, and Chris Hudnut ’16 is one of the five best players in the league when healthy. On the other hand, all this class has to show on a NESCAC level is four consecutive eighth place finishes and subsequent first round exits. A bunch of factors held the Mules back the last two seasons, and there is no denying that Colby was a good team this year capable of knocking off anybody. On the other hand, the Mules failed to ever really deliver on their promise as a team. Now that this group of seniors is graduating, the Mules are going to be in deep trouble next season.
The game against Trinity was a microcosm of that promise. They were in control for much of the game, leading by as many as 12 points. Ultimately, the Bantams came back and enforced their will in the second half. Colby was bothered by the defensive intensity of Trinity, and on the other end they forced just one turnover from the Bantams in the half. What doomed the Mules was that Trinity went back to what works for them: being physical and getting inside. In the first half Trinity shot zero free throws (neither did Colby which is somewhat incredible). However, in the second half the Bantams got to the line 20 times and made 16 of them.
What a weekend for Maine rivals, Bowdoin and Colby, as the two swept Conn College and Wesleyan to both get into the NESCAC tournament with Bowdoin as the No. 7 seed and Colby the No. 8 seed. Both teams have shown plenty of promise this season, but it wasn’t until this weekend that we saw how good these teams can really play. When I watched these two go to overtime back on January 30, it was hard to imagine that both of them could possibly miss the NESCAC tournament. Now they both got in and are beginning to look dangerous.
Let’s start with Colby. The Mules looked dead at 1-6 in conference after blowing a last minute lead at Middlebury last weekend. Then they finished with three straight wins, with their two this weekend being comfortable ones. The all-senior starting five gets all the press, but senior guard John Gallego ’16 deserves some recognition himself. The quick backup is one of many short NESCAC point guards making an impact this season (Jaquann Starks ’16, Jack Dwyer ’18, Tyler Rowe ’19, etc.). He had nine points apiece against Wesleyan and Conn College. Against Amherst, Colby’s first NESCAC win, Gallego had 13 big points. The senior is a difference maker for the Mules.
The real surprise is probably the defense that Colby has played. I’ve said it before, but it doesn’t make sense that a team with five seniors starting should be so bad defensively. Yes, they play three big men essentially in their starting lineup meaning they give up quickness to teams. Still, they should be able to make up for it by playing as a unit on that end. This weekend they did, keeping Conn College to 73 points and then Wesleyan to just 64 points. The Mules certainly benefitted from some poor shooting on the part of the Cardinals considering Wesleyan shot 7-33 from three point land, but give credit to Colby for coming up big on the defensive end this weekend after having that be their Achilles Heel in some games.
As for Bowdoin, a team dear and near to my heart, they got big contributions from their role players while relying on their big two. Lucas Hausman ’16 and Jack Simonds ’19 combined averaged 48.5 ppg in the two wins. And while I know it sounds crazy, neither of them shot THAT well this weekend, going 8-25 (32 percent) from the three point line. What they did do exceptionally was get to the free throw line and finish there. The two went 27-30 from the charity stripe, and they drove Wesleyan and Conn College crazy with their ability to get calls.
However, the real stars, especially yesterday, were point guard Tim Ahn ’19 and center Matt Palecki ’16. Ahn looked like he was losing his spot in the rotation to Jack Bors ’19 a few weeks ago, but an injury to Bors has kept him out and opened the door for Ahn to play his best basketball. Coaches often say that by the end of the season, being a freshman isn’t an excuse anymore. Ahn hasn’t played like a freshmen down the stretch. He did something I haven’t see him do all season: attack and finish at the rim. He has shown the quickness to get past his initial defender, but until yesterday Ahn wasn’t looking for his at the rim. He scored 10 points in Friday and Saturday’s game.
Meanwhile, Palecki was his typical workmanlike self with 12 points and 14 rebounds against Conn College. In both games this weekend, Bowdoin controlled the boards, something they haven’t done much of this year. Palecki makes up for his lack of leaping ability by using his wide body to keep offensive rebounders out of the paint. He used that same wide body to slow down the likes of Joseph Kuo ’17 and Zuri Pavlin ’17 with great effectiveness. While Palecki can sometimes fall in love with ill-advised threes, he does a lot of the dirty work for the Polar Bears.
One problem for Colby and Bowdoin is they now have to go on the road in the NESCAC playoffs. For both of them, three of their four conference wins came at home. Whatever, we’ll get there in a couple of days. The two Maine teams made good and salvaged what looked like lost seasons. Even though they are the seventh and eighth seed, Bowdoin or Colby is capable not just of upsetting a top team but going all the way for a Cinderella run.
Shooting Guard Lucas Hausman ’16 (Bowdoin)
Averaging 26.5 ppg in a NESCAC weekend would be incredible for most players, but it’s just another normal weekend for Hausman at this point. He finishes the 2015-2016 regular season averaging 25.1 ppg overall and 26.0 ppg in NESCAC games. Those are historic numbers: the best averages that anybody has put up on record in the NESCAC which goes back to 2000. Hausman is far from a perfect player; he does go to a D3 school after all. His defense is subpar, his rebounding numbers are not good, and he doesn’t create well for others on offense. One or two plays every game he looks like a legitimately bad basketball player. But to deny how freaking good he is at putting the ball in the basket is stupid. Nobody makes tough shots like he does, and he makes those shots efficiently to boot. Regardless of what happens in the NESCAC tournament, Hausman is the Player of the Year.
Small Forward Stephen Haladyna ’16 (Tufts)
The Jumbos had just one game this weekend, and they took care of business against Williams to secure a home NESCAC playoff game. Haladyna led the way with 22 points, the only time this year that he has scored more than 20 points in a contest. He had been pretty quiet in NESCAC games before Friday. Tufts is at their best when they are able to be balanced scoring the ball. Guys like Haladyna and Ryan Spadaford ’16 need to be big part of the offense for Tufts to make a run. The Jumbos sit at 19-5 overall and look to be in good shape for making the NCAA tournament regardless of what happens in the next two weekends, but a win again over Williams would secure their spot for sure I think.
The Panthers weren’t quite up to the task this weekend, and the most disappointing thing has to be the number of points they let up. Amherst scored 83 and Trinity had a blistering 97 points. Now, the Bantams were clearly hot shooting the ball (55.7 percent from the floor in this game), but it is still a little disappointing to see Middlebury give up that many points in regulation. The two games weren’t even that exceptional in terms of pace as Amherst shot the ball 60 times and Trinity 61 times. The two losses aren’t surprising in and of themselves, but I wasn’t expecting their defense to be the major problem. The Panthers have to get that sorted out by this weekend.
What a tough end to the season for the Camels. They made so many strides this season, but they end up falling just short of making the playoffs. The Camels pushed Tufts and Amherst to the brink and had a quality home win over Middlebury, but they ended up losing their final five NESCAC games to finish 3-7. The Camels are big, tough on defense, and capable of scoring in bunches. They lose senior leader Bo McKinley ’16, a player that has been a constant through some very dark days for the program. Credit to him for doing anything he could to make the team better over the past few years. This team will be a terror for teams next year in large part because of him. And they will be a terror with their young nucleus having another year to grow. Zuri Pavlin ’17 and Dan Janel ’17 are a load to handle in the frontcourt. Tyler Rowe ’19 and Lee Messier ’18 are going to score a lot of points, too. Conn College missed the playoffs this year, but they will get there soon enough.