As we not-so-patiently await this weekend’s playoff games, it’s time to hand out some regular season hardware. This was a particularly fun year in NESCAC baseball. In Tufts we had a juggernaut dominate the regular season in a way not seen in several years. We had Bates’ insanely hot 7-0 start to league play, followed by an insanely cold 0-5 finish. Williams made a furious run at their playoff spot, but to no avail. And on the other side of the conference, we saw a real-life Cinderella story unfold before our eyes, as Middlebury rose from years of mediocrity to become a real championship contender. We will see how those storylines shift come this weekend. In the meantime, let’s recognize the top regular season performers in the award categories. As always, these are our opinions, so we welcome and expect criticism from all sides. We also urge you to check out the midseason awards article here for more info on most of these candidates.
There are several players who could win this award. Tufts alone has three players who have the stats to contend for it in Nick Falkson ‘18, Tommy O’Hara ‘18 and Will Shackelford ‘19. However, it is precisely that lineup strength that keeps them from winning this award. Pitchers can’t afford to pitch around any of those players because the rest of the lineup is so dangerous. This award is better suited for a player who dominates despite a lesser supporting cast. Enter Thanopolous. Not to diss the rest of the Amherst lineup (NbN’s own Harry Roberson ‘18 excels as a table setter at the top of the order.) But Thanopolous’ run producing is the key to Amherst’s lineup. Additionally, Amherst’s pitching has struggled mightily for most of the season. Without a strong lineup, Amherst would not even be a playoff contender, and Thanopolous is the engine that makes it all run.
Runner-Up: Tufts IF Tommy O’Hara ‘18 (.343/.503/.528, 4 HR, 35 RBI)
Unlike the Player of the Year award, this race has never been close. Varinos has dominated the league as much as any NESCAC pitcher in recent memory. He struck out double digit hitters three times in his nine starts, and the only blemish on his won-loss record came in his last start, a meaningless non-league matchup against Middlebury. Varinos combined with Tim Superko ‘17 to form the most dynamic starting pitching duo in the league. However, Tufts as a team has struggled to find an effective third starter, and even Superko posted a 3.55 ERA this season. He benefitted a great deal from Tufts’ stellar offense to post his 6-0 record. Therefore, Varinos is the key to Tufts rotation, which will be the most important factor in the playoffs as they contend with Thanopolous and the rest of Amherst’s lineup.
Runner-Up: Williams SP John Lamont ‘20 (4-1, 1.80 ERA, 4 CG)
Runner-Up: Trinity P Eric Mohl ‘19 (16 APP, 7-2, 2.55 ERA)
Rookie of the Year
Winner: Middlebury OF Justin Han ‘20 (.308/.411/.490, 4 HR, 13:7 BB/K)
Middlebury is both one of the best teams in the league and maybe the youngest team, a testament to the recruiting of new HC Mike Leonard and his assistant Mike Phelps. And based on this season, Justin Han looks to be the biggest prize of that strong recruiting class. He showed tremendous power, finishing second in the league with four home runs. But the thing that sets Han apart from other first year players is his maturity. He only struck out seven times all year against thirteen walks. That kind of plate discipline is uncommon among any player, let alone a rookie. His stats were also better in the elevated competition of NESCAC play. In eleven league games, he hit .324 with two home runs and nine RBI, numbers that are better than his overall stats if you project them out to the same amount of games. Han also showed a clutch gene, hitting a game winning grand slam against Amherst to help Middlebury salvage a crucial game and avoid a sweep. With Han and his classmates, Middlebury is set up to be relevant for years to come.
Runner-Up: Williams SP John Lamont ‘20 (4-1, 1.80 ERA, 4 CG)
*Editor’s Note: We feel bad for Lamont here. Not only does he finish second in two awards, but he has to live with a dud of an older brother (former NbM editor Adam Lamont.) We regret adding salt to that wound, and hope John doesn’t resent it too much in the future.
Runner-Up: Trinity C Alex Rodriguez ‘20 (.342/.361/.465 23 RBI)
Editor’s Note: At this point, pretty much every NESCAC baseball team has had a chance to get out on the field and play some games (aside from Williams, who plays their season opener tonight). Devin Rosen is joining us for our NESCAC baseball coverage this spring, which is perfectly timed since we lose a couple writers, Colby and Rory, due to their roles on the Middlebury and Tufts baseball teams. The beginning of the NESCAC baseball season is always a mess for coverage since teams always try to cram as many games as possible into their spring breaks. Once NESCAC games roll around, we will be much more organized with our content. Until then, enjoy this preview of the NESCAC baseball season that Devin put together!
Bates opens the season with new coach Jon Martin who comes from the head coaching position at Vassar College. He looks to turn last year’s 14-21 record (4-8 in conference) into a more productive season in 2017. Helping his transition at the leadership helm are senior captains Ryan McCarthy and Brendan Fox. McCarthy has been a three year starter in the outfield for the Bobcats, and 2016 Second-Team All-NESCAC shortstop Fox looks to continue his success after hitting .377 last season. The Bates rotation and bullpen returns most of its staff and is led by Connor Speed ‘18 who looks to open the season as Bates’ number one starter. Anthony Telesca ’17 adds to the returning rotation as well providing depth in the rotation. After a break out year last season, Connor Russell ‘18 aims to round out the Bates rotation. The strong core of returning players for Bates gives the Bobcats the potential to put up a strong fight in the NESCAC this year. In his first season in Lewiston, Coach Martin will have to use his returners to help him achieve a successful season. If Fox can lead the bats, then the solid pitching staff can keep Bates in contention in the competitive NESCAC East.
Bowdoin had a decently successful 22-14 campaign last spring, but looks to avenge their 4-8 in conference record this season. To do so, however, their pitching staff must fill in the spots of two now-graduated starters who combined for over 93 innings last season. Sophomore Brandon Lopez ’19 looks to be the number one guy for the polar bears after a solid freshman season as a starter. After him, however, it seems that Coach Mike Connolly will have to find a few arms out of the large junior class to eat up innings. Sean Mullaney ’17 aims to maintain his position as the team’s consistent top hitter after having a .304 average in 115 at bats last spring. Similar to the pitching staff, the young talent on this offense will have to step up in order to compete with the rest of the NESCAC. Bowdoin showed promise in their overall record last year and aims to replicate it both in and out of conference.
Colby looks to turn their luck around after a disappointing season last spring. This task is made even tougher after graduating a First-Team All-NESCAC first baseman, Soren Hanson ’16, and a Second-Team All-NESCAC third baseman, Zach Ellenthal ‘16. Sophomore Andrew Currier looks to lead the way in doing so after posting a solid freshman spring which included 20 RBIs. The rest of the lineup will depend on hitting from other lower classmen. On the mound, the Mules graduated their number one starter, Hanson, and most reliable reliever, Tommy Forese. However, just like the lineup, young pitchers such as Brooks Parker ’19 and Will Cohen ’19 gained valuable experience in just their first spring. Look for Coach Dale Plummer to ride these young arms throughout the season while also depending on the more experienced juniors Dan Schoenfeld ’18 and Bobby Forese ‘18. Colby’s lineup and pitching staff took a hit from the most recent graduating class, but look for the young Mules to step up their game. Despite a smaller presence from the senior class, the underclassmen have the potential to compete with the top teams in the NESCAC after gaining a year of valuable experience.
Trinity enters the season having lost high caliber seniors from last spring including First-Team All-NESCAC catcher Scott Cullinane and Second-Team All-NESCAC outfielder Nick Pezzella, as well as their most reliable reliever Sam Jordan, all of whom contributed to a 7-5 conference record. The Bantams’ success in the NESCAC East earned them a playoff appearance, and they advanced to the NESCAC Championship game before losing to in-conference rival Tufts. Despite the talent lost, first baseman Johnny Stamatis ’19 is back after hitting .309 and earning a Second-Team All-NESCAC nod in his first college season. Another key returning bat is NbN writer and Trinity infielder Nick DiBenedetto ’17, who posted a .357 average last spring. On the other side of the roster stands Anthony Egeln Jr. ’18. He is the only returning consistent starter, but after posting a 4-2 record last spring, Egeln Jr looks to take over as the number one starter in the program. In order to keep up with the tough NESCAC East, Trinity’s young talent must replace last year’s seniors with some fluidity. The rotation’s consistency will make or break Trinity’s season as long as their bats heat up.
The Jumbos are coming off a dominating performance after achieving the best season in school history. With an 11-1 in-conference record and 35-8 overall record, Tufts returns the core of its team. 2x First-Team All-NESCAC third baseman Tommy O’Hara ‘18 leads this stacked line-up along with captain First-Team All-NESCAC outfielder Harry Brown ‘17, who hit a team leading .397 average in 2016. Behind the plate, sophomore catchers Harrison Frickman and Eric Schnepf have a year under their belt after being thrusted into a timeshare of the starting role behind the plate as freshmen last season. In addition to a powerful line-up, Tufts returns most of its dominating pitching staff. Led by captains Speros Varinos ’17 and Tim Superko ‘17, the rotation looks to remain the best in the conference after posting a team ERA of 3.25, over a full run less per game than the second-best ERA in the league. Varinos, the reigning pitcher of the year, looks to best last year’s All-American performance, which included a 2.15 ERA and league-leading 79 strikeouts. He also tied fellow teammate, RJ Hall ’19 with a league-leading 7 wins. Additionally, our very own, Rory Ziomek adds depth to the staff. Tufts has the fire power to maintain their status as the best team in the league, and has their sights set on not only a NESCAC Championship, but a NCAA Regional Championship as well after coming up just short last spring.
Amherst looks to stay atop the NESCAC West this upcoming season, and the will jump on the back of First-Team All-NESCAC pitcher Jackson Volle ‘17, who had a league leading 1.79 ERA. The pitching staff aims to maintain its status as one of the best in the league, but we will have to wait to see who joins Volle atop the staff after losing a few arms to graduation. At the plate, Amherst returns two Second-Team All-NESCAC selections: shortstop Harry Roberson ’18 and outfielder Anthony Spina ‘17. Roberson had an impressive .336 average while Spina tied the league lead in homeruns with 6. Joining them in this impressive lineup are Ariel Kenney ‘18, who had a team leading 52 hits, and infielder Max Steinhorn ‘18. Outfielder Yanni Thanopoulos ’17 rounds out the lineup that hit a remarkable .316 as a group last year. Amherst has the potential to not only compete in the NESCAC, but to compete for its top spot. Volle gives them a consistently dominant starter while their lineup can hit any arm in the league. If Amherst plays up to their potential, look for them to stay atop the Conference.
Hamilton’s ferocious lineup from last season returns its top hitters, including First-Team All-NESCAC outfielder Ryan Wolfsberg ’17, who led the conference in slugging percentage (.645) to go along with a .418 batting average. Adding even more power to the lineup is Andrew Haser ’17, who was tied for the league lead with 6 homeruns last spring. The Hamilton pitching staff is forced to replace now-graduated pitcher Cole Dreyfuss, and first in line to do so are Spencer Vogelbach ‘18 and Dan DePaoli ’18. Look for these two juniors to eat up significant innings for Coach Byrnes. Rounding out the staff is Max Jones ’19, who threw 35.2 innings with a 3.53 ERA in his freshman campaign. Hamilton’s success will depend on its lineup and rotation performing up to their potential. The experienced pitching staff will have the chance to prove they can compete with the best of the NESCAC, and the returning Continental bats have the power to hit any arm in the league. If this occurs, Hamilton will be considered a force to be reckoned with in the competitive NESCAC West.
Middlebury enters the year looking to replace its key seniors from last season. However, plenty of now-sophomores including OF Sam Graf and SS Spencer Tonies, now have a year of experience to potentially improve their campaign from last season. Junior Brendan Donohue will also look to build off his .316 season in contribution to the Panthers season. Pitching, on the other hand, seems to be a plus for the Panthers both now and in the future. Sophomore starters Colby Morris (legendary NbN writer) and John Bunting led the team in innings last season, but with Bunting having transferred, Morris will be looked to to handle even more of the load. Seniors Dylan Takamori and Tucker Meredith additionally look to contribute to the strong staff. Last season Middlebury had a 6-6 in-conference record and aims to stand over .500 this season. To do so, Coach Mike Leonard will have to depend on his pitching staff, comprised of mostly returners. If the Panther bats can stay consistent, the rotation and bullpen can keep Middlebury relevant in the NESCAC West.
The Cardinals look to repeat last year’s impressive 23-12 record along with winning the NESCAC West. Despite losing three senior bats hitting over .330, including the Player of the Year Marco Baratta, Wesleyan returns a dangerous lineup. Leading the way are two-way player Nick Miceli ’17, who is coming off a Second-Team All-NESCAC performance, and the Roxbury Latin groomed shortstop Will O’Sullivan, who hit a remarkable .370 last spring. Andrew Keith ‘19 proved his potential last season as well and looks to build on the success he enjoyed in 2016. On the mound, Wesleyan returns a solid core of three pitchers, including Miceli, who is joined by Ethan Rode ‘17 and Asher Young ‘17. These seasoned veterans should consume many of the season’s innings. Coach Mark Woodworth will ride his senior leaders throughout the season after they dominated the NESCAC West last spring. As long as his upperclassmen take charge, Wesleyan has the lineup and the rotation to compete for the NESCAC crown.
Williams aims to get over the .500 hump in NESCAC play this season, and if they do it, their efforts will be led by Second-Team All-NESCAC pitcher Luke Rodino ‘17. He is joined by fellow senior Tyler Duff ’17 as the leaders of the pitching staff. These two seniors look to guide Tom Benz ‘19, Jack Bohen ‘19 and Will O’Brien ‘19, all of whom contributed heavily during their freshman campaign. At the plate, Kellen Hatheway ’19 looks to build on a stellar first year in which he earned the NESCAC Rookie of the Year award after hitting .331 with 21 RBI’s and 24 runs scored. Joining him in the lineup are Adam Regensburg ’18 and Doug Schaffer ’18, as well as Jack Cloud ‘17, who all hit over .300. The freshmen, now sophomore class proved to have the potential to compete against the top teams in the NESCAC. This year for Williams baseball will be about how these sophomores, along with their other key returners, can perform after having last season to rebuild and come together as a group. Williams will use last year’s experience to give them a chance to improve on their record in the NESCAC.
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.
The 2015 NESCAC baseball season was one for the history books: from a star-studded senior class to a handful of record-breaking underclassmen claiming the spotlight, the players made an impact not only on their own teams but in the entire NESCAC conference. With the season underway, it’s time to review last year’s hits and misses and predict what we can expect from this year’s competition.
But ICYMI, for any reason (like me—they don’t play baseball in London, where I was last spring!), here’s a rundown of the biggest storylines from the 2015 season:
Wesleyan, Wesleyan, Wesleyan: the Continual Rise of the NESCAC Underdog
The Cardinals made history in 2014 when the underdogs grabbed the NESCAC Championship for the first time; they stunned us yet again in 2015 by holding on to the title in a nail-biting match-up against longtime rival Amherst in the final. It was wild. If you missed it (guilty), you really missed out.
Wesleyan just had everything in their arsenal and all the odds in their favor. The Cardinals didn’t graduate a single hitter after the 2014 campaign, and in 2015 the team ultimately produced the program’s record-breaking 31 wins. Offensively, Sam Goodwin-Boyd ’15, Andrew Yin ’15, current Cubs’ minor leaguer Donnie Cimino ’15 and Jonathan Dennett ’15 all produced in their final season. In the field Wesleyan was led by a trio of All-NESCAC performers: Cimino (CF), Goodwin-Boyd (1B) and Guy Davidson ’16 (SS), all of whom were eager to build off the momentum they developed during their summer with the Cape Cod League. Together, the trio helped produce the strongest defense in the NESCAC.
But the talent didn’t stop there: on the mound Wesleyan was a serious force to be reckoned with. Returning starters Nick Cooney ’15, a 2014 All-NESCAC selection, and Gavin Pittore ’16 both pitched in the Cape Cod League in preparation for their season. Sam Elias ’15, who competed in the esteemed New England Collegiate Baseball League the summer before last, was honored with the 2015 NESCAC Pitcher of the Year Award after accumulating a 7.78 K/9 ratio and 1.53 ERA over 76.1 IP. Elias turned into an ace, doing double duty as a starter (seven starts) and closer (four saves), and his 1.03 BB/9 rate was among the league’s best as well. Pete Rantz ’16 rounded out the Cardinals’ dominant rotation, and has big shoes to fill after the graduation of two rotation mates and Pittore’s early departure.
The Man, The Myth, The Legend: the Unstoppable Odenwaelder
At 6’5″ and 225 lbs., Mike Odenwaelder ’16 is the type of baseball player you used to look at and wonder why he wasn’t playing Division-I ball, or even pro. After all, in his first two seasons alone, the player was crowned the 2013 NESCAC Rookie of the Year and 2014 NESCAC Player of the Year and selected for the NCAA Division III Gold Glove Team, the D3Baseball.com All-American team and First Team All-New England.
The real question going into the 2015 season was whether or not Odenwaelder could continue to surpass expectations. He returned to the Jeffs last year fresh off his most successful season. In 2014, he hit .400 with six HRs and 31 RBI, posting a jaw-dropping slugging percentage of .607. On the mound he had a 1.74 ERA over 20.2 IP. Though the Amherst star didn’t pitch for the majority of 2015 because of a shoulder injury, he continued to dominate the NESCAC with his powerful hitting. By the end of the 2015 season, Odenwaelder had racked up a total of 118 games, during which he developed a career batting avg. of .372 with 16 homers, 86 RBI, and 39 stolen bases.
Tufts’ Secret Weapon: Tommy O’Hara ’18
O’Hara transitioned from “rookie” to “phenom” the moment he stepped onto the Jumbo diamond. The freshman third baseman was Tufts’ best hitter on their trip to Virginia and North Carolina. He had an incredible .564 OBP in 42 at-bats with six walks. But the question no one wanted to ask remained in the minds of Tufts’ NESCAC opponents: can a first-year really transform a team?
The answer was a thousand times, yes. Tufts’ offense was undoubtedly questionable at the beginning of the season and definitely needed bolstering if it was to make it to the NESCAC playoffs. O’Hara single-handedly delivered. The freshman infielder led the team with a .405 batting average, .518 on-base percentage and .603 slugging percentage. He also hit a team-high 14 doubles while registering four home runs, 42 runs scored and 42 RBIs.
Oh, and did I mention he was First Team All-NESCAC as well as NESCAC Rookie of the Year? I guess you could say he’s kind of a big deal.
Hamilton’s Franchise: Joe Jensen ’15
The former three-season athlete (football, track, and baseball) gave the Continents serious bragging rights last year, breaking records both on the diamond and off.
In March of last year Jensen outplayed the lofty expectations set out for him after a successful junior year in which he hit .398/.495/.430 and a sophomore campaign during which he set school records with 137 at bats, 30 runs scored and 29 stolen bases. He was in the top three in the NESCAC in batting average (.525), on-base percentage (.587), and slugging percentage (.775) at the end of the month. His trip to Florida was probably his shining moment in the 2015 season, as he had multiple hits in all six games. While his numbers dropped off once the Continentals returned home, he remained one of the best hitters and defensive outfielders in the NESCAC.
Jensen received NESCAC All-Conference honors last spring for the second time, earning second-team recognition after leading the league with 24 stolen bases and a gaudy .450 on-base percentage. His .398 batting average ranked third in the NESCAC.
“His ability to affect the game both defensively and offensively with his speed is something that sets him apart from his peers, both on the field and as a professional prospect,” Hamilton coach Tim Byrnes said following Jensen’s senior season. “Joe is a true take-away center fielder with a plus arm for this level. He’s able to use his plus speed to beat out infield singles, stretch singles into doubles and steal bases at will.”
Bowdoin’s Starting Pitcher Henry Van Zant ’15 (the NESCAC’s Best Non-Cardinal Pitcher)
Van Zant closed out a fantastic career for the Polar Bears by recording one of the finest seasons in program history; he tied the program’s single-season record for wins by going 7-1, including a 5-0 mark in conference games, with a 1.95 earned run average. That some rainy weather allowed Van Zant to pitch and win five NESCAC games is a miracle. Nobody had started five conference games since two players did so during the 2013 season, and Van Zant’s five wins in conference games is a NESCAC record. His complete game shutout over Wesleyan, which ended in a 1-0 victory for the Polar Bears, made him 6-0 overall against NESCAC teams.
Van Zant’s career amounted to 17 win (tied for third in school history) and 168 career strikeouts (ranking him fifth all-time at Bowdoin). Van Zant was named a second-team selection for the All-NESCAC and D3baseball.com teams.
Though Van Zant ultimately lost the Pitcher of the Year nod to his top rival, his remarkable senior season no doubt gave the conference a difficult decision to make.
So with that in mind, here are some of the biggest questions you should have as the 2016 season unfolds:
The Pitcher Problem: Who will take the mount in place of former starters?
Year after year, graduation and the pros inevitably lead to casualties on teams’ rosters, but the damage inflicted this year, especially on the mound, is shocking. Reigning champs Wesleyan lost three—Elias, Pittore, Cooney—of their four top pitchers, leaving Rantz, who threw 60.2 innings with a 2.97 ERA in 2015, to pick up the pieces. After losing Van Zant, Bowdoin has to redesign its pitching plan, and Trinity loses ace Sean Meekins ’15, (3-1, 2.01 ERA, 10.48 K/9, 44.2 IP). Tufts lost Tom Ryan ’15 and Willie Archibad ’15. Amherst lost John Cook ’15. Even Middlebury lost Eric Truss ’15, who finished 9th in the NESCAC.
The pitching lineups of Hamilton, Williams, Bates and Colby appear unscathed, but time has yet to tell how the returning starters will mesh with the young up-and-comers on the roster.
While the teams’ are grateful for the underclassmen they set as starters last season, they still need to figure out how inexperienced pitchers will contribute to NESCAC competition during spring training. The clock’s ticking.
The Odenwaelder Inheritance: Who will fill the shoes left in centerfield?
As anticipated, Odenwaelder was picked by the Baltimore Orioles in the 16th Round (493 overall) of the 2015 Major League Draft. But anticipation didn’t seem to lead to effective planning: Odenwaelder’s incredible talent overshadowed several, if not most, of the other Jeffs, and has consequently left a gaping hole to be filled.
Thankfully, Amherst returns several promising team members, including Harry Roberson ’18, he finished his breakout freshman year with an OBP of .429. Yet, while Roberson is unquestionably a standout hitter, it’s unknown if he can carry the team like Odenwaelder. Yanni Thanopoulos ’17 and Connor Gunn’16 have promising stats, but it’s unlikely Amherst will be the same offensive dynamite as last spring.
Nevertheless, Amherst pushed Wesleyan all the way to extra innings in a winner-take-all NESCAC championship game, so all hope is not lost for the Jeffs.
The End of an Era? How will reigning NESCAC champs Wesleyan compete against the competition after losing most of their starters?
Elias, Cooney, Goodwin-Boyd, Dennett and Yin are off the field and into the real world of post-college life. Pittore signed as an undrafted free agent with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Cimino is with the Cubs organization. Guys essential to the Wesleyan machine, and part of the epic 2015 class of athletes at Wesleyan, are no longer a part of its construction, and for the two-time reigning NESCAC champions, that’s pretty frightening.
Shortstop Guy Davidson ’16 had a notable 2015 season and is back to up his game, but there are very few sure bets in the Cardinals’ lineup. On the flip side of that, though, the early returns on Wesleyan’s shiny, new lineup are darn right impressive. The Cardinals are hitting .386/.469/.600 as a squad through eight games down in Arizona. Gotta love that thin Tucson air.
Wesleyan has been so successful because it has been a complete, practiced team—the players worked for years to mesh together and become the reigning champions. There are a lot of gaping holes in the lineup now, and it’s unlikely the Cardinals will be able to fill them all this season. We’re looking at a dramatically different team than those we’ve grow accustomed to seeing come out of close games victorious again and again.
So, with Wesleyan in a sort of limbo, who will take up the mantle in the West? Amherst lost its beloved star to MLB, but still packs a ton of talent. Middlebury and Hamilton have promising players, but it’s unlikely that they are ready to step up to the plate. Williams has been in a sort of middle tier limbo for awhile now. I’d wager that Hamilton may have an inside track on a playoff spot; the team lost only one starting player going into this year, guaranteeing a solid lineup.
The Spring of Tufts? Do the Jumbos have what it takes to win the NESCAC East this season?
The Jumbos aren’t without any losses: their lineup will have to make do without big contributors like Connor McDavitt ’15 and Bryan Egan ’15. However, Tufts’ fantastic pitchers Tim Superko ’17 and Andrew David ’16 give them a solid baseline on the field, and in a re-building season for many teams, that is a real boon. And then there’s O’Hara. Tommy O’Hara earned D3baseball.com Preseason All-America accolades following a tremendous freshman campaign last spring.
By putting faith in underclassmen—and phenomenal ones at that—early on, the Jumbos have outsmarted other NESCAC teams struggling to pull together competitive lineups.
Chemistry on the Continentals: Is Hamilton the next NESCAC powerhouse?
Hamilton lost just one starter from the lineup, and the strength of the pitching rotation returns.
Even though the Continentals will play without Alex Pachella ’15 or JJ Lane ’15, co-captain Cole Dreyfuss ’16 stood out as the real pitching MVP for the Continentals last spring. Dreyfuss assembled a 5-2 record in seven starts and struck out 41 batters. He ended up third in the conference with a 1.89 earned run average in 47.2 innings.
Overall, the rotation is promising: hard-throwing right-hander Spencer Vogelbach ’18 was the No. 4 starter in 2015 but should be in the weekend rotation this season. Vogelbach went 4-1 with one save and was sixth in the NESCAC with a 2.25 ERA, averaging 9.90 strikeouts per nine innings and fanning a total of 44 batters in 40 innings, but with the propensity to get wild at times. Last season, Finlay O’Hara ’17 also emerged as a versatile arm, earning a 2-2 record and two saves. F. O’Hara struck out 28 hitters and walked just five in 28.2 innings. Depth in the bullpen is added by Dan DePaoli ’18, who fanned 22 batters in 22.2 innings. Charlie Lynn ’18 and Mike Borek ’18 provide depth in the bullpen.
Offensively, Hamilton has fostered a dangerous core group of juniors in twins Kenny and Chris Collins ’17, designated hitter Andrew Haser ’17 and outfielder Ryan Wolfsberg ’17. Kenny Collins, one of this year’s captains, finished with 32 hits in 102 at-bats for a .314 average and scored 21 runs, while hitting six doubles and three triples. He was fourth in the NESCAC with 16 stolen bases and represented the Wellsville Nitros in the 2015 New York Collegiate Baseball League All-Star Game. Chris Collins, meanwhile, hit .309 (30-97), cracked six doubles and stole 14 bases. Haser showed great improvement last season after having an OBP below .300 in 2014. To finish off the group, Wolfsberg developed his skills in the California Collegiate League last summer after finishing in fourth in the NESCAC with a .396 batting average (36-for-91) in 2015, smacking nine doubles, three triples and four homers and driving in 25 runs. The outfielder posted a .692 slugging percentage and a .449 on-base percentage.
Second baseman Zack Becker ’16 also proved to be an incredible offensive player last season, rebounding after a disastrous sophomore campaign. He was eighth in the conference with a .365 batting average (27-for-74) and enjoyed his best season at Hamilton with five doubles and a pair of round-trippers to go with an on-base percentage of .447.
In just two weeks, the season will begin in full force. While you can never really be sure what’s going to happen in baseball, it’s certain that these questions will significantly linger throughout the spring.
When I started to put together the Power Rankings for this week, I realized something important. Not much has really changed. While we still don’t know how things are going to shake out in the East, so far things have played out predictably and we have a good idea on how good each team is. So I decided to switch things up and go back and figure out who the MVP for each team was. Then once I had those settled, I went back in and ranked each player in order of performance so far this year. Just for kicks, I put the team’s Power Ranking from two weeks ago next to it just to give you an idea of how they match up.
10. Catcher Max Araya ’16 (.317/.442/.349): Middlebury (Team Rank: 10): Admit it, you were expecting Dylan Sinnickson ’15 in this spot. However, Sinnickson has come back to earth after that earth-shattering start. He hasn’t hit a home run since Middlebury’s third game of the year and has an OBP of .286 in NESCAC games. Araya, meanwhile, has continued his year-to-year improvement and stepped into full-time catching duties with great success. Offensively, Araya leads the Panthers with 11 bases on balls (and no one else is particularly close) and generally puts the ball in play with authority. The one thing lacking from his offensive game is a bit more pop, as he has just two extra base hits on the year. But Araya really gets the nod here for his work behind the dish, where has has emerged as one of the league’s best defensive backstops.
9. Shortstop Jack Roberts ’17 (.386/.429/.542, 0 HR, 19 RBI): Williams (Team Rank: 7): As a group the Williams’ offense has taken a step back from a year ago, but that has not stopped Roberts from cementing himself as one of the better players in the league. He rarely walks, but that isn’t his role as the three hitter. Roberts fits the mold of the team’s best athlete playing shortstop given his speed has allowed him to steal five bags and propelled him to four triples, tied for the league lead. His production has slipped ever so slightly in conference, but not by an alarming amount.
8. Right Fielder Nate Pajka ’15 (.353/.434/.659, 4 HR, 15 RBI): Bates (Team Rank: 5): The fact that Pajka is ranked eighth in this list is an indication of the quality of players that are to follow. After all, Pajka is fourth in the league in slugging percentage and has 14 doubles, the most in the league. In the Bobcats’ five conference games he is getting on base at a .458 clip. There isn’t really a good knock on his play either. The only reason others are above him is that they are just a smidgeon better in a couple of areas. A hit here and there really is the difference. Pajka can hold his hat on being one of the most improved players on this list; oh and that his team has a good shot at making the playoffs.
7. Starting Pitcher Sean Meekins ’15 (2-1, 1.91 ERA, 10.36 K/9, 33.0 IP): Trinity (Team Rank: 8): Yes, we are proud of our own Nothing but NESCAC contributor, but don’t accuse us of any type of bias. I think the sub-2.00 ERA speaks for itself after all. He is striking out gobs of hitters and still working late into games, a somewhat rare and valuable combination. He had been struggling a little in his previous couple of starts before getting back on track and throwing that gem on Saturday against Bowdoin. A year ago Meekins was an average starter in what amounted to an average rotation, but in 2015 Meekins, and the staff as a whole, has raised their level of play.
6. Starting Pitcher/First Basman Soren Hanson ’16 (.326/.380/.565 and 4-0, 1.78 ERA): Colby (Team Rank: 4): Hanson get serious consideration merely for his work on the bump, and when you add in his hitting contributions it is clear how important he is to Colby. Like another pitcher we will see in a bit, all three of his team’s NESCAC wins have come in Hanson’s starts. He is hitting only .263 in conference, but he is also second in RBI over that stretch so his timely hitting makes up for it somewhat. Why don’t we see more two-way players in the NESCAC? I’m not really sure, but Hanson is the best one going this year.
5. Pitcher Sam Elias ’15 (5-0, 3 Saves, 1.94 ERA, 41.2 IP, 9.94 K/9): Wesleyan (Team Rank: 1): One of several seniors to raise his game in his final season, Elias has been pulling double duty for Wesleyan as both a starter and reliever. A year ago he started only one game but was still a big part of the Cardinals success appearing in 19 games and throwing more than 40 innings. This year he has been the best pitcher on Wesleyan, which is saying something considering Gavin Pittore ’16 and Peter Rantz ’16 have ERA’s right at 2.20. Elias, like all the other Wesleyan pitchers, certainly benefits from Wesleyan having the best defense in the league, but don’t let that diminish his accomplishments. That Elias is only fifth but Wesleyan is clearly the best team in the league to this point is just another representation of the depth the Cardinals possess.
4. Center Fielder Joe Jensen ’15 (.419/.470/.568, 1 HR, 10 RBI): Hamilton (Team Rank: 9): Jensen was the original inspiration for this list because he is the player with the most obvious disparity between his team and his own personal performance. Not that there aren’t others playing very well for Hamilton this season, but as a group the Continentals have not been able to take a step forward. Jensen has not delivered on the power that we thought would come this season after he hit a home run in his first game of the year. But he has continued to run wild on the basepaths with 14 steals which is sort of incredible when you consider that everybody knows he is going to run. Though he has come back down a little recently, Jensen is still having his finest season yet as a senior.
3. Tufts: Catcher Bryan Egan ’15 (.402/.510/.573, 2 HR, 36 RBI: Tufts (Team Rank: 3): When I was putting this list together, this was the one that I had the hardest time slotting in. Ultimately Egan landed higher than I thought he ever would. At first I thought Tommy O’Hara ’18 was a clear choice for MVP for Tufts, but then I looked again at the conference stats for Tufts and noticed that Egan had an incredible .571 AVG. Also, did I mention that Egan is a catcher who wasn’t even a starter a year ago. Even though he has not thrown many runners out, he deserves some credit for shepherding the Tufts’ staff. At the end of the day, Egan has hit his best in the games that matter the most which is why he ended up so high on this list.
2. Starting Pitcher Henry Van Zant ’15 (5-1, 1.26 ERA, 37 K, 43.0 IP): Bowdoin (Team Rank: 6): We saw a big year coming for Van Zant, but we didn’t see this type of dominance on the horizon. He leads the league in ERA, and that number gets even better when you isolate for just NESCAC games where he has an 0.82 ERA. All three of Bowdoin’s conference wins have come in games that he has started, and you can chalk up their 1-0 non-conference win over Wesleyan to his complete game shutout, too. Van Zant looks poised to follow in the steps of his older brother, Oliver Van Zant ’13 and win NESCAC Pitcher of the Year honors.
1. Center Fielder Mike Odenwaelder ’16 (.444/.521/.697, 5 HR, 23 RBI, 8 SB): Amherst Team Rank: 2): You probably saw this one coming from the beginning. Nobody else in the NESCAC has the combination of size, power, speed and whatever else it is that makes some baseball players so good. Odenwaelder is both tied for the league lead in homers and leads the league in OBP, pretty decent for a guy who has eight steals to boot. Now consider the fact that I spent 30 seconds considering putting Harry Roberson ’18 in this slot instead of Odenwaelder. Gives you an idea of the type of year that the freshman is having. Odenwaelder is a special player who you don’t see very often come through the NESCAC.
As we thought would be the case, the hierarchies of the East and West divisions look very different. While the West is owned by a couple of heavyweights, the East is a morass with teams jockeying every week for position.
Out West, Amherst and Wesleyan flexed their muscles in a big way with each team earning a sweep this weekend over Middlebury and Williams, respectively. The Amherst offense looked straight up scary against Middlebury. Williams getting swept by Wesleyan means that the Ephs now will have to win their series against Amherst to have a realistic shot at making the playoffs. Hamilton hasn’t played a NESCAC game yet, but they do not appear to have the pitching to seriously compete for a playoff spot. Amherst and Wesleyan look like they will both be headed back to the postseason in a playoff race that what will lack for drama.
Fortunately for us, the race for the second spot in the East is getting juicier by the day. Colby has jumped to the front of the line at the moment after taking two of three from Trinity. Bates and Bowdoin are right there close behind them, and the Bantams are still thinking they have a shot at the playoffs. Even Tufts will have to play well in order to keep from falling back to the pack. The East standings have Tufts and Colby at the top for now.
Starting Pitcher Gavin Pittore ’16 (Wesleyan)
In a weekend where offense ruled overall, Pittore was stellar in the second game of Wesleyan’s series. He pitched a complete seven inning game and shut down the Williams lineup completely. He allowed only one unearned run. The start drops his ERA to 2.67 for the year. A big key for Pittore is his control. He has walked only two batters per nine innings, and likes to attack hitters early in the count. In his four stars so far, he has averaged nearly seven innings which has been helpful to the Cardinals who have to rely on their starting catcher Nick Miceli ’17 as one of their top relievers. Pittore looks confident and in control so far in his junior year.
Starting Pitcher/DH Soren Hanson ’16 (Colby)
Another good pitching performance came from Hanson, who returned to play after missing the second half of Colby’s Florida trip to lead the Mules to a huge doubleheader sweep of Trinity to take the series against the Bantams. In the first game Hanson was on the mound for all seven innings and allowed no runs on only four hits and two walks. Then in the second game he went 1-3 and scored two runs to help Colby win 5-3. Hanson is one of a few two-way players in the NESCAC right now, but no team relies so heavily on them to perform as Colby does. In limited at-bats so far, Hanson has an OBP of .450. When he is in the lineup he usually bats cleanup, but on Saturday when he was pitching, Colby kept him out of the lineup. That allowed him to focus on pitching, something he did quite well.
Shortstop Matt Moser ’16 (Tufts)
We probably won’t see a better stat line for a single game than what Moser put up Saturday in a non-conference game against Brandeis. He went 5-5 with four runs, eight RBI, and three (three!) home runs. Tufts went bonkers as a team scoring 28 runs in only seven innings of play. Moser was the star, however. The junior had been enjoying a very productive but somewhat quiet season thus far with other players like Tommy O’Hara ’18 and Bryan Egan ’15 grabbing more of the hitting headlines. Now suddenly he sits in the top five in the NESCAC for a lot of different hitting categories. Unlike most of the Tufts roster, he doesn’t walk very often and swings at almost everything. Like many other shortstops, Moser has his fair share of errors, but not many other shortstops are able to hit for power like Moser can.
Williams’ Base Running
Down 7-5 entering the final inning of the third game against Wesleyan, the Ephs managed to get two runners on with two outs. Adam Dulsky ’18 singled to right and Luke Pierce ’15, the lead runner, scored to make it 7-6, but the trail runner, pinch-runner Lev Schecter ’18 was gunned out at third on a great throw from right fielder Ben Hoynes ’15. The general rule in baseball is never to make the first or third out of the inning at third base, but hard to fault Schecter in that situation. Give the credit to Hoynes for making a money throw in a pressure situation. One of the major reasons why Wesleyan is the clear favorite right now is because they have experience at every position and are not relying on underclassmen in crucial situations.
After winning the first game of their doubleheader against Bates 15-4, the Polar Bears saw their defense let them down and lost the second game 9-5 to drop to 2-3 in the NESCAC now. Four different players committed errors which led to three unearned runs. The loss for Bowdoin is a big set back for them. The Polar Bears have lost the three NESCAC games not started by Henry Van Zant ’15, and their offense has fluctuated wildly between very good and mediocre. Besides Van Zant, the rest of the Bowdoin staff relies on the defense to make plays behind them. Their defense had actually been one of the better ones in the NESCAC before yesterday, but now Bowdoin is going to have to finish strong to return to the playoffs.
The opening NESCAC weekend for Trinity confirmed that last year was not some weird fluke; the Bantams are a flawed team that has fallen back to the pack. The walk-off home run by Daniel Pidgeon ’16 in the first game against Colby looked like a huge moment, but the Bantams squandered the opportunity by dropping both games on Saturday. Their offense went cold which has been the overarching problem for Trinity. As a team Trinity has the lowest OBP and Slugging Percentage in the NESCAC. The Bantams have now lost five straight NESCAC series with their last win coming all the way back in 2013. Trinity has a huge series coming up against Tufts this weekend. They need to win at least one of those games if they want to make a push for the playoffs.
We knew all the way back in February that the snow was going to have an impact on the NESCAC schedule, and sure enough, two of the four opening series have been moved back to May. Middlebury and Williams will play in Arizona unaffected by the weather while Tufts and Bowdoin will play their games at the New England Baseball Complex in Northborough, Massachusetts. The Jumbos and Polar Bears are playing a doubleheader today before taking a couple of days off and playing the final game on Monday night.
Two to Watch
1. Starting Pitcher Tim Superko ’17 (Tufts): Three starts into the season and Superko has looked fantastic in two but got tagged in the other. One of his good starts was also against St. Joseph, who Tufts beat 20-0 so take that one with a large lump of salt. Superko’s strength is his ability to strikeout hitters. Last year, he went six innings and allowed only one run against Bowdoin in a Tufts’ win. The sophomore has some of the best pure stuff in the league. Questions about the health of Kyle Slinger ’15 and others means Superko is the only Tufts starter we know for sure will start this weekend according to Manager John Casey. That makes his start all the more important. A banged up staff needs him to go deep into his game, something that he was not great at as a freshman.
2. Outfielder Luke Pierce ’15 (Williams): The Williams offense has not gotten into gear yet mostly because of the struggles of a few key players like Pierce early on. The Ephs graduated a couple of their big boppers from a year ago, and Pierce is a more important piece than he was a year ago. Though he has one home run, his average is .217 and he is yet to draw a walk. He has only struck out three times in 23 at-bats so he is not getting overpowered or anything like that. Perhaps he has simply been putting too much pressure on himself in the early going. The slump will end soon enough, and the Ephs are hoping that this weekend is when Pierce busts out.
Williams (3-3, 0-0) vs Middlebury (0-6, 0-0): 4:00 PM Friday (Thomas Murphy ’15 vs. Eric Truss ’15) , 2:00 PM Saturday (Luke Rodino ’17 vs. Cooper Byrne ’15) , and 5:00 PM Saturday (Dan Smith ’16 vs. TBD) in Tucson, Arizona.
Expected high for Tucson tomorrow is 92 degrees. Go ahead and let that one sink in a little.
As for baseball, the Panthers are still trying to get into the win column while Williams has looked a little shaky so far. Both staffs are riddled with question marks, and Thomas Murphy ’15 is the only starter for either team that projects as an above average pitcher. Murphy won his first start after allowing one ER in seven innings, but he had to scatter nine hits along the way. Both Dan Smith ’16 and Luke Rodino ’17 struggled in their first starts, and while they should start again this weekend, other options like Nate Michalski ’17 give the Ephs some flexibility. The struggles of the Ephs pale in comparison to those of the Panther pitchers. The Middlebury team ERA is 13.92 right now. Why they are 0-6 can be summed up in that one number.
Coach Bob Smith has yet to announce his third starter, but the ball will likely be handed to first-year Rob Erickson ’18 after a positive relief appearance on Tuesday. The big righty toss seven innings of three-run ball before tiring and allowing three runs in the bottom of the ninth against Grace University. Nevertheless, if he can toss like he did over the first seven innings of that outing, Erickson has a chance to shut down the Williams offense in Game Three. That being said, there’s no guarantee that Erickson will even be tabbed the starter.
Both offenses should put up numbers, and it will be fun to see how Dylan Sinnickson ’15 hits against NESCAC pitching. In the end Williams has more to lose, if that makes sense. Dropping a game or two to Middlebury would spell deep trouble for making the playoffs. For the Panthers, the offense will have to go off in one game to overcome their pitching.
Prediction: Williams wins two of three
Projected Starters: Friday 2:30 PM (Tim Superko ’17 vs. Henry Van Zant ’15), Friday 4:30 PM ( TBD vs. Harry Ridge ’16), Monday 7:00 PM (TBD vs. Erik Jacobsen ’15)
If you get angry when the ball gets put into play and prefer when fielders simply act as cheerleaders for the pitchers, then the (potential) matchup of Superko and Van Zant is the game for you. As noted above, Superko is a strikeout whiz, and Van Zant is just as good in that department. Van Zant has the stuff to be great this year after seeing his junior year mostly wiped out by injury. Before that, he was overshadowed by his older brother Oliver Van Zant ’13, one of Bowdoin’s best pitchers in recent memory. Be assured that Van Zant will come out for this start firing gas.
Besides Superko, the other starters for Tufts are up in the air which could end up leaving a golden opportunity for Bowdoin. Harry Ridge ’16 and Erik Jacobsen ’15 both have a lot of experience and will battle the Tufts lineup. We might see Kyle Slinger ’15 in the Monday game because of the extra couple days of recovery.
The Jumbo offense has picked up pretty much where it was last year. The defining characteristic for them is how often they walk. So far, Tufts has walked 66 times while striking out only 73 times. As a team Tufts has an OBP of .449. Matt Moser ’16 is a star at shortstop with a slashline of .358/.426/.396. The one thing that Tufts does not do much is hit for power as Tommy O’Hara ’18 has their only homer all year.
After a breakout season in 2014, Chad Martin ’16 is showing his power again and has an impressive .585 slugging percentage. Peter Cimini ’16 has been slowed by a leg injury which has put the outfield positions in flux so far for Bowdoin. The best news for Bowdoin so far in the hitting department is that shortstop Sean Mullaney ’17 has an OBP of .462 after hitting below the Mendoza line last year. If he can keep that up, he combines with Aaron Rosen ’15 for one of the best middle infields in the league.
The Polar Bears are lucky to catch Tufts at this point in the season, and much of the following prediction is based off of those injuries to Tufts.
Been too busy watching basketball and avoiding the snow to remember that NESCAC baseball is in full swing at this point? You certainly were not alone. It has been easy to lose sight of everything going on down south, but we kept close tabs for you. With the NESCAC conference season starting Friday, get ready for our season predictions and other analysis coming later this week. In the meantime, here are nine things you need to know about.
1. Wesleyan has experience for days: A quick perusal of the Wesleyan statistics tells us very clearly that freshmen are not going to see much playing time. Through twelve games, the only stats accrued by freshmen are four at-bats. Besides that a returning player has played every pitch and at-bat. That ability to have exclusively upperclassmen separates the Cardinals from every other team that has to rely on some freshmen to fill crucial roles. The returning champions have every reason to be confident.
2. Cardinals have impressed: Sticking with the defending champions for our second point. As we mentioned in our season preview, Wesleyan played a challenging spring trip schedule, and overall they showed they belong with the best. Their 8-4 victory over #7 Cal Lutheran was a high water mark that brought them to 5-0 for the season. Ace Nick Cooney ’15 started and won that game for Wesleyan. Wesleyan stumbled a bit near the end of the trip and is now 8-4, but they still are the most impressive team to this point. Guy Davidson ’16 has a slashline of .395/.477/.684 to lead the offense. Wesleyan probably hasn’t hit their stride yet, and they are already pretty scary looking.
3. Dylan Sinnickson ’15 is bashing baseballs: The return of Sinnickson to the diamond is a big reason why there is a sliver of hope around the Middlebury team, and he wasted no time making an impact. In the Panthers opening doubleheader Saturday, Sinnickson went 5-9 and hit THREE home runs. Then he hit another in the Panthers first game on Sunday to tie for the league lead after only three games. The team’s pitching against him probably had no idea who he was and he likely saw some fat fastballs that he was able to eat up, but still, not many players in the NESCAC can do hit four homers in three games. To take a year off from baseball and come back hitting like that is incredible and shows the type of athlete he is.
4. Bowdoin and Trinity struggled: The two East Division teams both have their sights set on returning to the playoffs, but they need to improve on their play quickly. Bowdoin went 5-8 on their Florida trip while the Bantams went 7-5. The Bowdoin staff saw nobody pitch well and the team had a 5.58 ERA. The front of the rotation guys like Erik Jacobsen ’15 and Harry Ridge ’16 pitched decently while Henry Van Zant ’15 started only one game. Meanwhile Trinity’s problem of hitting for no power carried over to this season. As a team the Bantams slugged .357 in their 12 games and had nobody hit a single home run. The good news is that their top two pitchers Sean Meekins ’15 and Jed Robinson ’16 looked fantastic.
5. Tommy O’Hara ’18 big for Tufts: The weakness of Tufts is their lineup, but O’Hara looks like he is going to solve a good deal of that problem single-handedly. The freshman third baseman was Tufts’ best hitter on their trip to Virginia and North Carolina. He had a ridiculous .564 OBP in 42 at-bats. With a 1:1 K:BB ratio, he should be able to carry over that type of hitting to the conference season. Don’t expect him to finish with an OBP above .500, but the Illinois native will be a huge bat in the middle of the Tufts lineup that appeared a bat or two away from being elite before the season started.
6. Amherst pitching is unsettled: The big reason why the Jeffs went only 6-6 on their trip was a pitching staff that saw a lot of players auditioning for a starting role. Six different pitchers started games for the Jeffs, and John Cook ’15 started only one game in part to let others get a chance to show their stuff. Drew Fischer ’18 flashed his massive potential with 15 strikeouts in only 8.2 innings. The problem is that he also walked nine batters. He will have to do a better job of trusting his fielders and not simply trying to strike everybody out. Jackson Volle ’17 had two solid starts and might have won the third rotation start because he appears to be more consistent than the flashy Fischer.
7. Rob DiFranco ’16 emerging for Bates: The transition from reliever to starter is going well for DiFranco so far with two starts and two wins. Granted, the first start he only went two innings. He has allowed only one run in eight innings so far, and he has yet to walk an opposing batter. DiFranco only went five innings in his longest start so far so we have not seen whether he can go deep into games yet, but the early returns are promising. Combined with Will Levangie ’15 thus far, and the Bobcats rotation has been solid.
8. Hamilton sophomores stepping up: Joe Jensen ’15 has been fantastic like you would expect him to be, and the Continentals are hitting better behind as well. Chris Collins ’17, Kenny Collins ’17, Ryan Wolfsberg ’17, and Andrew Haser ’17 are all hitting .333 or better. Haser in particular has been impressive after having an OBP below .300 in 2014. Having this core group of sophomores be consistent threats in the lineup makes Hamilton a much more dangerous team to pitch against. The Continentals will get the chance to see whether it stands up against Wesleyan this weekend.
9. Remember the sample size caveat: Do not get carried away with all the results so far. Statistics tells us that through random probability some players will get hot A lot of things are going to change as we go forward. When assessing the worth of early season statistics, keep in mind Bayes’ theorem. While the idea is sort of complicated, the idea is lend more weight to events that confirm what we thought already and give pause to events that contradict what we thought. So for example, we can trust that Jensen hitting above .500 is not a fluke because we knew already that he was really freaking good at baseball.
2014 Record: 34-9 (9-3, Lost in NESCAC Championship Game, 1-2 in NCAA New England Regional)
Returning Starters: 7 (5 Position Players, 2 Pitchers)
Projected Starting Lineup (2014 Stats):
CF Connor McDavitt ’15 (.345/.461/.455, 0 HR, 28 RBI, 15 SB)
LF Cody McCallum ’16 (.226/.327/.238, 0 HR, 8 RBI, 7 SB)
DH Bryan Egan ’15 (.258/.368/.290, 0 HR, 9 RBI)
3B Tommy O’Hara ’18
SS Matt Moser ’15 (.299/.371/.422, 2 HR, 28 RBI)
1B James Howard ’15 (.280/.415/.320, 0 HR, 11 RBI)
C Nick Barker ’15 (.346/.466/.432, 1 HR, 13 RBI)
2B Tom Petry ’17 (.256/.424/.333/ 0 HR, 17 RBI)
RF Harry Brown ’16 (.200/.273/.200, 0 HR, 0 RBI)
SP Kyle Slinger ’15 (9-0, 1.18 ERA)
SP Tom Superko ’17 (4-2, 2.64 ERA)
SP Andrew David ’16 (4-3, 3.60 ERA)
Tufts’ offensive is the only aspect of their team that causes any uncertainty heading into 2015. Though the Jumbos’ .278 team average in 2014 was middle of the pack, Tufts stakes its identity on its pitching and defense, so if the offense can produce at a high level they will be very tough to beat. The middle of the order will look very different this season as Wade Hauser ’14 and Max Freccia ’14 both graduated last spring. Centerfielder Connor McDavitt ’15 enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2014 where he hit .345 with 28 RBIs and tied for the team lead with 14 doubles. McDavitt is a sure lock for the lead off spot in the Jumbos’ lineup. Nick Barker ’15 hit .345 in a part-time role last year and figures to share time behind the plate with classmate Bryan Egan ’15. James Howard ’15 figures to get quality at bats at first base after batting .280 with 18 walks over 29 starts in 2014. Matt Moser ’15 will play a key offensive role after earing All-NESCAC honors last year and batting .299 with a team leading 38 RBIs.
The Jumbos Defense is one of the best not only in the NESCAC, but also in the nation. Flashing a .967 fielding percentage a year ago, they look to continue their tradition of defensive excellence. The centerpiece of the Jumbos defense will be returning NESCAC Defensive POY McDavitt. McDavitt had just one error in 105 total chances last year and tallied five outfield assists. All-NESCAC First Team SS Moser, who helped Tufts turn 40 double plays last year, and 2B Tom Petry ’17, who had a .960 fielding percentage, figure to form one of the strongest middle infields in the NESCAC. The Jumbos will look to Barker and Egan to split time behind the plate as First Team All-NESCAC catcher Nick Cutsumpas ’14 graduated.
Like their defense, the Jumbos pitching aims to be one of the top staffs in the country. Tufts ranked seventh nationally with a 2.53 ERA last season. Anchored by the reigning NESCAC Pitcher of the Year and NEIBA and D3Baseball.com All-New England First Teamer Kyle Slinger ’15, Tufts figures to dominate their NESCAC competition again. Slinger, a pro prospect and D3baseball.com preseason All-American, went 9-0 and posted an unreal 1.18 ERA over 76 innings in 2014. Also returning to the starting rotation is reigning NESCAC Rookie of the Year Tim Superko ’17. In 2014, Superko logged 58 innings while posting a 2.64 ERA and an impressive 2.4 K/BB ratio. The Jumbos will look to replace Christian Sbily ’14, an All-NESCAC Second Team pick, with righty Andrew David ’16. The Jumbos’ bullpen will be strong once again as Tom Ryan ’15, who posted a team leading 2.8 K/BB ratio, and Willie Archibald ’15 look to shut down opponent’s offenses in the late innings and Speros Varinos ’17, who matched Ryan for the most appearances last year, could rack up a lot of saves for the Jumbos.
Storylines to Watch:
1. Can Tufts avenge their NESCAC championship loss?
After missing the conference tournament for two years in a row, the Jumbos returned with a bang by winning the East pennant and earning a berth into the Championship series. After forcing a winner-take-all game by beating Wesleyan 10-0 on the brink of elimination but ultimately dropping the finale, the Jumbos are on a mission to take back the throne. With a nationally-ranked defense and pitching staff, the Jumbos are in prime position to take home the NESCAC crown in 2015. With the reigning POY and reigning ROY returning to their starting rotation, the Jumbos aim to do some serious damage in the NESCAC.
2. What will Kyle Slinger accomplish in his senior season?
Kyle Slinger has been one of the most dominant pitchers over his career at Tufts. Last year’s performance was one for the record books as he held opposing hitters to an astonishing .174 batting average. Slinger’s previous performance lead to D3Baseball.com selecting him to be a pre-season All-American. With his impressive track record, expect Slinger to raise the bar even further this season and put up some mind-blowing stats.
3. How does the Jumbos lineup shake out?
If there is anything that can hold Tufts back this season it is the offense. Can their offense provide enough run support for its heralded starters? Can returning players such as Moser and McDavitt step up to replace last year’s seniors? Either way the Jumbos will need multiple players to step up to fill in the gap. Freshmen such as Tommy O’Hara ’18, Michael McLaughlin ’18, Christian Zazzali ’18 and Stefan White ’18 figure to get an opportunity to compete for at bats if the returners don’t produce.
Biggest Series: April 24-25 against Bates
Bates probably presents the stiffest challenge that Tufts will face in the NESCAC East, and the two teams’ strengths match up with one another, as the Bobcats figure to bang the ball around the park quite a bit this season. It will be fun to watch two of the league’s best units go after one another, and either team could be fighting for a spot in the NESCAC tournament seeing as this represents the last conference series of the regular season for both teams.