Game Changers: Key Players for the Final NESCAC Weekend

As the final weekend series approach, the races for playoff bids are tightening up. Bates and Tufts battle for the top rank in the East while Amherst and Middlebury currently sit atop the West. Wesleyan, however can get back in the running for a spot in the postseason with a series win. Some seniors will say goodbye to NESCAC play and others will continue to fight for a championship. Check out the key players to watch for in this final NESCAC regular season weekend.

Bates @ Tufts

Bates: Connor Speed ‘18

Connor Speed ’18 (Courtesy of Colby Athletics)

Speed’s record does not even come close to representing the impressive season he has put together. Bates, despite a Division leading 7-2 record, have failed to give Speed the run support he deserves, resulting in a 1-3 record for the Bobcats’ number one starter. Speed has thrown a team high 35.2 innings in 7 starts. In these appearances, he has allowed only 10 earned runs for a 2.52 ERA. He has also struck out 33 batters, which stands at 6th in the league. The junior has compiled a solid season thus far, but his biggest start of the year is this weekend against the strong Tufts team only one game behind Bates in the standings. Speed looks to reproduce his outing against Bowdoin in which he went 8 innings strong giving up only 2 earned runs. His start will be critical for the Bobcats if they want to maintain their number one seed for the postseason.

Tufts: Ian Kinney ‘18

Ian Kinney ’18 (Courtesy of Tufts Athletics)

The Tufts pitching staff has been highlighted by reigning Pitcher of the Year Speros Varinos ‘17, who is likely to defend his title this spring. Behind him are pitchers Tim Superko and R.J. Hall, who have also put together solid seasons. However, a major key in the Jumbos success, is reliever Ian Kinney. He has consistently come out of the bullpen whenever needed and pitched well. Tied in 5th with 12 appearances, only one behind the league lead, Kinney has solidified himself as one of the best closers in the NESCAC. In these 12 appearances, Kinney has put together 4 saves, also one behind the league lead. He has pitched 18.1 innings with a 2.95 ERA and 21 strikeouts giving an outstanding 10.31 K/9 ratio. In this highly competitive weekend series, Tufts will need their number one reliever to continue his success. With much on the line, look for Coach Casey to use Kinney in tough situations and to close out tight games.

Colby @ Bowdoin

Colby: Ryder Arsenault ‘17

Ryder Arsenault ’17 (Courtesy of Colby Athletics)

In a lineup that has only hit .257 as a team, the Mules are looking for any bat to get hot. Arsenault, leading the team in at bats, has the potential to be that bat. Having reached base in six consecutive games, the lineup looks toward their senior leader to continue his streak in the series against Bowdoin. While his stats so far this season don’t necessarily pop out to the naked eye, Arsenault has shown his versatility throughout the year. His 109 at bats not only lead the team, but is second in the Conference, showing his durability. Additionally, while hitting a modest .275, Arsenault also stands second in the league for Sacrifice Flies. Also, even with all his plate appearances, the center fielder has only hit into one double play. Overall, Arsenault has done a little bit of everything for this struggling Colby offense. If he can pick it up, the Mules may be able to rally around their senior and score some runs against Bowdoin.

 Bowdoin: Sawyer Billings ‘18

Sawyer Billings ’18 (Courtesy of Bowdoin Athletics)

Billings has quietly put together a solid year at the plate despite the team hitting .259. Having played in 21 of the team’s 26 games, the utility player has hit .313 in 64 at bats. From those plate appearances, he has scored 9 runs, one behind the team lead as well as team leading 8 doubles. The Polar Bears hope that Billings can replicate his performance against Trinity this upcoming series against Colby. The junior went 5-9 with 4 runs and 5 RBI’s against the Bantams, while hitting 4 of his season total of 8 doubles. These at bats contributed heavily in the Bowdoin sweep over their opponent. A similar trend occurred against Tufts; if Billings hits well, the Polar Bears come out victorious. In their two loses, he went 0-5, but in the team’s win, the utility player went 2-4 with a run scored. Bowdoin hopes that Billings has himself a big weekend as they look to win the series.

Williams @ Hamilton

Williams: Jack Cloud ‘17

Jack Cloud ’17 (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

Kellen Hatheway has gotten all the attention after his Rookie of the Year performance last season and now his bid for NESCAC Player of the Year. However, Cloud has been nothing short of excellent all season as well. The outfielder in his final season has put together 89 at bats in the two-hole resulting in a .337 average. He has scored 25 runs, or 15% of the teams total this season. For in-conference games, his 13 runs lead the league. Cloud has also shown speed on the base paths, with team leading 7 steals and 2 triples. He has shown consistency too, as the outfielder has reached base in 20 of the 22 games he has appeared in this season, getting at least one hit in 17 of them. Despite being eliminated from playoff contention, Williams looks to win the final NESCAC series of the year. If Cloud’s success continues, they should be able to do so. In terms of extra motivation, the senior will look to put his final stamp on NESCAC play this weekend against division opponent Hamilton.

 Hamilton: Finlay O’Hara ‘17

Finlay O’Hara ’17 (Courtesy of Hamilton Athletics)

Finlay O’Hara has put together an impressive year, proving that he and fellow starter Dan DePaoli ’18 are one of the most dominant starting duos in the NESCAC. He has eight appearances with six starts totaling 36 innings exactly on the season so far, showing his versatility as a key arm for the Hamilton staff. For instance, he made a relief appearance in game 1 against Amherst in last weekend’s series, and then made the next day. His six starts have resulted in only a 3-2 record, but his ERA is a low 2.50. Not a strikeout pitcher, O’Hara has used his defense to get him out of jams. Without any chance for a playoff bid, Hamilton will play the rest of the season for seniors such as O’Hara in this upcoming series. In his last season on the bump, the senior looks to continue his success in his final NESCAC weekend start.

Amherst @ Wesleyan

Amherst: Zach Horwitz ‘20

Zach Horwitz ’20 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Amherst is currently tied for first in the tough NESCAC West Division and can claim sole position of the one-seed with a sweep of Wesleyan. However, if they are swept, the team loses any shot of a bid and eliminated from contention. And the key player for this team is a freshman. Horwitz, despite being a rookie, has stepped up this year for Amherst. The team was looking for arms after successful veteran Jackson Volle ’17 and Horwitz did just that. Having pitched 26 innings (second to Volle), Horwitz has gone 2-0 in two starts with nine total appearances. The lefty has gained the trust of Coach Hamm, who will need him in this crucial weekend. Horwitz has done more than just pitch though. Also a first baseman, he has compiled 30 at bats and including a homerun and a triple. The rookie has proven he can contribute to the team in multiple ways, all of which will be needed this weekend. Horwitz’s success can drive this Amherst team right into the postseason.

 Wesleyan: Matt Jeye ‘18

Matt Jeye ’18 (Courtesy of Wesleyan Athletics)

Wesleyan’s offense has failed to live up to expectations this season. After dominating NESCAC pitchers last season and returning key bats, the Cardinals have only hit .283 this spring. However, Matt Jeye ’18 has consistently given power to the heart of the lineup. In 102 at bats so far, Jeye leads the team in both triples and homeruns. His homerun total is second among NESCAC hitters. However, what stands out most is Jeye’s ability to knock in runs. His total of 28 RBI’s is team leading by 8 and 3rd in the conference. Pitchers must be careful with Jeye at the plate as he easily has the power to get in scoring position or send home a run. The outfielder has accumulated 32 hits total which gives him an average of .314. His slugging percentage has risen to .480. Wesleyan needs to win the series this weekend to still have a chance to earn a postseason spot. To do so, the Cardinals will have to rely on Jeye’s bat to lead the offense against a tough Amherst squad.