Jeffs Coming Off Highest Win Total Since 1999

Contact: Justin Long

Amherst returns all 25 of its home runs from a year ago.

View a photo slideshow from Amherst's first days of practice.

The Lord Jeffs began the 2011 season with a 6-4 record, but they returned north and went on an 18-3 tear to establish themselves as one of the best teams in New England. Amherst swept Williams College en route to the Little Three title and a 10-2 record in the NESCAC West, giving the Jeffs the top seed in the conference tournament for the first time since 2005. Amherst’s season would come to an abrupt halt, however, thanks to a pair of one-run losses to Bowdoin.

Amherst finished with a 25-10 record to mark its highest win total since 1999, but the Jeffs fell short of a selection to the NCAA Tournament. The program’s stretch of 24 consecutive winning seasons—which dates back to 1988—marks the fifth longest streak in Division III, as the Jeffs trail only Southern Maine (27), Johns Hopkins (33), Marietta (50) and Ithaca (73) on the impressive list. Amherst is 46-21 in its past two years (.687), including a staggering 32-10 in April and May (.762).

Entering his third season as Amherst’s head coach, Brian Hamm is excited about his mix of new and veteran players. “We have a lot of experience among our juniors and seniors, but we will also look to our sophomores, who gained valuable game experience last season. Similar to last year, we will rely on freshmen in key positions to contribute in games. I am very proud of the group—we have much to look forward to this season.”

The Lord Jeffs won’t have to wait long for another shot at Bowdoin, as the two teams are scheduled to meet in a doubleheader on Mar. 18 at the RussMatt Central Florida Invitational. Two days later Amherst will go up against Western New England, which finished at 42-11 last year after posting a 4-0 record at the NCAA Regional Championships en route to a College World Series berth. Also highlighting the southern swing is a matchup with Ramapo College, another NCAA Tournament team that went 30-14 in 2011 and is already off to a 4-0 start.

Amherst’s northern schedule has a new twist this year, with the Jeffs scheduled to take on Dartmouth College on Wednesday, Mar. 28 in New Hampshire. The Big Green posted a 30-12 record a year ago as a member of the Ivy League, which will give Amherst a chance to prepare for its challenging regional schedule with some of the best competition the NCAA has to offer.

Amherst lowered its ERA from 5.44 (2010) to 4.05 (2011).

Conference action will begin that weekend when Hamilton comes to town for a three-game series. The NESCAC was extremely competitive in 2011, and this year should be no different. Tufts is the two-time defending champion, but Bowdoin and Trinity could become the new teams to beat in the East. The West Division will be equally as strong with Wesleyan  returning its top three pitchers, Middlebury building on last year’s tournament appearance, and Williams welcoming back 20 of 24 wins on the mound.

Returning to the postseason won’t be easy for Amherst after losing two pitching aces and a pair of starting outfielders to graduation. Looking to lead this group to its first-ever NESCAC title are captains Kevin Heller ’12 (OF), Mike Samela ’12 (C) and Thomas Wheeler ’12 (DH/C), who are part of a senior class that has posted a 62-34 record in its first three seasons (.646). Last year those three players combined for 135 hits, 88 runs, 95 RBIs, 30 doubles and 17 homers, as each slugged above .550.

The captains will once again be looked upon to lead an Amherst lineup that returns five of its six top hitters, each of whom batted .338 or higher a year ago. The Jeffs also welcome back their top six RBI leaders and all 25 of their home runs, as Amherst led the NESCAC in slugging percentage (.449) and homers in 2011. The Lord Jeffs were also among the league leaders in batting average (.316, 3rd) and runs scored (276, 2nd), having crossed the plate at least five times in 29 of 35 games.

Last year Coach Hamm’s two areas of focus were to play better team defense and to pitch well on a more consistent basis. The Lord Jeffs responded by bumping their fielding percentage from .940 in 2010 (9th NESCAC) to .959 in 2011 (2nd), notably playing two error-free games during a three-game set with Williams. Amherst also turned a league-best 34 double plays last year, marking a big jump from the previous season (23).

Amherst also made improvements on the mound last year, dropping its ERA from 5.44 (2010) to 4.05 (2011) and its opponents’ batting average from .290 to .262. The Lord Jeffs allowed 10 or more runs six times in 2010, but the only time that happened last season was during a 14-12 loss to Grinnell in Florida.

Although Amherst saw improvements in the pitching department in 2011, the Jeffs are going to need to rebuild their starting rotation after losing 14 wins, seven saves, two All-NESCAC selections and 47 percent of its innings pitched to graduation. Fred Shepard ’14 had a promising rookie season (4-3, 4.80 ERA, 45.0 IP) and was successful this past summer in the New England Collegiate Baseball League, but no other returning pitcher made more than three starts or threw more than 30 innings in 2011.

Amherst ranked second in the NESCAC in fielding
percentage in 2011 (.959) after ranking 9th in 2010 (.940).

Joining the pitching staff are first-years Andrew Hurn (RHP), Charles Nutter (RHP), Jack Falvey (RHP) and John Cook (LHP). Also representing the Class of 2015 are first-years Louis Hunt (C), Robert Lucido (C), Thomas Savage (OF), Brendon Hardin (2B/SS), Eric West (1B/3B) and Tyler Jacobs (UT).

Joining Coach Hamm on the staff for a fourth season is Bryan Adamski, who was named the program’s pitching coach and top assistant during the offseason. Adamski was a standout pitcher and infielder for nearby UMass and played several successful years in the prestigious NECBL and Cape Code leagues. “I am excited for Bryan to take over the pitching coach responsibilities,” Hamm says. “He has been the backbone of our coaching staff and a big part of our success during the past three years.”

Hamm also welcomes Brian Merrigan ’11 and Tony Dismukes to the staff. Merrigan was a four-year starter and .307 lifetime hitter for the Lord Jeffs, notably setting career marks last year in batting average (.371), slugging (.443) and on-base percentage (.461). A native of Montgomery, Ala., Dismukes brings 18 years of coaching and playing experience to the Lord Jeffs. "We’re excited to have Coaches Merrigan and Dismukes join the staff," Hamm says. "Brian has great energy and brings an important perspective. Coach Dismukes brings many playing and coaching experiences of his own. He has a great passion for the game and he loves coaching; we’re fortunate to have him.”

“We're also excited that Coaches McNamara (NY Mets) and Allar (Cornell) took the next steps in their careers, and we will miss their contributions."