Spring Teams Ready for Pivotal NESCAC Weekend

Currently eighth in the NESCAC, 18th-ranked Amherst (4-3, 1-3) will be looking to climb the standings when 16th-ranked Williams (5-4, 2-3) comes to town on Saturday for a 12 p.m. matchup on Gooding Field. The Lord Jeffs won 13 consecutive games in this rivalry until the Ephs pulled off a miraculous comeback last year in Williamstown. Amherst held an 8-3 lead with only eight minutes to play, but the hosts scored the next five goals before finding the game winner with 60 seconds on the clock.

Last year’s outcome marked the second time in as many years neither team managed to score 10 goals, and this Saturday could feature much of the same with the Ephs (9.9 gpg) and Jeffs (8.4 gpg) ranking 9th and 10th in the NESCAC in scoring offense. Amherst boasts the conference’s third lowest goals-against average (7.75) and Williams features the reigning NESCAC Player of the Year in goalie Julia Schreiber ’11, which could result in particularly low scoring this Saturday. Schreiber’s .564 save percentage ranks second among NESCAC goalies, but she will have to find an answer for Amherst’s Marta Randall ’12, who has been one of the top goal scorers thus far.

A loss wouldn’t necessarily send either team into panic mode, as Williams stormed through last year’s NESCAC Championship as the No. 7 seed en route to the program’s first conference title. The NESCAC bested its own record by placing eight teams in this week’s IWLCA Division III Poll, with fourth-ranked Trinity leading the pack at 8-0 overall and 5-0 in the conference. The Lord Jeffs have plenty of tough tests ahead, as they still have to face 8th-ranked Colby and 9th-ranked Middlebury before closing out their regular season against the Bantams.

Twelfth-ranked Amherst (8-1, 4-1) is coming off one of the biggest wins in program history, but the Lord Jeffs will need to stay sharp as they have been set up perfectly for a textbook let-down game. Amherst holds a significant edge over Williams (1-6, 1-4) on paper, but statistics and records are thrown out the window when a rivalry of this magnitude is in play. Amherst is 3-2 against Williams in the past five meetings, including a 7-5 result that went the Jeffs’ way last year thanks to 10 saves from Sam Jakimo ’12 and two goals by Evan Redwood ’12, who also finished with a team-high six ground balls.

Amherst has strung together eight consecutive wins since opening the season with a 13-9 loss to Tufts, which is currently the top-ranked team in Division III at 8-0. Williams, meanwhile, has been out-scored 57-28 during its current five-game skid, as the Ephs are coming off an 11-2 setback to Connecticut College. The Jeffs (12.1 gpg) are scoring at nearly twice the rate of Williams (6.2 gpg) and also hold the edge on defense. Saturday will feature a good faceoff battle between Amherst’s Duncan Morrissey ’14 (.508) and the Ephs’ Corey Jacobs ’11 (.509), who are neck-and-neck in the statistical rankings.

With Tufts taking on Trinity this Saturday in a battle between the only two teams yet to suffer a conference loss, Amherst would move into a tie for second place in the standings with a win over the Ephs. The Jeffs can fall no lower than a tie for third this weekend, while Williams is looking to break away from a four-way tie for seventh. Saturday’s game between the Jeffs and Ephs is set to begin at 1 p.m. on Renzie Lamb Field.

After Amherst (9-4, 0-0) hosts Middlebury (6-4, 3-0) Friday at 4 p.m., the two teams will close out their season series Saturday with a doubleheader beginning at noon on Memorial Field. The Panthers established themselves as the team to beat after sweeping Williams College in a three-game NESCAC West series played in Arizona, while Amherst flexed its muscles in the conference by sweeping Bowdoin in a non-conference doubleheader last weekend. Elsewhere in the NESCAC, Wesleyan and Williams will be squaring off in what is a pivotal three-game series for the Ephs, who are looking for their first win in the West division.

Amherst has taken at least two of three from Middlebury in every series dating back to 2000, picking up a sweep in 2001, 2003, 2005 and 2009. The Panthers played the role of spoiler last year, though, with their 17-7 win in the series opener knocking the Jeffs from playoff contention. The Jeffs would rebound by closing out their season with five consecutive victories, including results of 8-6 and 8-2 against Middlebury. Bob Cook ’13 went 7-for-11 (.636) against Middlebury in last year’s series, while Thomas Wheeler ’12 was 7-for-12 (.583) with a homer and six RBIs. Ryan Healy ’11 pitched brilliantly in the series finale, as he surrendered only three hits and did not allow an earned run in nine innings of work.

Middlebury is out-scoring opponents by a 55-15 margin during its current four-game win streak, which includes a 9-0 win over Williams. Thomas Rafferty ’13 leads the offense with a .475 batting average, while Nick Angstman ’11 highlights the pitching staff with a 2-0 record and a 1.93 ERA. Countering the Panthers’ explosive offense will be an Amherst team that ranks second in the NESCAC in ERA (3.96) and fielding percentage (.954), averages that have helped the Jeffs win five of their past six. Kevin Heller ’12 and Scott Shaffer ’11 are each riding a six-game hitting streak, while Cook is slugging .652 with eight RBIs in his past six outings.

Amherst (10-8, 2-0) will travel to take on Wesleyan (7-11, 1-2) Friday at 5 p.m. before hosting the Cardinals Saturday at noon in a NESCAC West doubleheader. The defending conference champions returned all three of their All-NESCAC honorees from a team that finished at 24-18-1 a year ago, but they are 4-11 since opening the 2011 season with three consecutive wins. Last year Amherst earned a 7-6 win in the series opener before Wesleyan took the next two by scores of 9-4 and 8-2.

Wesleyan is batting .321 as a team but is struggling with a 4.88 ERA and .337 opponents’ batting average. Talia Bernstein ’11 paces the Cardinal offense with a .448 clip, while Chrissy Bello ’12 is close behind at .411 with two homers and 26 RBIs. Reilly Horan ’13 and Carolyn Miller ’14 are each batting .362 for Amherst, with Miller and Theresa Kelley ’13 accounting for seven of the Jeffs’ eight home runs. Kelley continues to dominate opposing hitters, as she enters the weekend with a 1.83 ERA while holding batters to a .210 average.

The Jeffs will then look to finish a series sweep of Hamilton when they host the Continentals Sunday at 2 p.m. in a makeup game. Amherst needed only five innings to earn an 11-1 win over Hamilton in last Sunday’s first game, but the nightcap would require some late-game heroics. Trailing 3-2 in the bottom of the eighth, Miller quickly eliminated the drama by belting a leadoff home run over the fence in left field. Kelley later tripled with two outs, allowing Annemarie Iker ’12 to pick up the game-winning RBI with a single to the gap in left center.

This weekend will be the most difficult of the regular season for fourth-ranked Amherst (21-1, 1-0), which will look to remain undefeated in conference play when two nationally-ranked NESCAC teams come to campus. After hosting 14th-ranked Bowdoin (6-2, 2-0) Saturday at 11 a.m., the Lord Jeffs will take on 9th-ranked Williams (4-1, 0-0) Sunday at 1 p.m. Amherst is 4-0 since returning from its West Coast road trip, which concluded with a 6-3 loss to Claremont, the third-ranked team in Division III.

Amherst was favored against Bowdoin in last year’s regular season meeting, but the Polar Bears nearly pulled off the upset by winning three singles matches after picking up one point in doubles play. Highlighting the Polar Bear lineup will be Stephen Sullivan ’11, the ITA’s fourth-ranked singles player in the Northeast. The Jeffs feature five of the top 20 players in the region, including newcomers Luis Rattenhuber ’13 (#6) and Joey Fritz ’14 (#14).

Amherst’s 5-4 win over Williams in the 2008 conference tournament marked the program’s first victory against the Ephs since 1994, but the Jeffs are 5-1 against their rivals in the past six meetings. Amherst picked up a 7-2 win in last year’s regular-season match, but Williams responded with a 5-3 upset in the NESCAC Championship semifinals. The Jeffs would get the last laugh, however, thanks to a 5-2 win in the NCAA Tournament. The Ephs feature the Northeast’s top-ranked singles player in Felix Sun ’13, but Amherst holds a significant edge in doubles play with two of the region’s top four pairs, including No. 2 Wes Waterman ’12 and Moritz Koenig ’11.