Jeffs Set for NESCAC Championship Tournament
Contact: Matthew Hart
AMHERST, Mass. – The Amherst College baseball team begins its pursuit of the program’s first NESCAC title since 2005 on Friday as the Lord Jeffs return to the conference postseason for the third consecutive year. The second seed out of the West Division, Amherst kicks off play at the four-team, double-elimination tournament against the East’s top seed, Trinity, in a 2:30 p.m. matchup at Beehive Field in New Britain, Conn. For a full weekend schedule, see the table at the bottom of this page.
Matchup: West No. 2 Amherst vs. East No. 1 Trinity, Friday, May 10, 2:30 p.m.
Site: Beehive Field, New Britain, Conn. Beehive Field is located next to New Britain Stadium, home of the New Britain Rock Cats. For directions, click here.
Live Coverage: Tournament host Wesleyan University will provide a live audio broadcast of the game. Amherst Sports Info will also be on hand and provide live blogging of the action.
The Lord Jeffs (22-11, 9-3 NESCAC West) are making their ninth overall appearance in the NESCAC Championship since the current format began in 2001. Over that span, Amherst has compiled a 13-13 record in tournament play, capturing back-to-back titles in 2004 and 2005 but only reaching the third day of competition on one occasion since (2008). The Jeffs are 6-8 in playoff matchups against this year’s field, owning a 5-5 mark in tournament contests with Trinity and a 1-3 record against Bowdoin. Amherst and Wesleyan have never met in the conference playoffs.
This year’s Lord Jeff squad raced to a 19-6 record and a 7-0 start to its conference slate but will be looking to recapture its early-season form after going just 3-5 over the last two weeks. Amherst has faced some of its stiffest competition down the stretch, dropping two of three and conceding playoff hosting rights to Wesleyan before a setback at Division I Dartmouth and a pair of losses at regionally-ranked Eastern Connecticut State. In their final regular season doubleheader, the Jeffs regained some momentum, sweeping NESCAC East foe Colby, 5-1 and 8-3.
Pitching has been instrumental in Amherst’s success in 2013, with the Jeffs trailing only Bowdoin with a 3.22 team earned run average, the program’s lowest mark since 2006. Leading the staff is senior righty Bob Cook ’13, the national leader in ERA (0.52) and WHIP (0.74) as of May 1. Never allowing more than one earned run in a start this season, the senior has struck out 32 batters while walking only five in 51.2 innings pitched. In his one postseason start of 2012, Cook tossed 8.2 innings against Bowdoin, surrendering two runs for a no-decision before the Jeffs eventually fell, 3-2, in 11 innings.
Amherst boasts numerous quality arms behind Cook, led by No. 2 starter Dylan Driscoll ’14, who takes a 7-0 record and 2.17 ERA into the postseason. The righty’s command has been pinpoint all season, leading to 29 strikeouts and only three walks in 49.2 innings pitched. Meanwhile, lefty Fred Shepard ’14 has posted a 3.71 ERA, ranking among the conference leaders with 47 strikeouts while walking only seven in 43.2 innings of work. John Cook ’15 (5-2, 4.25) and Charles Nutter ’15 (1-1, 5.24) have seen time in both starting and long-relief roles while the rubber-armed Eric Kotin ’14 (19 appearances, 3.22 ERA) and Adam Medoff ’13 (2.61 ERA, 17 strikeouts in 10.1 IP) have anchored the Jeff bullpen.
The Amherst offense has backed the staff with another year of solid hitting, as the Jeffs enter the postseason batting .321 as a team with a NESCAC-best .408 slugging percentage and a .390 team on-base percentage which matches Trinity just below Wesleyan (.391) atop the league.
On the left side of the infield, veterans Taiki Kasuga ’14 and Nolan Stewart ’13 have been rock solid, hitting .352 and .351, respectively, while Kasuga leads the squad in hits (43) and stolen bases (14-for-14) and Stewart has posted a terrific .434 OBP, only striking out eight times in 97 at-bats. Conner Gunn ’16 has taken over behind the plate, posting a .387 OBP and tying for the team lead with 19 RBIs while fellow rookie Andrew Vandini '16 (.312/.398/.400) has earned increased playing time at second and third, driving in 17 runs over 80 at-bats. Finally, Bob Cook has recently returned to first base duties while not pitching and has caught fire at the plate, reaching base in nine straight games and hitting .500 (12-for-24) over the span while upping his team-leading on-base percentage to .467 on the year.
Meanwhile, right fielder Mike Odenwaelder ’16 has made a strong case for the NESCAC’s Rookie of the Year award, leading the conference with a .573 slugging percentage while hitting .369 with two homers, 19 RBIs, and 10 steals along with team bests in runs (30), doubles (7) and triples (4). In center, Brendon Hardin ’15 (.306/.372/.352) has driven in 17 runs while also swiping 13 bags and scoring 23 times. Alex Hero ’14 (.343/.356/.529, 2 HR, 16 RBI, 11 SB) has been dangerous with the stick in 70 at-bats while Jonathan Ramirez ’16 may be Amherst’s best-kept secret as the first-year has earned increased playing time, batting .400 with a .463 OBP, .517 SLG and nine steals in 60 at-bats.
The Bantams (20-17, 8-4 NESCAC East) enter the tournament with a NESCAC-best four titles and a 19-8 (.704) overall record in championship play. The defending conference champions have hardly dominated in 2013, however, suffering a three-game mid-April sweep at the hands of Tufts before losing four straight in doubleheaders with Brandeis and Wesleyan to close out the regular season. Still, Trinity earned the East Division’s top seed, matching Bowdoin’s 8-4 conference record but taking two of three from the Polar Bears in head-to-head competition.
Seniors anchor the Bantam offense, as first baseman Joe Papa ’13 (.383/.490/.565) leads the conference in OBP and right fielder Alex Almeida ’13 (.375/.442/.500) has been a spark in the leadoff spot, pacing the squad in hits (54), runs (37), doubles (14) and stolen bases (10-for-10). Shortstop Stephen Rogers ’13 (.250/.363/.477) is a power threat, leading the conference with five homers and 33 RBIs while outfielders Scott Huley ’15 (.379/.507/.466) and Marc Crowley ’13 (.338/.423/.446) have made the most of their playing time, logging 58 and 65 at-bats, respectively.
The Bantam pitching staff enters the postseason with a 4.50 team ERA and 144 walks on the year, most among postseason qualifiers. Peter Burrows ’14 (2-2, 3.13), John Meuchner ’16 (2-3, 3.25) and Sean Meekins '15 (4-1, 3.38) have been Trinity’s primary starters while Ben Goldberg ’13 is 5-2 with a 2.54 ERA in 10 appearances (four starts).
The Polar Bears (23-13, 8-4 NESCAC East) are making their fourth consecutive championship appearance, the league’s longest active streak, but have yet to bring home a title, finishing as runners-up each of the last three years. With an 8-12 (.400) overall record in tournament play, this year’s Bowdoin squad will look to turn the tide on the strength of its pitching. The Polar Bears posted a 13-game win streak in April and enter the weekend with a conference-best 3.04 team ERA and an impressive 254 strikeouts to only 62 walks.
Leading the staff is righty Oliver Van Zant '13, whose 1.12 ERA trails only Bob Cook while his 54 strikeouts in 48 innings lead the conference. Like the Amherst ace, Van Zant has a younger brother who holds his own on the rubber, as Henry Van Zant ’15 has logged a squad best 52.0 innings, going 5-2 with a 2.94 ERA and 47 strikeouts. Christian Martin ’14 (6-0, 1.93) has been even stronger in his eight starts while Harry Ridge ’16 (5-2, 3.51) rounds out the rotation. Dave Zabinksy ’15 has been the Polar Bears’ top reliever, posting a 0.90 ERA while collecting a pair of saves in 12 total appearances.
The Bowdoin offense has hit at a .280 clip with a solid .362 OBP. Shortstop Aaron Rosen ’15 (.353/.450/.422) leads the way while outfielder John Lefeber ’14 (.315/.385/.378) has a team-best 40 hits and third baseman Sam Canales ’15 (.306/.361/.370) leads the squad with 18 RBIs. Outfielder Timothy McGarry ’13 has set the table well with a .424 OBP and team-best 16 stolen bases.
Hosting the NESCAC Championship for the first time, the Cardinals (23-13-1, 9-3 NESCAC West) will look to improve on a 2-8 all-time record in tournament play. Wesleyan has won seven of its last eight games entering the weekend, taking two of three from Amherst to secure the West Division title then sweeping Trinity last Saturday, 8-6 and 6-4. The Cardinals boast the NESCAC’s top offense, leading the league in batting average (.327), on-base percentage (.391), runs (264), hits (431), RBI (235) and fewest strikeouts (160) while the pitching staff ranks fourth with a 3.71 ERA.
Second baseman Andrew Yin ’15 sparks the lineup, hitting a conference-best .396 with a school-record 63 hits. Also driving in 31 runs on the year and turning in a remarkable 29-game hit streak, Yin is one of three Cardinals among the league’s top 10 in on-base percentage at .440. Center fielder Donnie Cimino ’15 (.383/.457/.468) ranks third in the league in hitting while leading the team with 32 RBIs while DH Chris Bonti ’13 (.354/.446/.439), first baseman Sam Goodwin-Boyd ’15 (.362/.412/.571), and outfielders Jonathan Dennett ’15 (.358/.409/.457) and Steve Moran ’13 (.361/.392/.396) have all been key cogs in the Cardinal order.
Meanwhile, ace righty Jeff Blout ’14 ranks fourth in the conference with a 1.66 ERA, going 5-2 and fanning 43 in 48.2 innings. Nick Cooney ’15 (6-1, 2.36) and Sam Elias ’15 (2.49, 43.1 IP, 3 SV) are also among the league’s top arms, with Cooney striking out 51 over 49.2 innings and Elias starring mainly in a long-relief role. Andrew Hove ’15 has also been strong out of the pen, posting a 1.38 ERA in nine appearances (13.0 IP).
2013 NESCAC Baseball Championship