Laying the Groundwork: The Historic Run of the Jolly Jeffs

By Matthew Hart

AMHERST, Mass. – Tension started to build in the Holiday Inn lobby as the clock neared 9 p.m.

"He said we had to get him the exam by nine, no later."

Sending iPhone pictures of the pages was not going to work. Too blurry.

"Well at least it would show that we tried."

"I’d probably be better off if he can’t read my work anyway."

The top of the hour came and went, and finally the front desk agreed to help. Twenty minutes later, 60 pages worth of 300-level economics finals had been faxed from Auburn, N.Y. to Amherst, Mass.

The night before a big game is usually reserved for pasta dinners, movie-watching, and an early, often restless night’s sleep.

Not for the Amherst College baseball team. Not during the 2013 postseason.

Tyler Jacobs '15 takes a final at the NCAA TournamentAs the Jeffs’ Cinderella run through the NCAA New York Regional Tournament coincided with the spring semester’s final exam period, it wasn’t just the handful of economics students forced to multitask. Whenever the team wasn’t on the baseball diamond, everything from research papers to data analyses occupied the ubiquitous laptops of the young men in purple and white sweatshirts and gym shorts.

In total, they took 28 exams and completed 38 papers remotely during the course of their five-day stay at the regional tournament. Three student-athletes were forced to miss a decisive game, driving four and half hours back to campus for a final before turning around and rejoining the team for the next day’s contest.

Yet facing a double-headed barrage of physical and mental exhaustion, the Jeffs put together a run for the record books in May of 2013. Setting a new single-season benchmark for wins, they brought home the program’s first NESCAC title in eight years. Less than 48 hours later, the textbooks, laptops, and equipment bags were back on the Peter Pan charter, bound for a rustic ballpark in a rustbelt town where the little school from the no-love NESCAC took down a pair of national powers before coming a few tough breaks away from playing for a trip to the Division III World Series.

And while May’s accomplishments are impressive enough, the story of the 2013 Jeffs goes back much further. Back to the bitter disappointment of self-destruction in the 2011 and 2012 NESCAC playoffs, back to a dissected baseball-turned-voodoo-doll that epitomized a goofy new calm, back to the arrival of a senior class determined to set a winning tone for a new era in program history.

***

The Amherst College baseball program is more than 150 years old. Since Amherst and Williams played the sport’s first intercollegiate contest in 1859, two head coaches have presided over more than half of the team’s storied history. When Bill Thurston took over for Paul Eckley in 1966, it had been 42 years since a new hand had filled out the Amherst lineup card. When Brian Hamm took over for Thurston in 2010, it had been 44. With Thurston retiring as the college’s winningest coach in any sport, Hamm jumped from assistant to interim head coach and was joined by a rookie class featuring Bob Cook, Adam Medoff, Dan Pillitteri, and Nolan Stewart.

“My fate was really aligned with their success,” Hamm recalled. “We had to do the dance between not changing too much from what Coach Thurston left – because he left an incredibly successful program and system – but tweaking it a little bit for this new generation of players and my own coaching style. This senior group was able to help us do that in a big way.”

Hamm is rightfully wary of comparing eras in program history, but his got off to an undeniably strong start. In his first three seasons, the Jeffs went a combined 69-31, tying for the second-most wins over a three-year span in team history. Rising above rivals Williams, Wesleyan, and Middlebury, he guided Amherst to back-to-back NESCAC West Division and Little Three titles in 2011 and 2012.

Bob Cook '13But his teams had little hardware to show for their efforts. Postseason success eluded the Jeffs. The 2010 team narrowly missed the four-team conference playoffs despite a 21-11 season which saw Cook, Pillitteri, and Stewart each hit over .340 as first-years, Cook earning All-NESCAC honors thanks to a ridiculous .456/.489/.633 batting line as a rookie shortstop.

Continuing the trend of recruiting impact first-years, the Jeffs welcomed a Class of 2014 featuring Alex Hero, Taiki Kasuga, and Fred Shepard for the 2011 season. Despite down years at the plate from Cook and Stewart, the team secured tournament hosting rights with its first division title since 2005. But the Jeffs came three outs short of a trip to the conference final, failing to hold a 4-3 lead and falling victim to a game-tying Bowdoin rally in the ninth inning before the Polar Bears walked off with the win in the 10th, their second one-run triumph over Amherst in as many days.

The demons struck again in 2012. With the versatile Cook transitioning into the role of ace starter and earning NESCAC Player of the Year honors, the Jeffs won another division crown, but drew Bowdoin again for their opening tournament game. Leading 2-1 after eight thanks to a stellar start from Cook, déjà vu set in, as the Polar Bears tied it in the ninth then pushed across the go-ahead tally against Medoff in the 11th, winning 3-2 before a deflated Amherst saw its season end the next day with a 9-3 loss to Williams.

***
 
Fast forward nearly a year and the 2013 Jeffs found themselves in eerily familiar territory. Once again, first-years were making an immediate impact in the lineup, with outfielders Mike Odenwaelder and Jonathan Ramirez, infielder Andrew Vandini, and catcher Conner Gunn earning regular at-bats. Once again, another solid Florida trip led into another red-hot month of April. Once again, Wesleyan was also keeping pace in the division and the Little Three rivals entered the final weekend of the conference season with their three-game series set to decide the playoffs’ top seed and host.

The Jeffs notched a trio of high-scoring wins over the Cardinals in 2012, but they came up against a different Wesleyan beast in 2013. With Nick Cooney outdueling Cook and the Cardinals walking off as 2-1 winners in the thrilling Friday contest in Middletown, Amherst returned home for the Saturday twinbill needing a sweep to keep its division title hopes alive.

On April 27, Senior Day at Memorial Field, the 2013 script finally made its first serious deviation from those of 2011 and 2012. With Amherst unable to touch Wesleyan starter Jeff Blout in the seven-inning opener, the Cardinals clinched the West Division and Little Three titles with a 3-0 triumph. In telling fashion, however, the Jeffs put the setback behind them, recovering after blowing a 5-0 lead in the nightcap to win 6-5 on Gunn’s walk-off single.

“It was a great series in terms of competition,” Hamm recalled. “To Wesleyan’s credit, they outplayed us, so at the end of it we didn’t feel heartbroken as much as disappointed in our performance, impressed at how well Wesleyan had played, and hopeful that we’d get another crack at them.”

The Jeffs didn’t know it at the time, but losing the division title would become a blessing in disguise, a mindset-shifting turn of events that brought on a nothing-to-lose attitude absent from the past two teams which entered postseason play as favorites. And so, despite losing at Division I Dartmouth and dropping both ends of a doubleheader at regional power Eastern Connecticut State the next week, the team entered the postseason in strong spirits after a twinbill sweep of its cross-division tune-up at Colby.

“At the end of the season we design our schedule so we play a number of really good teams, which sets us up to play in the tournament,” said Hamm. “If you look at that stretch and it looks like we weren’t playing well – we were playing fine, we were just playing really good teams. That set us up to be successful in the NESCAC tournament. Our schedule this year had a lot to do with our success in the postseason.”

Alex Hero '14So too did their newfound calm. Perhaps it was the fact that goofball juniors Hero, Kasuga, and Cam Windham were now upperclassmen in positions of leadership. Perhaps it was the physical reminder of silliness they had before every at-bat, the result of Tyler Jacobs ’15 casually pulling apart a worn-out, unraveling baseball at practice one day. The red stitching, gray yarn, and cork was soon sculpted into “Carlos,” the team’s self-described voodoo doll and a fixture in the Jeffs’ on-deck circle. A little odd? Sure. Different? Definitely. And for this team, when it came time for the conference playoffs, different meant good.

“We went in the past two years having won the Little Three and the West Division,” said Hamm. “This year we won neither, so we just said, ‘let’s see what happens.’ It was significant in a huge way, and it carried over to our mentality in the NCAA Tournament. We just showed up and played.”

***

It would start with a comeback. Squaring off with East Division champion Trinity, junior starter Dylan Driscoll could not continue a terrific season, yielding three runs in the third and another in the fourth as the Bantams took a 4-2 lead. But John Cook ’15 picked up the Jeffs in long relief, tossing 5.2 innings of one-run ball and giving the offense time to rally. With Vandini going 3-for-4 and Bob Cook doubling and tripling, rookie catcher Dave Cunningham ’16 delivered the game-tying sacrifice fly and the go-ahead single as Amherst pulled out an 8-5 upset.

“We beat Trinity and knew that we’d beaten a really good team,” said Hamm. “To hit the ball well throughout the game, matched with an outstanding pitching performance and really good defense – it just made for a really good feeling to take into the Wesleyan game. We started riding momentum that really didn’t end until Ithaca.”

Most great playoff runs feature a defining game, a win which takes on greater significance after the fact. In both practical and symbolic ways, Amherst’s postseason rematch with Wesleyan on May 11 became the game of the year.

As Trinity simultaneously ousted Bowdoin in the losers’ bracket, the stage was set for the Jeffs to exorcise both their playoff and Little Three demons. With rain in the forecast for later in the day at Wesleyan’s Andrus Field, the matchup of Friday’s winners carried huge significance in the double-elimination tournament. Win and escape the rain. Win and save your pitching staff from two nine-inning games in one day. Win and draw one victory away from a conference title with two chances to secure it on Sunday.

Although his ace had battled illness all week, Hamm gave Bob Cook the ball after his younger brother had put the team in the winners’ bracket. Also hitting cleanup and eventually going 3-for-5, the senior gutted his way through six innings, surrendering multiple earned runs for the first time all season as Wesleyan built a 3-2 lead with the Jeff bats struggling to disrupt another strong effort from Blout.

The Cardinals tacked on an insurance run in the seventh as Blout continued to escape trouble. But Wesleyan head coach Mark Woodworth sent his junior ace back out for the eighth and the Jeffs finally broke through. After Cook drove a two-out single, Odenwaelder cemented his case for the NESCAC Rookie of the Year award with perhaps the biggest blast in a postseason full of clutch performances. Having earned the league’s respect after a spring spent mashing fastballs, Odenwaelder got a curveball from Blout, but the pitch stayed up and the big rightfielder from tiny Goshen, Conn. wasn’t fooled, crushing a game-tying home run well past the leftfield fence.

Perhaps it took a huge hit from a rookie who hadn’t lived through the pain of 2011 and 2012. Perhaps it just took a strong kid mashing a bad pitch. Perhaps it was the blue stuffed Smurf that the soft-spoken Odenwaelder had recently picked up at a supermarket and installed as a companion to Carlos at all team functions. But in the mystical world of baseball superstition and fortune, something shifted after Odenwaelder’s blast.

Still, it would take a few innings for the rest of the Jeff hitters to get the memo, as Amherst loaded the bases with no outs in the ninth but couldn’t score, then proceeded to strand a pair of runners in both the 10th and 11th.

In the meantime, however, Medoff narrowly beat back his own playoff ghosts, escaping bases-loaded jams unscathed in both the ninth and 10th. Next on the list of heroes came rookie relievers Riley Streit and Keenan Szulik, who had combined for less than 10 innings pitched during the regular season but answered the call in extra innings. With the score still 4-4 in the top of the 13th, Szulik entered with two on and no out and retired three straight, winding up the winning pitcher after a bottom half befitting of the marathon game of wasted chances.

The decisive surge started with a senior. Pillitteri, who had entered as a defensive replacement in the 10th, wore a pitch from Cardinal reliever Jimmy Hill. Woodworth stuck with Hill after he hit Vandini as well, and Stewart executed under serious pressure, dropping down a two-strike sacrifice bunt to bring up the rookie Ramirez, now the leadoff hitter after entering the season a long shot for playing time.

Continuing to trust in small-ball, Hamm put on the safety squeeze. Ramirez fouled off his first bunt, drawing the Cardinal infield in. Hamm kept faith in the play, but Hill pitched well wide and catcher Eric Jones snapped a throw to third. Bringing new meaning to the term “a game of inches,” Pillitteri remarkably dove around the tag by a hair. Seconds later, he was mobbed by his teammates as Ramirez’s third squeeze attempt dribbled back toward the mound and Hill could not make a play in time, sending the Jeffs spilling onto the field in celebration. After being eliminated in extra innings two years straight, late-game success had finally found Amherst.

“It was an example of everything that we were working toward this year,” Hamm said of the win. “We capitalized on momentum, we manufactured runs, we played really good defense, pitched well, and then executed small ball. Talk about a team effort, that’s about as big of a team effort as you can get. We played without putting pressure on ourselves. We had very similar situations in the NESCAC Tournament the past two years, and both times we made mistakes that cost us.”

But something was different about these Jeffs, and with Wesleyan depleting its pitching staff further to win the ensuing losers’ bracket final, it would not take long on Sunday for the significance of the 13-inning triumph to become apparent.

Shepard gave up four runs in 2012’s season-ending loss to Williams, but his first postseason appearance since then would be a different story. The junior lefty was masterful in the title tilt, going the distance and scattering six hits and one walk while striking out four. The offense took care of the rest, quickly jumping on an overworked Cooney with two runs in the first and another in the second. The rookies started the party in earnest in the fifth as Odenwaelder and Gunn each ripped two-run singles to make it 7-0. Between Odenwaelder’s homer the day before and Gunn going 7-for-8 to close the tournament, the pair of first-years were innocent stars during a weekend which saw two years of postseason failure washed away.

SeniorsWith Shepard in control en route to a shutout, the Jeffs could enjoy this one free of drama. In poetic fashion, the final out in the ninth came on a force from Stewart at third to Pillitteri at second as Amherst’s seniors finally got over the hump, adding NESCAC Champions to a newly-achieved label as the winningest class in program history.

“We made a lot of adjustments in how we approached the playoffs this time around,” Hamm reflected. “We went into the playoffs with much more calm about us, and it turned into resolve once we started playing well.”

It was far from their minds as they mobbed each other near second base under a now-sunny Connecticut sky, just an afterthought as they roared along to Pitbull’s “Don’t Stop the Party” on the bus ride home, an aptly-titled song which Hero had ensured stayed stuck in each of their heads all weekend. Sunday was a day of celebration for the Jeffs, but the NCAA Tournament was waiting and they had a few more heads to turn.

***

“We’re going to the Cape!” was a refrain echoed several times in the aftermath of the NESCAC championship. Each year the NCAA’s eight-team New England Regional was hosted at Whitehouse Field in Harwich, Mass., home of the Cape Cod Baseball League’s Harwich Mariners. It was where the 1999 Amherst team made the program’s deepest postseason run, falling to Brandeis in the regional final. It was where the 2004 and 2005 NESCAC champion squads bowed out quickly with a pair of “two-and-through” finishes.

So it came as a major surprise when the NCAA sent Amherst – one of nine qualifying New England teams – west instead of east on selection Monday. Rather than taking on the likes of Southern Maine and Western New England, perennial powerhouses of their own region, the Jeffs would be outsiders in the Empire State, shipped to Auburn as the sixth seed of eight for the New York Regional hosted by top-seeded Ithaca College.

Of course, the program was hardly expecting royal treatment on the national stage. With the NESCAC forbidding organized fall play by its teams and putting strict limits on spring scheduling, the league’s programs rarely post impressive enough win totals to land in the national rankings or merit at-large consideration for the NCAA Tournament.

There was little time to form opinions about the selection committee’s decisions, however. The team would have barely 24 hours between the announcement and its Tuesday departure for upstate New York. Twenty-four hours in which to recover from one tournament and prepare for another. Twenty-four hours in which to arrange an entire finals’ worth of academic responsibilities, from begging professors to allow for remote administration of their exams to collecting last-minute materials for term papers.

Ready or not, the Jeffs piled back into the Peter Pan at noon on Tuesday, May 14. Five hours later, they emerged into the hazy late-afternoon sun of New York’s Finger Lakes region, one of eight teams arriving in a town best known as the site of the maximum-security Auburn State Correctional Facility.

With the prison’s barbed wire just a long stone’s throw from the Holiday Inn parking lot, it would have been easy for the Jeffs to feel a world away from the manicured lawns of Amherst. But after the short drive over to Falcon Park, home of the Class A New York-Penn League’s Auburn Doubledays, when they pulled on their spikes and took to the cozy diamond for a short practice beneath billboards for Coca-Cola and Wegman’s Grocery, the distractions vanished. For an hour at least, the only thing that mattered was preparing for the next night’s game against Rowan University.

Nolan Stewart '13And what a game it was. The 22nd-ranked New Jersey Athletic Conference champions were seeded third in the regional, making their fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. Mainstays on the national scene, Rowan entered with 58 tournament wins in its history. Amherst? Five. But the Smurf-talking Jeffs were anything but intimidated, jumping all over Rowan ace Steven Melchiorre and taking an 8-3 lead thanks to a solid start from John Cook.

The sophomore ran into trouble in the sixth, however, and Driscoll couldn’t bail him out as Rowan roared back to tie it at eight. Undeterred, Amherst just kept on hitting, with Bob Cook ripping a two-out go-ahead single in the eighth and the Jeffs tacking on an insurance tally in the ninth for a 10-8 triumph. With Ramirez and Stewart leading the charge, Amherst piled 20 hits on a Rowan staff which entered the game posting a 3.59 team ERA.

Collegiate baseball features double-elimination tournaments for a reason, however. One impressive win does not a champion make. Even the best pitchers are susceptible to off-nights; even the most inconsistent hitters can get hot at the right time. For Amherst to prove it belonged in the national spotlight, it would need another strong effort on Thursday in its winners’ bracket showdown with SUNY Cortland, the regional’s second seed and its second team ranked among the nation’s top 10.

Bob Cook had his own case to make as he took the mound beneath the brilliant lights of a warm late-spring evening. The senior had led the nation in earned run average for nearly all of the 2013 season, his mark staying consistently below one as he racked up quality start after quality start. But much of his success had come in a conference rarely recognized by the national audience. He had never faced an opponent ranked as highly as the Red Dragons, regional powerhouses for the past decade with 11 World Series trips to their name and a gaudy .338/.426/.458 team batting line for the 2013 season.

Bob Cook '13While Cook was touched for a run in the top of the first, after the bottom half of the frame, there was no doubt that he and his teammates belonged. Facing Kyle Barkley, the State University of New York Athletic Conference’s Pitcher of the Year, Ramirez, Kasuga, Hero, and Cook ripped four straight singles to open the contest. Three outs later, Amherst led 4-1 and Cook returned to the hill with an extra-large portion of confidence.

Scattering single runs in the fifth and seventh, the big righty cooled off the Red Dragons, holding Cortland to just five hits while fanning five and walking two. With Amherst tacking on insurance runs in the third and fourth, the night’s better team was never in question. Despite giving up his first home run of the season in the seventh, Cook grew more dominant as the game progressed, yielding just one other baserunner over the final four innings as the Jeffs marched to a 6-3 statement win, their program-record 27th of the season.

More importantly to the young men in purple, however, they were one win away from the driver’s seat. If they could keep the run going against Ithaca on Friday, they would find themselves in the same enviable position they held after the 13-inning win over Wesleyan: one win from a tournament title, with two chances to attain it. The inside track to Appleton, Wis. and the College World Series was there for the taking.

***

Yet as the length of their stay in Auburn grew longer, so too did their early mornings and late nights of studying. Fully entrenched in the regional tournament, they were also fully entrenched in finals.

“We had guys up at 5:30 in the morning writing papers,” recalled Hamm. “We had guys going to bed at 1 a.m. We had guys taking a three-hour exam and then going and playing in a game three hours later.”

To top it off, for the winners’ bracket final against Ithaca, three Jeffs would not be playing in the 4:30 p.m. game, including Vandini, who had gone 3-for-8 with four runs scored during the tournament while playing 13 assists worth of smooth, errorless defense at second base. That morning, Assistant Athletics Director Billy McBride drove the trio all the way back to Amherst for an exam which they were not permitted to complete remotely. Push had come to shove and academics had come first.

An absent second baseman was hardly the only compelling storyline entering the crucial tilt. The likely starting pitchers were Shepard for Amherst and senior Jasper Adams for Ithaca. Both hurlers had grown up in the town of Amherst itself, pitching against one another in youth leagues, joining forces in high school, then heading separate ways as Adams chose the Bombers over D-I options and Shepard caught the Jeffs’ eyes with a strong postgraduate year at Phillips Academy Andover. Remarkably, pitching rotations aligned and come Friday, May 17, the former Amherst Regional Hurricanes would duel for a spot in the regional finals.

The reunions didn’t stop there, either. Just a year earlier, Amherst hitting coach Mike Armstrong had been an assistant varsity and head junior varsity coach for the Bombers. A former catcher and 2010 graduate of Ithaca, he had been an big part of the team’s return to the top of the region, with a pair of regular-season wins over Cortland in 2013 signifying the shift of power. Many of the Bomber hitters facing Shepard were former pupils of Armstrong. The game would be tinged with bittersweet for him regardless of its result.

Fred Shepard '14With a 2-2 score after three innings, it was anyone’s contest, a nail-biting collision of powerful forces. Shepard was strong but not dominant, and Ithaca grabbed a lead in the fourth on a one-out double, balk, and All-American shortstop Tim Locastro’s run-scoring bloop single, an agonizing flare which seemed to hang in the air for minutes before falling into no-man’s land in shallow right-center.

Reliever Charles Nutter ’15 replaced Shepard in the sixth and shut down the Bomber bats for the remainder, but Adams was too much for Amherst, keeping the Jeff hitters off balance with an impressive arsenal of off-speed pitches before closer Jimmy Wagner slammed the door in the eighth and ninth. After raking 31 hits over the tournament’s first two games, Amherst managed just four in the 3-2 setback.

But there was still baseball left to be played. After the Red Dragons eliminated an upstart RPI squad Friday night, the Jeffs just needed another win over Cortland in Saturday’s losers’ bracket final to earn a rematch with Ithaca. Amherst would then need two wins on Sunday to take the region and Ithaca just one, but the Jeffs had already proven capable of standing toe-to-toe with the Empire State’s elite. If they could get hot once again, anything was still possible.

Having lost his rotation spot to John Cook earlier in the tournament, it would now be Driscoll tasked with pitching the Jeffs on as the fourth starter. The junior had started his season as a dominant co-ace alongside Cook and carried a sparkling 8-0 record into the contest, but his first loss of the season would be Amherst’s last. The righty was strong, giving up just two runs – one earned – over seven innings, but Cortland rookie Brandon Serio was stronger, with Amherst mustering only an unearned run in the fifth before Cody Petre closed out a 3-1 triumph for the Red Dragons.

Amherst’s ninth inning looked a bit like the fateful eighth of the 13-inning Wesleyan win that was still just one long week in the rearview. A leadoff single by Kasuga and a two-out hit from Gunn breathed hope into the Jeffs. The tying run was aboard and Odenwaelder was stepping to the plate, memories of his game-tying blast at Wesleyan undoubtedly forcing their way into teammates’ heads. But there would be no heroics for the rookie this time. The first-year outfielder’s brilliant season had been so instrumental to Amherst’s success, but in the growth-inspiring cruelty of sport, he had gone cold at the plate in Auburn, and it was a groundout to second off of his bat which spelled the end of the team’s tremendous run.

***

In the end, it was not the pressure of the big stage which doomed the Jeffs in the losses to Ithaca and Cortland. They still paid their respects to Carlos before at-bats, still kept the mood light on the field and off of it, with Hero fortuitously finished with exams and determined to distract as many teammates as possible. The young men were only human, however, and when stress bombards from too many sides for too long, even the most resilient are stretched thin.

“The exams caught up with us,” said Hamm. “When you add up the last week of classes, the NESCAC Tournament, getting everything together in the span of 24 hours to take exams and go on the road for a week to play baseball, then playing a game every day – and when you’re not playing, writing papers, studying, or taking an exam – by the end of that two-and-a-half week process, we were just exhausted. I don’t think pressure had anything to do with it. I don’t think we realized how close we were. I wish we had.”

For those who bore witness, it’s impossible not to wonder what could have been, impossible not to play out a different ending in which unlucky bounces and costly mistakes vanish and the run continues. But after the long ride home, after Ithaca’s solid fourth-place showing in Appleton, after the seniors graduated and Cook collected All-Region and Academic All-Amierca honors then started a new adventure as a professional player, the significance of Amherst’s triumphs in 2013 eclipsed the disappointment of the final days.

NESCAC ChampionsIn winning a NESCAC title after two years of postseason underachievement, the program sent off its seniors as battle-tested and deserving champions. In trading punches and knocking out some of the nation’s best in New York, the Jeffs showed the country that it’s a mistake to pigeonhole the NESCAC as baseball-weak. In beating back their own playoff demons with a voodoo doll and unceasing calm, they proved to themselves that the right attitude can make all the difference.

“It was an affirmation of what we knew all along,” said Hamm of the run. “Not only that we belonged in the NCAA Tournament, but that we could get to the College World Series. It was great to win a NESCAC Championship and to win at the NCAA Tournament for their own right, but also for what it sets us up to do in the future. These past four years laid the groundwork for what we’ll be as a program five, 10, 15, 20 years down the road.”

For the fourth straight year, Amherst baseball placed more student-athletes on the NESCAC All-Academic list than any other program in the conference. For the fourth straight year, it won more than 65 percent of its games. The 2013 Jeffs battled finals and past failure, emerging owners of a NESCAC title and a head-turning NCAA run.

If developing model student-athletes is your long-term goal, that’s some iron-strong groundwork.