Baseball Set to Chase Third Straight Division Title
Contact: Matthew Hart
AMHERST, Mass. – The Amherst College baseball team kicks off its 2013 season this weekend with a Sunday doubleheader against regional rival Eastern Connecticut State University at the Baseball Heaven Sports Complex in Yaphank, N.Y. With their top four starting pitchers and many key lineup pieces returning from the 2012 team, the Lord Jeffs are set to chase their third straight Little Three and NESCAC West Division titles.
Amherst started its 2012 campaign with a solid 7-3 Spring Break trip to Florida, notching a sweep of Bowdoin and a big win over Pioneer Valley rival Western New England. Returning north for NESCAC play, the Jeffs won their first seven conference games, taking three straight from archrival Williams in the midst of a nine-game overall win streak.
Finishing with a 10-2 record in the NESCAC West, the Jeffs claimed their second straight division title before tough losses to Bowdoin and Williams in the conference playoffs ended Amherst’s season at 23-10 overall. The program notched its third consecutive 20-win spring under head coach Brian Hamm and its 25th straight winning season, the fifth longest streak in Division III. The Jeffs are now 69-31 (.690) under Hamm.
While the squad will miss the powerful bats of graduated stars Kevin Heller and Mike Samela, Amherst returns plenty of talent and discipline to its order with six .300 hitters back in the fold for 2013. Leading the way is 2012 NESCAC Player of the Year Bob Cook '13, who manned first base and posted a team-best .505 on-base percentage and a .380 batting average while not serving as the ace of the pitching staff. Joining Cook in the captaincy is third baseman Nolan Stewart ’13, who started all 33 games a year ago with a .343 OBP, 27 RBI and a team-best three home runs.
Also returning to the Jeff infield is shortstop Taiki Kasuga ’14, who posted a .315 average and .392 OBP out of the two-spot in the order while ranking second on the team with 32 RBI. Dan Pillitteri ’13 will likely see time at both first and second base after making the most of 31 at-bats in 2012, hitting .355 with a .412 OBP and .484 slugging percentage, the highest figure among all Jeff returners.
Meanwhile, Kasuga’s double-play partner from a year ago, Brendon Hardin ’15, moves to the outfield after a standout rookie season in which he started every game and posted a .345/.435/.425 line, ranking second on the squad with 29 runs scored. Quinn Saunders-Kolberg ’14 will also see outfield action when not on the mound after the junior posted an impressive .364/.442/.455 line in 44 at-bats last year.
Rounding out the group of outfield returners is Alex Hero ’14, who held down center field and the leadoff spot for Amherst last year with .349/.400/.421 percentages, a team-best seven stolen bases, and the most hits among Jeff returners (44). Tyler Jacobs ’15 is also in the mix after starting 23 games – primarily in right – and ranking among the team’s top five in runs scored (25) and doubles (6).
Across the lineup as well as the pitching staff, Hamm will also look for contributions from a strong first-year class, with many of the rookies fighting for starting roles and significant playing time.
Cook returns as Amherst’s ace after starting seven games in 2012 and ranking among the league’s top hurlers with a 2.12 ERA and four complete games. With a 5-0 record and 46.2 innings pitched, the righty struck out a team-best 33 batters while surrendering no homers and walking only seven, heading a staff that handed out the fewest free passes (92) in the NESCAC.
Meanwhile, John Cook ’15 returns to join his older brother in the rotation after an impressive rookie campaign in which the lefty ranked second on the squad with a 3.92 ERA while giving up no long-balls and only 11 total extra-base hits in 41.1 innings. Fellow southpaw Fred Shepard ’14 will look to build on a solid summer spent pitching for Wareham of the prestigious Cape Cod League after the Amherst native posted a 5-1 mark for the Jeffs as a sophomore, hurling 42.0 innings with a strong 32/11 K/BB ratio.
Meanwhile, right-hander Dylan Driscoll ’14 also returns to the staff after starting seven games in 2012 with a 4.17 ERA, 20 strikeouts, and only seven walks in 41.0 innings. Along with righty Charles Nutter ’15, Saunders-Kolberg, a lefty, will also fight for a rotation spot after limited but effective relief work in 2012 (6 IP, 1 ER, 7K).
Cam Windham ’14 will take up the closer’s role for Amherst in 2012 after posting similar numbers to Saunders-Kolberg last year (5.2 IP, 1 ER, 5K/0BB). Adam Medoff ’13 also returns to the pen after serving as one of Amherst’s top long relievers in 2012 with a team-high 14 appearances and just four extra-base hits allowed in 21.0 innings of relief work.
After Sunday’s opening twinbill with regional rival ECSU, Amherst heads to Florida next Saturday for a 12-game spring break schedule that will feature four doubleheaders and clashes with nationally-ranked squads Western New England (No. 14) and Ramapo (17). The Jeffs open their home schedule at Memorial Field against non-conference foe Keene State on Wednesday, March 27 at 3:30 p.m. Amherst will travel to MIT the following day and host Brandeis on Friday, March 29 before opening NESCAC play at home with a weekend series against Middlebury on April 5-6. The Jeffs round out their home slate against rivals Williams (April 12) and Wesleyan (April 27).