Amherst Looks Poised for Successful 2014
Contact: Mike O'Brien
AMHERST, Mass. – Coming off one of its best seasons in program history, the Amherst College baseball team looks poised for another successful campaign in 2014 when they begin play Saturday, Mar. 15 against Vassar in Winter Haven, Fla. Despite the departure of 2013 NESCAC Pitcher of the Year Bob Cook, the Jeffs return a bevy of talent and experience from last year’s conference championship team that made a deep run in the NCAA tournament and set a program record with 27 wins.
Amherst started its 2013 season with another impressive showing during its spring break trip in Florida, posting a 7-4 mark to open the year. Upon the team’s arrival to the northeast, the Jeffs went on a tear and won nine straight games for the second consecutive season. It began with a 7-0 win over Brandeis followed by a commanding 11-0 victory over Middlebury in the team’s NESCAC opener. Amherst went on to win six straight conference games, including a three-game weekend sweep of archrival Williams to begin league play with a 7-0 mark.
Finishing the regular season with a 9-3 NESCAC West record, the Jeffs earned the No. 2 seed at the NESCAC Championships. Following wins over Trinity (8-5) and Wesleyan (5-4, 13 inn.), Amherst earned its fifth finals appearance. The Jeffs would face the Cardinals once again and cruised to a 7-0 victory en route to their third NESCAC title and first since 2005.
Earning a trip to the NCAA tournament, Amherst proceeded to upset No. 22 Rowan (10-8) and No. 3 SUNY Cortland (6-3) in the New York Regional to advance to the eight-team double elimination. With the win over SUNY Cortland, the Jeffs set a program record with 27 wins, but the team’s NCAA run fell short with losses to No. 7 Ithaca (3-2) and Cortland (3-1) to finish the season at 27-13 overall. The impressive postseason play was the second-longest run in program history after the 1999 team fell in the finals of the New England Regional. With 27 wins, Amherst notched its fourth consecutive 20-win spring under head coach Brian Hamm and its 26th straight winning season. The Jeffs are now 96-44 (.686) under Hamm.
The Jeffs lose two of its top sluggers to graduation, Nolan Stewart and 2012 NESCAC Player of the Year Bob Cook, but returns a talented lineup that features eight hitters who batted .300 or above a year ago. The impressive offense that finished among the league’s top-three in 10 statistical categories is led by co-captain Taiki Kasuga ’14. The senior ranked third on the team in batting average last season with a .338 (51-for-151) mark and finished second on the team in doubles (7). Kasuga excelled at advancing the runners and tied for third most in the league in sacrifice flys (4). The speedy shortstop also finished fifth in the NESCAC with 14 stolen bases. Although he has performed exceptionally well at the plate, Kasuga is known for his defense and was honored by the league last year with NESCAC Defensive Player of the Year laurels. He finished third in the conference with 124 assists and was named a Second Team All-NESCAC selection.
Mike Odenwaelder '16 will move to the pitching rotation this spring but is the team’s leading candidate for the designated hitter spot after a stellar 2013 campaign. In his first season in Purple & White, Odenwaelder was named the NESCAC Rookie of the Year and earned first team accolades. He was the only first-year player on the team. The sophomore outfielder started all 37 games he played in last year while batting .331 (43-for-130) and posting a .538 slugging percentage, third best in the conference. Odenwaelder also tied for a league-high five triples and led the team with three home runs, 25 runs batted in and 35 runs scored. Fellow outfielder and classmate Jonathan Ramirez returns with the highest batting average from a year ago. Ramirez ranked second on the team and ninth in the league with a .360 (32-for-89) batting average as a first-year. He also recorded a .472 slugging percentage and .430 on-base percentage, tying a team-high with eight doubles. As a first-year, Ramirez started 24 games and appeared in 34.
Three-year starter Alex Hero ’14 returns to the outfield for his final season as a Jeff. Hero ranked fourth on the team last year with a .333 (33-for-99) batting average and finished second on the squad with a .475 slugging percentage while connecting on six doubles. Hero also ran well on the bases, stealing 12 overall.
Also hitting at least .300 with 100 or more at-bats was junior Brendon Hardin and sophomores Conner Gunn and Andrew Vandini. Hardin will move back to the infield after spending last season in the outfield. The junior batted .304 as a sophomore and finished second on the team with 13 steals. Gunn made 39 appearances last year, most on the team, and started 37 games. As a first-year catcher, Gunn hit .328 (44-for-134), finished second on the squad with 23 RBI and caught nine runners stealing (tied for fourth in the NESCAC). Vandini started at second-base in 2013 and hit .311 (22-for-103) with a .388 slugging percentage and .385 on-base mark. The first-year infielder tied for second in the league with six sacrifice bunts.
Eric West ’15 made the best of his 66 at-bats last year. The junior infielder played 20 games and started all 20, recording 24 hits for a .364 batting average. With four doubles, two triples, one home run and 15 RBI, West registered a .530 slugging percentage and .434 on-base percentage. Tyler Jacobs ’15 returns to the Jeffs lineup with high expectations after missing the entire 2013 season due to injury.
Hamm is also excited to see contributions from another strong first-year class throughout the lineup and pitching rotation, with many of the rookies battling for starting roles and significant playing time.
The Jeffs will have a difficult task of replacing Cook, the 2013 NESCAC Pitcher of the Year, but return a very talented veteran staff that is ready for the challenge. Cook played professional baseball for the Alpine (Texas) Cowboys of the Independent Pecos League upon graduation and will be joining the staff this spring as the team’s pitching coach. Looking to fill the void left by Cook will be co-captain Dylan Driscoll ’14 who will serve as the team’s ace this spring. Driscoll enjoyed a stellar junior season in which he led the NESCAC in wins (8). In 9 starts, the junior went 8-1 and posted a 2.76 earned run average. Only Cook pitched more innings than Driscoll, who threw 62.0 innings in 11 appearances. Extremely efficient from the mound, he ranked fourth in the nation in walks allowed per nine innings (0.58) and eighth in strikeout-to-walk ratio (8.5). His four walks were the second lowest in the NESCAC.
Fellow classmate Fred Shepard returns to the rotation with plenty of experience. The senior southpaw posted a 3.24 ERA a year ago and tied for third in the league with 52 strikeouts. He made 10 starts in 2013, tied for most in the NESCAC, and threw a complete game shutout in Amherst’s 7-0 win against Wesleyan in the conference championship.
Hamm also looks forward to the return of lefty John Cook ’15. The junior posted a 6-2 record last season in 11 appearances and ranked second on the team in strikeouts (43). In 42.0 innings, he allowed just 38 hits and his six wins tied for second most in the league. Also vying for a spot in the starting rotation this season will be Odenwaelder, who will compete for a top-three starting position.
Four seniors will be coming out of the bullpen for Amherst. Eric Kotin ’14 looks to build on a strong junior campaign in which he tied for the team-lead in saves (2) and made 20 appearances (second most in the NESCAC) with a 3.38 ERA and 2-1 record. Kotin allowed just one extra-base hit in 24.0 innings of relief work. Cam Windham ’14 brings plenty of experience to the bullpen after posting two saves a year ago and Robert Cahill ’14 and Quinn Saunders-Kolberg ’14 look to make a difference in their final seasons. Amherst will also rely on sophomores Riley Streit and Keenan Szulik. Streit had an impressive first-year campaign in which he allowed just one earned run (1.42 ERA) in 6.1 IP. Szulik looks to be the Jeffs top long reliever out of the bullpen and came up big for Amherst last year in the NESCAC Championship. Tied at 4-4 in the 13th inning against Wesleyan, Szulik entered the game with runners on first and second with zero outs. He retired the next three batters (fly out, ground out, fly out) as the Jeffs walked off in the bottom of the inning to earn a trip to the championship game.
Amherst opens the season with a difficult 12-game spring break schedule that features No. 2 Southern Maine, who went to the 2013 NCAA championship game. The Jeffs return north for a road game against Keene State and will host Hamilton on Mar. 28 for their first home game of the season. The three-game NESCAC series is followed by another home game against Springfield before the Jeffs split its series against archrival Williams. The first of three games will be played on the road followed by a twinbill at Memorial Field. Amherst plays five non-conference games from Apr. 9 to Apr. 17 before returning to NESCAC action Apr. 18 when they head to Middlebury. After splitting the three-game series against Little Three rival Wesleyan, the Jeffs conclude the regular season with home games against Wheaton (Apr. 30) and Colby (May 3).