Looking to return to the playoffs in 2012, the Jeffs have begun their season a solid 10-5 following a 7-3 Florida trip and a prompt three-game sweep of Hamilton.
At the RussMatt Central Florida Invitational, the Jeffs suffered an immediate 4-2 setback against the Univ. of Mass.-Dartmouth, their bats stifled by eight strong innings from Karney Boff. Undeterred, however, they responded by taking a pair of games from NESCAC rival Bowdoin. In those contests, the Jeffs received strong pitching performances from Bob Cook ’13 and John Cook ’15, respectively, holding the Polar Bears to a combined total of just four runs. Senior DH Kevin Heller went five-for-seven on the day to lead the offensive attack for the Jeffs, who never trailed Bowdoin at any point in the doubleheader.
The Jeffs proceeded by cruising to two more victories, first a 16-2 drubbing of Ogelthorpe followed by an 11-6 win over Western New England. Amherst did hit a low point against 24th-ranked Ramapo; while the Jeffs contended for the better part of the game, the bullpen relinquished three runs in the seventh inning and nine in the eighth, leading to a mercy-shortened 14-1 defeat. Still, the Jeffs took three of their last four games of the trip, including a pair of wins over Allegheny College.
When they returned to New England, the Jeffs took on the challenge of a Div. I squad as they squared off against Dartmouth on March 28. Although Amherst dropped the game, 5-2, they held their own, as senior captain Mike Samela’s two-run single in the eighth off Dartmouth’s Mike Dodakian nearly kickstarted a big inning. In the pitching department, too, the Jeffs received encouraging signs: after 4 2/3 innings by Hayden Metz ’12, Adam Medoff ’13 and Dylan Joyce ’12 combined for 3 1/3 innings of scoreless relief.
Standing at 7-4, the Jeffs were clearly in attack mode when they began NESCAC play. On Friday, March 30, Amherst pounded Hamilton, 13-1, with the help of six errors by the Continentals. The Jeffs recorded 15 hits on the afternoon; Samela went three-for-three, while Bob Cook and shortstop Taiki Kasuga ’14 drove in three runs apiece. As the Jeffs roughed up Continentals’ starter Ryan Crawford to the tune of 11 runs in four innings, John Cook allowed just one run over five innings, notching his third win of the season.
In Saturday (March 31)’s doubleheader, the Jeffs picked up right where they left off the previous evening. Bob Cook and Joyce combined to quiet the Hamilton bats over seven innings, relinquishing a meager two hits while their offense once again gave them plenty of breathing room. Centerfielder Alex Hero ’14 was three-for-four out of the leadoff spot, as was Heller, who also picked up three RBI’s. It was another sloppy defensive affair for the 3-15 Continentals, who committed five more errors to the Jeffs’ single miscue.
The final game against Hamilton, which took place Saturday afternoon, would prove to be the toughest of the three for the Jeffs. With the game tied, 1-1, after three innings, Amherst found itself in a battle that was decidedly less one-sided. But sophomore starter Fred Shepard delivered seven outstanding innings, over which he fanned ten, and the Jeffs came through with a three-run sixth inning, led by a home run from third baseman Nolan Stewart ’13. A key play also occurred in the top of the fifth, when, with the score still 1-1, Shepard picked off Hamilton’s Stephen LaRochelle, who had singled to lead off the inning. Besides Stewart, Hero and Heller, who finished 7-for-11 in the series, each went two-for-four, and Robert Cahill ’15 and Medoff combined to seal the deal in relief of Shepard. Most notably, the Jeffs played nine innings of error-free baseball for the second time on the year.
Amherst’s good fortunes did not continue when the team took on Keene State on Tuesday, April 3. After senior Hayden Metz was knocked out of the game after four innings, Charles Nutter ‘15, Joyce and Cam Windham ‘14 contributed spotless relief, keeping the Owls off the board for the final six innings. Unfortunately, Keene’s Nick Winn, Pat Tempone and Kyle O’Brien held the Jeffs’ offense to just one run. Facing a three-run deficit in the top of the ninth, the Jeffs loaded the bases with two outs but failed to score. Despite the stellar bullpen work and two hits each from Hero and Stewart, the Jeffs fell, 4-1.
Following the loss, the Jeffs will continue non-league play this week: they return to Amherst to host Westfield St. at 3:30 p.m. today (April 4). After that, however, Amherst will jump into the thick of its NESCAC season, playing three games against archrival Williams on the weekend of April 6-7. The Ephs are only 5-9 overall, but, as always, the meetings between the two will be among the most hotly contested of the spring.