With Series Loss, Baseball Relinquishes Little III, NESCAC West Titles to Cardinals
Issue   |   Tue, 04/30/2013 - 19:32

Coming into the weekend series with Wesleyan, it wasn’t much of a secret that the Jeffs owned one of the toughest pitching staffs in the league.

Opposing teams, however, had begun to exploit the Jeffs’ main vulnerability by silencing their bats. Williams had done that successfully in one game of the Jeffs-Ephs series two weekends ago, but the Jeffs got the benefit of a clutch, late-inning home run and escaped with the win. Last weekend, Hamilton did so again in Game 1 of a Sunday doubleheader, shutting out the Jeffs and handing them their first conference loss of the year. Still, the Jeffs took advantage of their overall superior talent and managed to win that series.

Enter Wesleyan, who seemed locked in on attacking the Jeffs where they were most vulnerable. Holding the Jeffs to a total of just one run in the first two games of a three-game series, the Cardinals recorded a pair of tight victories. Even after the Jeffs rebounded by winning Sunday’s nightcap, the Cardinals had already won the Little III Title and clinched first place in the NESCAC West.

On Friday, April 26, the series kicked off in Middletown, Conn. with a matchup of aces: the Jeffs’ Bob Cook ’13 against Wesleyan’s Nick Cooney. It quickly became clear that both pitchers had their best stuff; in the bottom of the second, the Cardinals had perhaps the best scoring chance of the early innings, but Cook induced a key double play with two on and one out. As Cook continued to shut down the Wesleyan offense, the Jeffs struck first in their half of the fifth. With one out, senior third baseman Nolan Stewart homered to left. The Jeffs missed a key chance to add more, as, after the home run, Alex Hero ’14 and Brendan Hardin ’15 both singled, putting runners at first and third. But the Jeffs botched a double steal and Hero was thrown out at home, following which Taiki Kasuga ’14 grounded out to end the threat.

Despite the missed opportunity, the Jeffs held onto a slim, 1-0 lead until the bottom of the seventh. In Cook’s first significant blemish of the day, Wesleyan’s Donnie Cimino hit a leadoff double and ended up on third thanks to an error in right field. A groundout later scored Cimino, tying the score.

After both teams failed to score in the eighth, the Jeffs wasted a leadoff walk by Cook in the top of the ninth and, once again, could not push a run across. The first batter Cook faced in the bottom of the ninth, Andrew Yin, reached on a perfectly executed bunt hit down the third base line. With Cook’s pitch count rising, Coach Brian Hamm made the move to reliever Eric Kotin ’14.

With Kotin on the mound, Yin continued to wreak small-ball havoc by stealing second. If Yin and Cooney were two of the heroes on the evening, however, Cimino ensured he would be the third by blooping a game-winning single into right. Cook, though he pitched brilliantly (one earned run on six strikeouts and no walks in eight innings), took his first loss of the season.

The Jeffs still had the opportunity to rebound, win the series and preserve first place in the NESCAC West. Unfortunately for them, however, they ran into another strong Cardinal arm on Saturday afternoon, this time Jeff Blout, who scattered seven hits in six shutout innings. Blout recorded only two strikeouts, but the Jeffs were unable to find holes or deliver timely hits.

Fred Shepard ’14 also pitched fairly well over 4.1 innings, but he was unable to keep the Cardinals off the board. In the fourth, the Cardinals plated two on only one hit, aided by two mistakes from Shepard (a wild pitch and a throwing error). Those two tallies would be all that Wesleyan would need as the Jeff bats remained ice cold. After six strong from Blout, Sam Elias closed out a 3-0 Wesleyan win with a one-two-three ninth. That win clinched the Little III title for the Cardinals and secured them first place in the NESCAC West division, which means that Wesleyan will host the NESCAC tournament.

After two sluggish performances that led to two agonizing defeats, the Jeffs’ offense finally came to life in Saturday’s nightcap. Elias, who closed the previous game for the Cardinals, didn’t fare as well in a starting role; the Jeffs plated three in their half of the first with the help of first-years Conner Gunn and Nic Meyer, who each delivered run-scoring singles. Amherst starter Dylan Driscoll ’14 took over from there with perhaps his best performance to date, allowing just one run on five hits while striking out six over seven excellent innings.

With the host Jeffs leading 5-1 heading into the eighth inning, Hamm turned things over to reliever Cam Windham ’14. Unfortunately, Windham struggled, allowing three earned runs in just two-thirds of an inning. After getting two quick outs, Windham was tagged for four straight hits, including an RBI double by Cimino, the Jeffs’ nemesis in the series. Adam Medoff ’13 took over on the mound and allowed one of his inherited runners to score before getting the final out.

The score stood at 5-4 heading into the top of the ninth, where, as Windham had done the previous inning, Medoff got the first out on a groundout to third. He struggled with his control, however, walking two and giving up a single to Cimino before hitting a batter to force in the game-tying run. Fortunately, he bounced back to strike out the Cardinals’ Jonathan Dennett with the bases loaded and two outs, preserving the tie.

On the brink of going to extra innings and in danger of being swept, the Jeffs were finally able to record a dramatic win of their own. Kasuga led off with a single to left, and Hero promptly sent him to third with a double to right-center. After the Cardinals walked Cook, Gunn singled home the winning run, giving the Jeffs a 6-5 victory and staving off the sweep.
With a doubleheader at ECSU today and a weekend twinbill at Colby remaining, the Jeffs, who have clinched their place in the NESCAC tournament, look to win out and put themselves in position for a memorable playoff run.