Baseball Avoids Wesleyan Sweep with 5-3 Win in Extra Innings
Issue   |   Tue, 04/29/2014 - 23:01
Photo Courtesy of Rob Mattson
Co-captain Taiki Kasuga '14 is batting .389 this season and has 16 RBI. The senior also has made significant defensive contributions with a .957 fielding percentage.

The Amherst baseball team faced NESCAC opponents Hamilton and Wesleyan last week and split their four games 2-2, ending their chances at a Little Three title and the top seed in the NESCAC West. With the past four games in the books, the Jeffs stand at 23-7 overall record and finished their conference play with a 9-3 mark in the NESCAC West.

On Wednesday, April 23, the Jeffs traveled to Clinton, N.Y. to take on the Continentals and complete the rubber match of the three-game series that was postponed from late March. Amherst defeated Hamilton 8-2, putting numbers on the board early in the match-up. The Jeffs scored all eight runs in the first four innings, and the Continentals could not recover from the deficit.
Keenan Szulik ’16 earned the win for the Jeffs with a quality performance, efficiently allowing just one hit over five shutout innings. On the offensive end, the Jeffs tallied a run in the first inning when sophomore Andrew Vandini singled to center field to bring in Yanni Thanopoulos ’17. Amherst put up five more runs in the second and third, capitalizing on a few bad pitches and errors in the field, and scored its final two in the bottom of the fourth. Hamilton was able to score two runs between the sixth and the eighth, but could not complete the comeback.

The Amherst offense was led by Alex Hero ’14, who went 2-for-4 with two doubles, an RBI and a run scored. Dave Cunningham ’16 also went 2-for-4 with a run scored, while Thanopoulos had three RBIs and Vandini added two more.

The Jeffs hosted the Wesleyan Cardinals last Friday, April 25, in what turned out to be a devastating loss. Amherst started slowly and was unable to reclaim the game after Wesleyan took a 5-0 lead by the top of the fourth. The Jeffs answered in the bottom of the inning on a home run by Mike Odenwaelder ’16. In the fifth inning, the Cardinals put two more runs on the board, but the Amherst squad responded once more with four runs of its own.

With the help of a few walks and a string of singles, the Jeffs managed to cut the deficit to two. Wesleyan brought in its final run in the top of the seventh, and the Jeffs responded when Thanopoulos singled to bring in Anthony Spina ’17. Amherst had a chance at a win in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded, but the Cardinals’ Sam Goodwin-Boyd put out the fire by striking out two Jeff batters to close the game. Dylan Driscoll ’14 took the loss, his first of the year.

On Saturday, Amherst traveled to face Wesleyan and finish the three-game series. In a nine-inning game that was originally slated to be seven innings, the Jeffs fell in a 2-1 loss to the Cards despite putting up a hard-fought defensive battle. On the mound, John Cook ’15 pitched another gem, surrendering only four hits over eight innings while striking out six.

Hero scored for Amherst in the top of the second when Tyler Jacobs ’15 hit an RBI single to right field. However, Cardinal pitcher Jeff Blout stymied the Jeffs’ offense from there despite five walks, and the Cardinals tied the score at one in the bottom of the seventh on a Goodwin-Boyd home run. Wesleyan then put the winning run on the board in the bottom of the ninth when Goodwin-Boyd — again the hero — led off with a double and crossed the plate on a squeeze bunt. With the pair of victories, the Cardinals clinched the Little Three and NESCAC West titles.

The Jeffs were finally able to defeat Wesleyan on Sunday with a 5-3 win in 11 innings. Amherst put the first run on the board in the top of the fifth on back-to-back doubles by Cunningham and Spina, but the Cardinals retaliated by scoring three runs in the bottom of the inning. The Jeffs tied it up in the top of the sixth on a two-run homer by Odenwaelder, and the score remained even at three until the top of the 11th.

Taiki Kasuga ’14 singled and came around to score with the help of some rare sloppy defensive play by the Cardinals, highlighted by a throwing error and a passed ball. Odenwaelder was able to sneak in with another run on a first-and-third steal, and the Jeffs finished the weekend with a victory. Quinn Saunders-Kolberg ’14 scattered seven hits in a strong 7.2 innings of work on the mound, while Szulik earned the win for Amherst in his second consecutive pitching appearance.

With their hopes for a top seed in the NESCAC West gone, the Jeffs will look to finish out the regular season in the best possible position when they host Colby for a double-header on May 3 in a series that will not count towards the NESCAC West standings. Before that, they will play a non-league tune-up at home against a strong Wheaton College squad (27-13-1) on Thursday, May 1 at 4 p.m.

“Even though last weekend didn’t go as planned, we are excited to play Wheaton this week because they are a big regional rival,” Thanopoulos said. “We want to prove we are still one of the best teams in the Northeast.”

Although they did not lock up the top-seed of the NESCAC West, the Jeffs will still likely qualify for the NESCAC tournament as the second-seed and are slated to face the top-seed of the NESCAC East Tufts in the first round of the NESCAC Championship beginning on Friday, May 9.