Baseball Ready to Build off Last Year's Success
Issue   |   Tue, 03/13/2012 - 22:14
Photo courtesy of Chloe McKenzie '14
The Jeffs hope to build off last season’s success, going 18-3 and making the NESCAC playoffs.

In 2011, the Jeffs overcame a slow start and made their mark in NESCAC play, going 18-3 after returning from their Florida trip. Capturing the Little Three title and earning the top spot in the conference tournament, the Amherst team posted its highest overall win total since 1999. Still, postseason success proved elusive; two tough losses to Bowdoin quickly knocked the Jeffs out of contention for the NESCAC crown, and they did not receive a selection to compete in the Div. III National Championships.

After seeing 2011 end prematurely, the Jeffs enter 2012 well aware that, while a good season is made in March and April, a great season is earned in May. While the loss of standouts Brian Merrigan, Max McKenna and Ryan Healy (all ’11) will hurt, this year’s senior class, which is 62-34 through three seasons, is more than capable of holding its own. Leading the class of 2012 is catcher and captain (and recent NESCAC champion in football) Mike Samela, who paced the Jeffs with a .383 mark last season. Joining him as captains are fellow seniors OF Kevin Heller, who hit .338 with a team-high eight home runs, and DH Thomas Wheeler, 2011’s RBI leader (33). The Jeffs also welcome back IF Taiki Kasuga ’14 (.344-2-30) and OF Alex Hero ’14 (.366-0-11), meaning that they will have no shortage of offensive firepower.

The Jeffs’ pitching staff, a definite strength last year thanks to Healy and McKenna, will be most vulnerable to inexperience. The Amherst squad should find consistency from its only returning starter, left-hander Fred Shepard ’14, who was 4-3 last year in a solid rookie campaign. But postseason success will be contingent on similar contributions from this year’s newcomers. Here, the Jeffs are well-equipped, with first-years Andrew Hurn, Charles Nutter, Jack Falvey and John Cook all primed to make an immediate impact. Out of the bullpen, Amherst returns its three top workhorses from a year ago: Hayden Metz ’12, Dylan Joyce ’12, and Dylan Driscoll ’14. Their presence should take some of the pressure off the Jeffs’ starters and afford Amherst some security heading into the late innings of games. Only two games into their season, the Jeffs will have a chance to avenge their disappointing finish to 2011, facing Bowdoin in a doubleheader at the RussMatt Central Florida Invitational.

After their week-long Southern trip, the Jeffs will face the vaunted Dartmouth Big Green, who are fresh off a 30-12 Ivy League finish, before beginning their NESCAC season against Hamilton on Friday, March 30. All of Amherst’s conference games are sure to be hard-fought affairs, as NESCAC opponents Middlebury, Wesleyan and Williams, in addition to the Continentals, are poised for breakout seasons. A highlight of the Jeffs’ regular season will come on Saturday, April 7, when Amherst hosts the Ephs for a pair of afternoon contests.

Head coach Brian Hamm returns for his third season at the helm, joined by pitching coach Bryan Adamski, veteran assistant Tony Dismukes and Merrigan, who returns to the Amherst bench after an outstanding playing career.

“We worked hard in the off-season to give ourselves the best opportunity to reach our potential this spring,” said Hamm. “We’ve made good adjustments on weaknesses, and we are happy with where we are at heading into our first game. Our senior leadership has been outstanding. This group cares a lot about each other and enjoys playing together.”