Baseball Tops Keene State, Brandeis; Set to Play Midd. This Weekend
Issue   |   Tue, 04/02/2013 - 22:46
Megan Robertson '15, Public Affairs Office
Bob Cook ’13 pitched 7.1 strong innings as the Jeffs easily beat Keene State on Wednesday, March 27.

Baseball improved to 9-5 after a 2-1 week that saw them beat Keene State and Brandeis.

The Jeffs were coming off a doubleheader sweep of Western Conn. State on March 24, that saw them deliver a formidable offensive attack. Shortstop Taiki Kasuga ’14 led the way, collecting seven hits on the day. After going 7-4 on their Florida trip, however, the squad’s pitching and defense remained something of a question mark, as the Jeffs gave up five runs or more in both of those wins. Standing at 7-4, the Jeffs had a relatively easy week, getting three tune-up opportunities before facing off with Middlebury on April 5.

With a chance to silence some of their would-be critics, the team put together a fine overall effort on their home field on Wednesday, March 27, against Keene State. Senior ace Bob Cook led the way with 7 1/3 innings of shutout baseball, striking out two while surrendering just five hits.

What began as a pitcher’s duel — Owls’ starter Eddie Dionne held the Jeffs scoreless through four innings — quickly turned into a runaway. In the bottom of the fifth, Dave Cunningham ’16 set the table with a leadoff single; after a sacrifice bunt by classmate Mike Odenwaelder and a wild pitch, Cunningham scored on a superbly executed bunt single by Brendon Hardin ’15.

That sequence of events seemed to awaken the Jeffs: over the next two innings, with the help of two Keene State errors, they would plate six more runs. They added another run in the eighth, while John Cook ’15 slammed the door on the mound, recording the last five outs (including three strikeouts). In the 8-0 victory, five Jeffs had a two-hit day at the plate, including Hardin and Alex Hero ’14, who drove in seven of the eight Amherst runs.

With a strong home opener behind them, the Jeffs traveled to Cambridge to face MIT the following day.

This time, however, the Jeffs played a sloppy game from the outset. Two Amherst miscues in the bottom of the first, combined with three hits off pitcher Fred Shepard ’14, allowed the Engineers to score three unearned runs in the inning. To his credit, Shepard ultimately turned in an excellent start: he fanned seven in all and allowed just one run the rest of the way.

But his efforts were not enough as MIT senior pitcher Aric Dama stymied the Jeffs lineup, overcoming three errors on the Engineers’ side and scattering just two runs and four hits over 7 1/3 innings. With the game standing at 4-2 entering the bottom of the eighth, the Jeffs were in position for a late-inning comeback, but the Engineers used three more hits and another Jeffs’ error to tally twice in the bottom of the frame. That gave MIT a 6-2 cushion, and the Jeffs went quietly in the ninth, falling by that same score.

Hoping to put the loss behind them, the Jeffs returned home for a Friday contest against a less formidable opponent, the 5-10 Brandeis Judges. Again, it was the Jeffs’ pitching that shone through. This time, the Jeffs got a complete-game shutout from Dylan Driscoll ’14. After surrendering a first inning double that nearly cleared the fence, Driscoll stranded the runner at second and, from there, pounded the strike zone all afternoon with great success. He threw just 98 pitches and, most notably, did not walk a batter. While Driscoll cruised along, the Jeffs’ bats gave him plenty of run support. In the home half of the third, the Amherst squad broke through with four runs thanks to timely hits by Conner Gunn ’16, Eric West ’15 and Danny Pillitteri ’13. The Jeffs would add three more runs by the time the game was over, good for a 7-0 victory, their second shutout of the week.

As league play begins in earnest, the Jeffs cannot afford to allow unearned runs as they did against MIT, so defense will likely be a primary focus in practice all week long. Meanwhile, however, the pitching staff has certainly impressed so far. Cook seems to have picked up right where he left off in 2012, and Shepard, though wildness can at times be a concern for him, once again showed his ability to hold a strong lineup in check. Driscoll, too, opened some eyes with his ruthlessly efficient performance against Keene State; if he can give the Jeffs more quality innings, the team should have all it needs as far as rotation and bullpen depth. Against Middlebury (April 5-6), the Jeffs will look for tight defense and another balanced offensive attack, hoping to improve to 11-5 and start the NESCAC season off with a bang.