Baseball Spring Preview
Issue   |   Tue, 03/11/2014 - 20:48
Photo Courtesy of Meghan Robertson '15
Senior Captain Taiki Kasuga led the Jeffs in hits last spring with 51. The shortstop was a major offensive contributor, batting .338 with 22 RBIs.

The Amherst baseball team had a Cinderella run last season, winning their first NESCAC Championship since 2005 and setting a new program record for wins with 27. After a promising 2012 campaign fell short, the Jeffs broke through to defeat Wesleyan for the 2013 NESCAC title, securing a spot in the NCAA Regional Championship in the process. Amherst saw its season come to a close, however, in a loss to third-ranked SUNY Cortland at the NY Regional. This season, the team is back with something to prove this spring with hopes of going all the way to the 2014 College World Series.

“You can feel the difference in the way we handle drills and minutiae at practice,” Dylan Driscoll ’14 said. “It’s always a bit of a grind having to play baseball indoors for a month, but I think we’re better prepared this year than we’ve ever been.”

The preseason, which officially started Feb. 15, was a long one for the Jeffs. After a month of practices, workouts and scrimmages, they will open their season in Winter Haven, Fla. against Vassar on March 15.

Despite losing four key senior players, including 2013 NESCAC Pitcher of the Year Bob Cook, Head Coach Brian Hamm is optimistic for his team. The returning lineup includes senior captain and shortstop Taiki Kasuga, the 2013 NESCAC Defensive Player of the Year and All-NESCAC First Team Selection and 2013 Rookie of the Year Mike Odenwaelder ’16.

Hamm noted an emphasis on improving the team’s defense in the offseason with a handful of players competing for innings in both the infield and outfield from all classes. The pitching staff will be spearheaded by senior Fred Shepard and junior John Cook, both left-handers, who combined for nine wins a year ago. Riley Streit ’16 and Eric Kotin ’14, both of whom had success in 2012, look to be the key cogs out of the bullpen.

Over spring break in Fla., the Jeffs will play 12 games in nine days and face a host of strong opponents, including second-ranked Southern Maine, last year’s national runner-ups.

“Our Florida trip over spring break will be a big test. Since I’ve been here, we’re 3-0 against them, and I think if we make that 4-0, we’ll get a lot of people talking,” Driscoll said.

The Jeffs will jump right into NESCAC play following their return north, facing Hamilton in their first home game of the season. Hamm anticipates a tough schedule in the NESCAC this season, especially against Wesleyan, Williams, Trinity and Tufts. The Jeffs also have one of the toughest non-league schedules in the country this spring, facing powerhouses such as ECSU, Keene State and Endicott. Driscoll, however, is especially excited for the Williams series, April 4-5.

“We’ve swept Williams every year that I’ve been here, and if we can make it four straight you can expect some noise complaints to be called in,” he said.