Baseball Heads To NESCAC Tourney

May 11, 2011

The 2011 NESCAC Baseball Championship heads to Amherst College this weekend, as the Lord Jeffs have earned the right to host by being the top seed out of the conference's West Division, this year's host division. The three-day, double-elimination tournament features the top two teams from the East and West Divisions and runs from Friday, May 13 through Sunday, May 15. Three of the four squads participating in this weekend's action are former NESCAC champions, with defending conference champion Tufts returning in search of the program's third league title.

Two-time NESCAC champion Amherst (24-8, 10-2 NESCAC West) has had an impressive spring on the diamond. Since returning from a week-long excursion to Winter Haven, Fla., to start the season, the Lord Jeffs have only lost four outings, putting together an 18-4 mark. Amherst began conference play on April 8-9 against a Middlebury squad that held an early-season lead over the rest of the division. The Jeffs managed to take 2-of-3 from the visiting Panthers, then went on to sweep Hamilton and Williams on consecutive weekends. The series victory over the rival Ephs was especially sweet for the Lord Jeffs, as it not only put them in the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and eliminated their rivals at the same time, but it was also the first time since 2000 that Amherst had swept the three-game set. The Jeffs closed out the conference slate by taking 2-of-3 from Wesleyan on April 29-30, giving them hosting duties for this year's tournament. Amherst's two conference crowns came in back-to-back years, winning its first title in 2004 as the second seed out of the West Division over Williams before repeating in 2005 in one of the most memorable championship finishes ever, a 10-inning, game-seven victory over Trinity, 8-7. Hoping to help the Lord Jeffs secure a third championship will be junior catcher Mike Samela (Westport, Conn.). Samela is among the league leaders in hitting, posting a .404 average with 13 doubles and 29 runs batted in. Amherst has gone 2-0 against Bowdoin and 2-1 over Middlebury this season, however the Jeffs have not seen Tufts since the 2008 NESCAC championship when they eliminated the Jumbos from the playoffs in a 10-7 final.

Defending NESCAC champion Tufts (24-7-1, 11-1 NESCAC East) returns to the conference tournament fresh off one of the most successful seasons in program history. Last spring, the Jumbos battled past opponents and the weather to take their second conference crown (2002), overcoming Bowdoin in the final game by a 6-1 score. Along the way, Tufts set single-season team marks for wins (34), hits (460), runs (330), and strikeouts (265). This season, the Jumbos went 9-0 to start league play and secured their 10th trip to the NESCAC championship - a figure unmatched by any other team - all the way back on April 15-16 with a weekend sweep of Colby. The final series of the season against Bowdoin decided which team would come away with the number-one seed from the East Division, as Tufts needed just a single victory to lock up the top spot. After falling to the Polar Bears in game on April 29, 9-5, the Jumbos rebounded the next day by taking the doubleheader, along with the series, for the number-one seed. While the offense is a bit below where it was entering last year's tournament, the Jumbo pitching staff is once again second to none in the conference. Tufts owns a 2.76 ERA and has held opposing batters to a .239 average, figures that pace the conference heading into the weekend. Leading the way is the trio of seniors Derek Miller (Whitman, Mass.) and Pat O'Donnell (Worcester, Mass.) along with junior Kevin Gilchrist (Medford, Mass.). Miller (3-1) headlines the group with a 1.84 ERA and an opponents' average of .221. Gilchrist (5-2) is not far behind with a 1.99 ERA and a .244 opponents' average, while O'Donnell (5-0) holds a 2.81 ERA and a .259 average.

The Jumbos will face a familiar foe on Friday to start the tournament when they take on Middlebury (15-14, 8-4 NESCAC West) for the second time in a week. The Panthers and the Jumbos split a non-conference doubleheader on Sunday afternoon, with host Middlebury winning the first game, 3-2, before Tufts claimed a 5-2 decision. The pair of outings closed out a stretch of six against NESCAC foes in non-league play, as the Panthers dropped two at Trinity on April 30 and a pair at fellow tournament member Bowdoin on May 7. After starting the league schedule with a key sweep of Williams, the Panthers went 2-4 over their next six conference contests. Middlebury rebounded by wrapping up NESCAC play with three victories over Hamilton to finish at 8-4, then had to play the waiting game to see whether Wesleyan would overtake it in the standings. The Cardinals came up short in their series with the Lord Jeffs, guaranteeing the Panthers a NESCAC championship berth for only the second time ever. Middlebury's previous tournament appearance was a memorable one, as the Panthers defeated Tufts twice and Bowdoin once en route to their first conference crown in 2006. Looking to bring the Panthers back to the top of the conference will be junior catcher Zach Roeder (Keene, N.H.) Roeder leads the league in hitting with a .436 average and on-base percentage with a .500 mark. He has also collected a team-high 44 hits, seven doubles, three home runs, and driven in 30 runs.

Although Bowdoin (22-13, 8-4 NESCAC East) was unable to secure the top seed out of the East Division, the Polar Bears already knew that they would be returning to the playoffs for the second year in a row all the way back on April 22 following a 12-1 romp over Maine rival Colby. Like Middlebury, Bowdoin has already faced its three potential tournament opponents this spring, going 3-4. The Polar Bears dropped two to the Lord Jeffs in Amherst back on April 3rd, 14-7 and 8-1, followed by the aforementioned 1-2 showing at Tufts on April 29-30 and the sweep of Middlebury on May 7. During last year's NESCAC tournament, Bowdoin battled back from a day one loss to Williams (15-5) with victories against Wesleyan (14-7) and the Ephs (7-3) in elimination matches to play for the conference title for the first time. Hoping to put Bowdoin in a position to win its first conference title this weekend is a pitching staff headlined by freshman standout Christian Martin (Lake Bluff, Ill.). At 6-1 over nine starts, Martin has logged 61.0 innings and owns a 2.95 ERA while holding opponents to a .243 average at the plate. He has also struck out 67 batters while walking just 20, a 3.35 K/BB ratio.

Day 1 - Friday, May 13
Game 1 - E2 Bowdoin at W1 Amherst - 3:00 p.m. - at Amherst, Amherst, Mass.
Game 2 - W2 Middlebury vs. E1 Tufts - 3:00 p.m. - at American Int'l College, Springfield, Mass.

Day 2 - Saturday, May 14
Game 3 - Loser of GM 1 vs. Loser of GM 2 - 10:30 a.m. - at American Int'l College, Springfield, Mass.
Game 4 - Winner of GM 1 vs. Winner of GM 2 - 10:30 a.m. - at Amherst, Amherst, Mass.
Game 5 - Winner of GM 3 vs. Loser of GM 4 - 2:30 p.m. - at Amherst, Amherst, Mass.

Day 3 - Sunday, May 15
Game 6 - Winner of GM 4 vs. Winner of GM 5 - 10:00 a.m.
Game 7 - If Necessary - Immediately Following

--courtesy NESCAC--