The Jeffs hosted Keene State College on Wednesday, looking to extend their winning streak to six. The game began with five scoreless innings for both sides, but the sixth proved a different story. The Owls broke through first, scoring two runs in the top half of the sixth, but the Jeffs responded with an even greater offensive outburst, sending home four runs before their half of the inning was over.
The scoring then stagnated until the top of the ninth inning, and it seemed as if the Jeffs would pull out the victory. The Jeffs’ 4-2 lead, however, was not enough to stave off a late rally by the Owls, who scored twice to send the game to extra innings.
In the 12th inning, Keene State capped off its comeback by loading the bases and scoring the go-ahead run with a tricky grounder that stymied the Amherst infield. While Alex Hero ’14 and Nolan Stewart ’13 combined for three runs batted in, the Jeffs’ pitching staff could not hold up, and the Jeffs’ streak was snapped at five straight wins.
Yet, the Jeffs could not afford even a moment to stew in their own frustration, as Williams came to town on Friday to begin a home-away weekend series for the Jeffs. The team clearly harbored a significant amount of pent-up anger after losing to Keene State, and took it out on the Ephs. The offense decided to carry the team on Friday, putting up 14 runs on 19 hits and demolishing the Ephs pitchers along the way. Max McKenna ’11, comforted by the ample run support, pitched his third complete game of the season to improve his record to an unblemished 4-0.
Bob Cook ’13 set the tone in the second inning with a three-run blast to left field that cleared the fence by a significant amount. Cook, Taiki Kasuga ’14, Kevin Heller ’12 and Mike Samela ’12 also joined the offensive onslaught; Heller and Kasuga both extended their hitting streaks to 15 and 12, respectively.
The two teams were set to face off in a doubleheader the following day at Williams, but persistent rain quickly put a damper on those plans. The games were made up on Sunday, which negated some of the Jeff momentum from the Friday rout.
Nevertheless, Amherst pulled out two more victories to finish the weekend undefeated. In the opener, Fred Shepard ’14 pitched a fantastic five innings of relief in which he allowed only one hit and no runs. Samela went 3-3 in support of his pitcher, and Stewart helped out with a 3-4 performance to spur the Jeffs to the 7-4 win.
The Jeffs continued to roll in the closing game, earning an 8-5 victory with yet another dominating performance. The Jeffs led 6-0 halfway through the fifth inning and never relinquished their stranglehold on the lead, putting the pressure on Williams throughout the contest.
When the Ephs failed to muster an adequate response, the Jeffs went home with a three-game sweep of their rivals. Ryan D’Souza ’14 attributed much of the success to the team’s aggressive attitude, saying, “It was really important for us to come out swinging like we did in the first game, and that win gave us the confidence to keep rolling for the next two games at their place.”
The team kept up its focus after the exciting weekend series to dominate Springfield College on Tuesday as well. The Jeffs piled up 15 hits en route to a 10-0 shutout win, and Jeff Keenan ’11 earned the victory by pitching five innings and giving up only one hit. Alex Hero ’14 went 3-5 on the afternoon to raise his batting average to .407, and Samela smashed a two-run homer in the third inning.
Despite the win over Springfield, the victories against Williams had a larger impact on the Jeffs, as they carried deep postseason implications. With the weekend success, the Jeffs clinched their first trip to the conference playoffs since 2008 and eliminated the Ephs from postseason consideration as well, a best-case scenario that had the players full of excitement.
With a win next Friday against Wesleyan, the Jeffs could earn the top seed in the NESCAC West playoffs. As they go into the final few games of the regular season controlling their postseason destiny, the entire team will need to stay sharp to ensure the best possible chances of success in May.