Baseball Hits Their Stride in Florida
By Brian Smith '12, Staff Writer
The smell of freshly cut grass, the interspersed rays of sunshine on a partly cloudy day, and the sounds of the game of baseball have filled the Florida air over the past several weeks. Baseball teams from around the country take advantage of their spring breaks to play their first games, and the baseball team followed suit last week. Playing 10 games over the course of nine days, the Lord Jeffs opened the season with hopes of gaining experience and perfecting their game before starting conference play.

It didn’t take long for the Jeffs to get into the swing of things. In the opening game against Framingham State, the Jeffs pushed 12 runs across the board while only committing one error.

Amherst took on Roger Williams the next day in a doubleheader. The first game displayed an absolute shelling from Amherst, as they poured 18 hits onto the Hawks. After the 18-5 win, the Jeffs picked up another nine runs in the nightcap, winning 9-3. Senior co-captain Will Lawton went 7-7 with two RBI and five runs scored on the day, leading the offensive charge for the Jeffs.

Game 4 featured a tightly-contested match between Amherst and the University of Massachusetts-Boston. In a seesaw battle that featured multiple lead changes, it was a five-run seventh inning that helped propel the Jeffs to a 10-7 victory. Potent offensive production helped prop up the pitching staff yet again, as well as stellar defense, which had only one error in the game. The bullpen was lights out for the Jeffs, as Hayden Metz ’12 racked up five strikeouts in 2.2 innings pitched, while freshman Adam Medoff closed the game with his first collegiate save.

With a 4-0 record, which the Jeffs have not had since 2003, the team took a well-deserved day off on Tuesday. Amherst went back to the diamond to take on Babson on Wednesday, but this time the Jeffs ran into some trouble. While the offensive production continued to impress, the pitching staff was inconsistent, allowing 10 walks and hitting three batters. This proved to be costly for Amherst, as Babson took advantage of the free passes, beating the Jeffs 17-8.

The next day, Amherst took on Fitchburg State. Starting on the mound for the Jeffs was junior Jeff Keenan. The defense was lost on the field however, as four errors led to eight unearned runs, and chased Keenan out of the game despite giving up only two earned runs. Fitchburg was able to finish off the Jeffs, winning 12-3 and handing Amherst its second loss of the season.

In the first game of the doubleheader against Endicott the next day, the Jeffs managed to score only one run on four hits. In combination with strong offensive production from Endicott, Amherst fell for the third straight game, losing 8-1. Things turned around quickly for the Jeffs, however, as they rebounded in the second game. Behind a complete game from Max McKenna ’11 and no defensive errors, the Jeffs split the series by winning 12-2. The Amherst bats came to life once again, shrugging off the offensive slump.

On Saturday, Amherst continued to hit the ball well, and in combination with solid pitching, was able to beat Suffolk University 16-4. Metz gave the Jeffs six solid innings of two-run ball, while Pat Harris ’11 picked up a three-inning save while striking out five batters. The Jeffs compiled 16 hits on the day, and with the six errors by Suffolk, there was no shortage of scoring for Amherst. It was the fifth game that Amherst had scored 10 or more runs, with the team scoring an average of 8.9 runs per game.

Sunday was the last day in Florida for the Jeffs, as they capped off their spring break against Grinnell College. The rain-shortened game showcased a bit more of Amherst’s inconsistency. After giving up two early runs, the Jeffs fought back to take a 5-2 lead. In the bottom of the seventh inning, the Jeffs gave up seven runs, giving Grinnell a 9-5 lead, which they held onto until the end of the game. Amherst piled up four errors, which led to eight unearned runs for Grinnell.

This inconsistent play seemed parallel Amherst’s play in Florida. Starting with a four game winning streak, the Jeffs rolled off three straight losses. They quickly rebounded with two wins, but the loss to Grinnell left a few question marks for the team.

“So far we have been playing very inconsistently,” said senior captain Will Lawton. “At times we’ll play great baseball in all facets and it’s exciting to be a part of it; other times we can look pretty bad.”

Although the team did not play as well as they wanted to, they can come away with several positives from the trip. For one, the hitting was dominant, as the team scored an average of 9.4 runs per game, while yielding 7.5 runs per game to their opponents. Of the 75 runs given up by the pitching staff, only 49 were earned.

“If we can learn from some of the mistakes that we made in our losses, and continue to improve as a group, I think we will be very successful this season,” said Nolan Stewart ’13. “I’m very confident that we will be a very competitive team this year.”

Lawton, who was named NESCAC Player of the Week along with pitcher Metz, reiterated Stewart’s comments, adding that the players are still identifying their roles on the team.

“I think the trip really helped showed us how good we can really be when everyone takes the right approach and maintains confidence and focus throughout a game,” he said. “It’s a maturing process, and I think as guys realize their individual value to the team and consistently do their job the right way, our team can be extremely strong. Guys are excited to take what we learned from this week and bring it to NESCAC competition up north.”

The excitement building on the team is highly rationalized, as many players realize the competitiveness of their division and the fact that the team is still working to get to full speed.

“I think our team played pretty well during our spring break trip, but we have a lot of areas where we can improve,” said junior centerfielder Scott Shaffer. “Our record in Florida was not as good as we would’ve liked, but we also saw how well we can play if the team performs up to its full potential.”

The team will soon learn how effective their spring games were in preparing them for the rest of the season. On Wednesday, Amherst will take on Westfield State in this year’s home opener. The first pitch will be at 3:30 p.m. at Memorial Field. Conference play will start with a three game series against Wesleyan over the weekend. Game one will take place on Friday at 3:30 p.m., with games two and three taking place on Saturday, beginning at noon.

Issue 19, Submitted 2010-03-24 20:16:23