Playoff-bound: Baseball slaughters Jeffs to earn NESCAC tourney berth

The elements have always been a factor for the brave athletes of the northern Berkshires. Such was true for baseball (24-11, 8-4 in the NESCAC) last week, which was forced to play six games from May 2 through May 5.

The Ephs persevered through weather, travel and constant play to go 5-1 over the four-day period, giving Williams the most overall wins of any team in the conference. This merry-go-round of games was highlighted by strong and surprising pitching from young pitchers. At the beginning of the week, Williams lost its opportunity to clinch the second spot in the NESCAC West when it went 1-1 at Amherst.

The rubber match, to decide the final spot in the NESCAC playoffs, was postponed due to rain. Bobby Coombs Field was out of commission for most of the week, and the contest with the Lord Jeffs was rescheduled four times.

But before taking on Amherst, the Ephs played a tune-up match at Keene State on Thursday, easily winning 9-2. Ben Hamm ’03 and Ryan Paylor ’04 split a dominating performance from the mound. Jabe Bergeron ’04, Matt Dahlman ’04 and co-captain Mark Scialabba ’02 all had two-hit games for the Ephs at Keene. Scialabba highlighted the offense with a two-run double.

On Friday, the Ephs were notified that because of field conditions, they could not play the decisive game with Amherst at home. Instead, Williams and Amherst were to play at Deerfield Academy, just 10 miles north of Amherst.

Williams came out of the team bus with a bang, knocking-out the Jeffs’ starting pitcher in the first inning with six runs. Amherst chipped away at Eph hurler Chris Bodner ’05, scoring five runs through the middle innings to make the contest a one-run game.

When it appeared the Jeffs could take advantage of the Ephs’ hectic schedule, Williams came up with a thundering salvo of nine runs in the sixth inning to put the game out of reach. Nine different Ephmen crossed home plate on the day, putting an exclamation point on who was going to represent the western division at the conference playoffs.

“Beating Amherst was the biggest win of the year and it showed that we can really step up when the pressure is on,” said co-captain Billy Casolo ’02. “Having a game against them that was so significant really made it a lot more exciting for all of us. It amplified all our emotions. I only wish it could have been a home game because it would have been a great show for our fans.”

After clinching a spot in the conference tournament, the Ephs finally got to play on their home field, less than 20 hours later against visiting Bates.

Williams lost the first game 6-2 when Paylor tired in the sixth inning after pitching on only two days rest. The Bobcats were able to break a 2-2 tie with four runs in the inning. The Eph batters were hand-tied by strong pitching from Bates hurlers Billy Karz and Mike Kinsman throughout the game.

In the second game, however, the Eph bats came alive, scoring an eye-popping 19 runs off Bates pitching. Bergeron hit for the cycle in the second game, driving in six runs with a spectacular display of offensive potency.

With a pitching staff burnt out from pitching its fourth game in 48 hours, Dave Barnard, head coach of baseball, went with the future, sending Justin Anderson ’05 to the hill.

Anderson responded by holding Bates to 3 runs in 5 innings, striking out 6 Bobcats. Noah Allen ’05 excelled in a relief appearance, giving up just one run in two innings of relief to secure the 19-6 victory.

On Sunday, the Ephs had two more games, this time against Colby. In the first game, Hamm took the mound on just three days’ rest. Hamm allowed 17 Mules on base, but surrendered only three earned runs.

The hitting held up their end of the bargain, scoring three runs in the fourth and four runs in the fifth to secure an 8-4 victory. Bergeron, Casolo and Scialabba all had strong games at the plate.

In the final game of this marathon, Eph pitcher Leo Salinger ’04 took the hill for Williams and won the first game of his collegiate career.

Salinger threw a no-hitter through the first four innings. He finished the game having allowed just two runs on two hits through seven innings. Salinger was supported by three homeruns from Casolo, Bobby Coppola ’03 and Scialabba, respectively, to give Williams the 5-2 win.

Salinger said after the game that he was as “stunned as anyone else was.” He later remarked, “I could not have been throwing over 70 mph, but they were trying to hit everything out of the park. I just hit my spots and my teammates picked me up defensively.”

Williams finished the six games – all 46 innings were played within a 100-hour time span – with five wins. “Coach Barnard gave a chance to three young pitchers who all stepped up their game and pitched very well (Allen, Anderson and Salinger),” Scialabba said. “Playing six games in three days will assist us in the fact that we could end up playing five games in three days if we lose our first game and then continue to get to the championship game. It was a good tune-up for the important weekend ahead.”