Baseball goes 1-2 against Jeffs, playoffs hopes fade

After several strong performances two weeks ago, baseball got off to another hot start last week, but faltered in a Sunday doubleheader against archrival Amherst, dropping both games to fall into third place in the NESCAC West division and give the 2003 Little Three title to the Lord Jeffs.

The Ephs were briefly in second place in the West division and just a game behind first place Middlebury coming out of a critical 6-3 road victory against Amherst on Friday. They looked forward to coming back to their home turf, where they were undefeated this season (4-0), but on Sunday, the Amherst hurlers found a way to quiet down the Ephs’ hot bats in 5-0 and 7-4 victories. Now Williams (18-8, 6-5 in the NESCAC) no longer controls its playoff fate, and the team’s postseason aspirations look to be in jeopardy.

In the second game of the doubleheader, the Ephs started Benjamin Hamm ’03 against Amherst’s Joe Vladeck. Hamm has had an up and down year, going 3-3 with a 4.98 ERA. Unfortunately for the Ephs, the pitcher got off to a rough start and never recovered, giving up 6 runs on 8 hits before being replaced by Ryan Paylor ’04 in the third inning.

Paylor pitched 3.2 innings, striking out four and allowing just one run. His season ERA now stands at 2.01 and the junior has picked up 23 strikeouts in 22.1 innings of work. Bobby Coppola ’03 finished up the game by pitching three scoreless innings to drop his ERA to 2.70 in 11 relief appearances.

The strong late-inning pitching was too little too late for the Ephs, however, as the hitters couldn’t find a way to overcome the initial six run deficit. Coppola hit the first of back-to-back solo homeruns in the sixth inning, followed by Timothy Burbridge ’06. The homeruns were both Coppola’s and Burbridge’s first of the season. The homers were part of a three-run burst in the sixth that resulted in a couple pitching changes for the Lord Jeffs, but Rob Anderson held the Ephs scoreless in the last three innings and picked up the save for Amherst.

Coming into the doubleheader, the Ephs had an eight game winning streak and plenty of motivation on their side. According to Jabe Bergeron ’04, the squad knew how critical the Amherst series would be: “There is always a heightened sense of intensity when [we play] Amherst. This [was] especially true this year, with the playoffs in the balance.” Given the stakes, the Ephs’ 5-0 flop in the first game of the doubleheader may very well prove to be the turning point of the season.

The Ephs started undefeated Matt Brown ’06 against Amherst’s Andy Kerns. In what would become a theme for the Ephs during the Amherst series, their starting pitcher was not at his best, as Kerns gave up five earned runs on nine hits in six innings of work before being replaced by Coppola. Brown, who led the team in strikeouts per innings pitched with 28 K’s in 25.2 innings, managed only two strikeouts in the Amherst game.

Just as in their losses to Wesleyan a few weekends ago, the Ephs found themselves devastated by strong pitching from the opposition. The real story of the contest was Kerns, the Amherst staff ace, who allowed just two hits, to the Ephs’ Bergeron and Mark Chmiel ’05, in his complete game shutout.

The first game of the series took place at Amherst’s Memorial Field on Friday, where the Lord Jeffs have played their worst baseball (3-4, as compared to 7-1 on the road). Starting for the Ephs was Chris Bodnar ’05, who has pitched well all year. Bodnar leads the Ephs in complete games (4), innings pitched (41.1) and strikeouts (39). Despite his 1.96 season ERA, Bodnar also got off to a rocky start with the Amherst hitters, allowing one run in the second, third and fourth innings before settling down to pitch the complete game.

Bodnar got some immediate help from his teammates, however, who scored two runs in the top of the fifth and added three more in the top of the seventh on their way to a 6-3 victory. Phil Michael ’04 hit a solo homerun in the top of the eighth inning for the Ephs. Bergeron went 2 for 4 with 2 RBI, while Matthew Dahlman ’04 scored two runs and drove in another on 1-of-5 hitting. Coppola started out a strong series by adding a run and an RBI while going 2-of-4 at the plate.

In a midweek nonconference game against Castleton State on Wednesday, the Ephs’ Hamm came away with a 13-8 victory. After Williams jumped out to a 10-3 lead in the first three innings, Hamm was pulled for reliever John Melton ’05. Leo Salinger ’04 and Coppola also made pitching appearances as the Eph pitching staff combined to give up five earned runs on ten hits and garnered five strikeouts.

Austin Lehn ’03 got three runs and an RBI on four hits to lead the Eph offensive assault. Scott Johnson ’05 went 3-of-4, contributing 3 runs and 2 RBI, and Matt Marino ’05 went 3 for 5 with 3 RBI. Bergeron went 1-of-6 but hit his ninth home run of the season.