Baseball takes NESCAC West in historic game

A lot was on the line on Sunday at Wahconah Park in Pittsfield. With ESPNU broadcasting the 150th anniversary of college baseball, neither Williams (24-10, 9-3 in the NESCAC) nor Amherst (16-13, 7-5) wanted to disappoint. But the Jeffs were fighting for more than just good press. After an unexpected loss to Hamilton on Saturday, Amherst needed the win at Wahconah to make the postseason. The Ephs entered the game ready to avenge their two previous losses to their rival and did so in dominant fashion with an 8-5 victory to end the Jeffs season.

“It was great to be able to come away with a win,” said co-captain and starting pitcher Ben Horwitz’09. “Amherst is a very talented team, and really took it to us during the first two meetings. But we knew we could play with them and were really motivated because there was so much riding on the game.”

Before the game began, Wahconah Park was filled with festivities commemorating the first college baseball game ever played. The Eph alumni team, sporting 1859 replica jerseys and playing by 1859 baseball rules, had a much better outcome than 150 years ago. Rather than falling to Amherst 73-32 like it did in 1859, Williams beat Amherst’s alumni 19-17 on Sunday. Williams also prevailed in the chess matches this time around. Kevin He ’09, Andrew Kelly ’12, Gordon Atkins ’11 and Ty Zhou ’12 represented the Ephs and won the match 3-1 in tents outside of the park.

“It was a great event and a terrific experience for the baseball coaches and players – as well as students and Eph fans in general,” said Harry Sheehy, Director of Athletics.

The historic atmosphere of Wahconah also pumped up the players of both teams. “When our team entered the stadium and saw the Williams alums dressed in old-time baseball uniforms, we knew it was a special day, and we knew we had a big fan base at the game supporting us,” said Zach Stone ’09.

With Ephs and Jeffs fans alike in Pittsfield for the game, the main event began. Former Williams baseball coach Jim Briggs ’60 walked out to home plate to kick off the 291st game between the Ephs and the Jeffs. He then introduced Pittsfield mayor James Ruberto, who threw out the first pitch. And with this, Amherst and Williams played ball.

Visiting Williams got off to a slow start, leaving two runners on in the top of the first. Amherst, on the other hand, came out swinging. Jeff Brian Merrigan led off with a triple to put Horwitz in check and silence the Williams crowd. Amherst’s next batter hit a sacrifice fly to score Merrigan and put the Jeffs up 1-0. Horwitz then got the Ephs out of the inning with two fly outs.

The bottom half of the Ephs lineup responded in the top of the second. Chad Brown ’10 singled to left to lead off the inning. The next two Ephs struck out, leaving it up to Robin Allemand ’10, hitting ninth for Williams, to rally the inning. With two outs and one batter on, Allemand homered over the center-field wall to give the Ephs the lead and the momentum.

Merrigan picked an RBI in the bottom of the second to tie the score, but the Ephs responded again in the third. Barrett Allison ’09 and Al Mathews ’10 both singled to start the inning. Cleanup hitter Cameron Susk ’12 then drove home both runners with a triple to right center. Brown then successfully bunted to score Susk and give Williams a 5-2 lead.

Dan Grossman ’12 relieved Horwitz in the third. Grossman gave up one run to the Jeffs in his 5.1 innings pitched, enabling the Ephs to continue to extend their lead. Williams tacked on another run in the fourth with a Mathews RBI. Mathews had another RBI in the sixth, and Steven Maier ’12 added one as well, driving in Allemand, who had reached on a triple to left.

Harry Marino ’12 came in to close the game in the eighth. He held Amherst until the bottom of the ninth when Jeff Michael Neff hit a two-run homer to bring the score to 8-5. Marino held strong and the Ephs ended the game and the Jeffs’ season three plays later.

The team’s preparation and mental readiness helped it win on Sunday. “Our guys prepared as we do for every game – by working hard in practice and by improving on our weak areas,” Stone said. “There was certainly more tension in the air at Wahconah, but our team played loose and relaxed, and really embraced the spotlight.”

Grossman was named NESCAC Pitcher of the Week for his efforts on Sunday and earlier in the week. He allowed just six hits and one earned run over his 7.1 innings pitched last week.

The busy week before the huge game at Wahconah also factored into the Ephs’ readiness against the Jeffs. Williams played five games in the week leading up to Sunday, going 3-2. “It definitely helped to play this week before Amherst,” Horwitz said. “It gave us a chance to stay game-sharp and competitive all week.”

Williams topped Skidmore 15-6 last Tuesday, but turned around on Wednesday and fell to RPI 5-3. The team then beat Springfield 6-1 before splitting the doubleheader against MIT on Saturday. Despite its inconsistent week, Williams came out on top on Sunday and proved why it is the top seed in the NESCAC West.

With the regular season and historic Wahconah game behind them, the Ephs now look to the postseason. “We are going to take the postseason one game at a time and one pitch at a time,” Horwitz said. “Everyone on the team has high expectations, and we look forward to focusing on the things we can control and reaching our potential as a team. Our toughest competition from here on out will be whoever is in the dugout on the other side of the field. All of the teams in the NESCAC tournament are very talented and have had successful seasons. Winning or losing next weekend will be based on our ability to focus and execute through entire games. Our early exit from the tournament last year is fresh in our minds, and we look forward to the opportunity to play in some big games this coming weekend.”

The Ephs will host the double elimination NESCAC tournament this weekend; Williams faces Tufts in its opener Friday at 3 p.m. The Wahconah Park game will be replayed on ESPNU tonight at 7 p.m. and next Tuesday, May 12 at 12 a.m.