Baseball | Jumbos prepare to fight for playoff lives in Maine
Published: Friday, April 27, 2012
Updated: Friday, April 27, 2012 10:04
This weekend in Maine, the baseball team’s destiny will be decided in a three-game series against Bowdoin. The Jumbos, winners of the past two NESCAC championships, must win two of three games against the Polar Bears to move into second place in the NESCAC East division and earn a berth into the conference tournament.
Despite owning a 20-8 overall record, the Jumbos have struggled against division opponents, going 4-5. They are currently riding a seven-game winning streak — all non-division wins — and their approach this weekend will be no different than it has been.
“I don’t think there’s a real issue to worry about,” said freshman pitcher/infielder Joe Harrington about his team’s struggles in NESCAC competition. “We weren’t getting hits when we needed them, and in the Colby and Trinity series they hit the ball when they needed to and got some key runs. But we are still preparing for the games in the same way all the time.”
The Jumbos have scored 64 runs during their current hot streak, which comes on the heels of consecutive series losses to the Mules and Bantams. Senior co-captain Matt Collins, the reigning NESCAC Player of the Week, has been on a tear during the run, hitting .630 with 12 RBIs and 12 run scored and now is fourth in the conference with a .419 batting average. Senior co-captain Sam Sager, who was recently moved to the leadoff position in the lineup, has also caught fire of late, hitting .529 with seven runs scored and five RBIs in Tufts’ past four games. The duo now ranks first and second in runs scored in the NESCAC this season.
“Our last seven games, we’ve been playing great baseball,” Harrington said. “Everyone is buying into the approach that is staying back and trying to hit the ball the other way, not trying to do too much. Everyone is just trying to play their role and it’s paying off. We’re pushing across runs in key situations and not relying on the big inning, and it’s been successful.”
The pitchers certainly appreciate the increased offensive production.
“We’ve been hitting really well,” said senior pitcher Dave Ryan, who leads the team with five wins on the season. “Scoring a lot of runs makes it easy.”
Meanwhile, Bowdoin is coming off a 2-1 weekend against Colby and enters the do-or-die series against Tufts with a record of 18-14 overall and, more importantly, 5-4 in the NESCAC East. The Polar Bears have been paced by junior Oliver Van Zant, arguably the top pitcher in the NESCAC this season. The right-hander, who has not pitched since April 20 and will likely get the start in the series opener, currently leads the NESCAC in ERA (2.08) and shutouts with two.
Offensively, Bowdoin relies on the bats of junior catcher Dan Findley and junior outfielder Tim McGarry, who lead the team in nearly every offensive category. Freshman shortstop Aaron Rosen has also contributed in his first season, hitting .315 with 13 RBIs and 12 runs scored.
“We know their pitching is good and their defense is pretty good,” Ryan said. “It really depends on how we play. If we play the way we are supposed to, I don’t think there will be a problem.”
The key for the Jumbos this weekend will be their ability to score in the early innings. They are typically at their best when the bats come alive early in games, as they often did during their 7-3 spring break trip as well as during their recent seven-game winning streak.
Playing clean defense will also be crucial.
“I think we just have to play solid defense and not give any outs away,” Harrington said. “That’s where we can get hurt. If we limit our mistakes, it should be a competitive weekend.”
With a pair of wins in Brunswick this weekend, the Jumbos can put their NESCAC struggles behind them. A berth into the conference tournament would give Tufts the chance to compete for a third straight conference title, which would be an impressive feat in itself after the graduation of one of the most talented baseball classes in Tufts history.
“It’s good to know that whether or not we move on is in our hands,” Harrington said. “But it really hasn’t changed our approach at all. All we are really focused on is playing good baseball, and hopefully if we do that we will be happy.”