Coach John Casey knows that success for his baseball team hinges on quality pitching. Poor efforts on the mound lead to disaster.
Both caveats emerged in full force this weekend.
Sandwiched around a miserable doubleheader sweep at Huskins Field against Colby on Saturday that backed Tufts into a corner, two senior pitchers delivered a pair of gems, and a sophomore rebounded from the shortest outing of his career.
Hope is alive and well.
Senior Kevin Gilchrist threw the first Tufts no−hitter since 2003 in the opener of a seven−and−seven doubleheader against UMass Dartmouth on Monday. Sporting a red, white and baby blue cap in honor of Patriots’ Day, Gilchrist struck out four and walked two in a 4−0 win. Sophomore Christian Sbily allowed three hits and one run in six strong innings, a far cry from the Jumbos’ 5−2 loss on Saturday, in which Sbily gave off a leadoff homer and three straight singles before being yanked.
For Gilchrist, merely getting the start was a feat, let alone hurling his first career no−hitter. He had spent most of the season in the bullpen with what Casey described as “general arm soreness.” The second−team All−NESCAC selection hadn’t pitched into the fifth inning since his first start of the season on March 19, sprinkling in five relief appearances along the way.
“I feel bad for him; it’s been really frustrating,” Casey said. “We’ve tried to pitch him out the bullpen because some days he was feeling better than others. It’s nothing structurally; it’s just muscle. Our hope was that we could get him going today, give him another start this weekend, maybe he’ll feel good enough to pitch in the Bowdoin series.”
Gilchrist didn’t learn he would start against the Corsairs until just before game time. It was just a matter of rediscovering his pregame rituals and loosening up. Given his experience, that didn’t take long.
“This is a grind right now, what’s coming up,” Gilchrist said. “It’s easy to get discouraged if you pitch poorly in a NESCAC game, but that’s a learning process. It’s part of the experience. Me and Sbily pitching well today, that picked the staff up.”
Tufts swept UMass Dartmouth 9−1 in the doubleheader finale, carrying a 4−1 lead into the fifth before exploding for five runs off freshman Josh Rebello. Senior co−captains Sam Sager and Matt Collins combined to go 5−for−6 with four runs scored and two RBIs.
After Trinity swept Tufts the previous weekend, Tufts appeared primed for a rebound in the series opener last Friday against Colby pouring on 10 runs against starter Nate Sugarbaker behind three RBIs each from Collins and freshman Wade Hauser. The same formula that carried the Jumbos past the Corsairs propelled them to a 14−4 win against the Mules: strong pitching and timely hitting.
Senior Dave Ryan overcame some early location issues to strike out 13 in seven innings, the most by a Tufts pitcher since 2009. The man Gilchrist calls “Doc” — Ryan’s initials are D.R. — had thrown more than 60 pitches through three innings but settled into a groove behind a devastating curveball, relying on the pitch the rest of the way.
“Around the second or third, I pretty much had it, and I was able to throw it exactly where I wanted to,” Ryan said. “This year, it’s definitely been my go−to pitch for strikeouts.” Any jubilation brought on by the opener ended in a heap of disappointment on Saturday. Relievers Dean Lambert and Willie Archibald held the Mules to one run after Sbily exited, but the Jumbos mustered just four hits against Brady Hesslein. The rubber match was more of the same. Freshman Kyle Slinger gave up nine runs on eight hits in 1 2/3 innings, a deficit that Sager (3−for−5, 3 RBIs) and five relievers (one run on eight hits over 7 1/3 innings) could not overcome.
Casey chalked some of the Jumbos’ recent weekend struggles — they have lost five of their past six NESCAC games and will likely need to sweep the Bowdoin Polar Bears in two weeks to have a shot at three−peating their conference title — up to conference inexperience in the rotation, but there’s an underlying problem, too.
“It’s easy to win when you have good pitching, but we’re just not consistently hitting the ball now,” Casey said. “We have yet to swing a game home. And good teams swing games home.
“It’s not just effort. It’s skill,” he added. “When you’re facing guys and you can’t throw the ball within a three−inch radius, you get hit no matter who you play. There are some guys you have to swing it well enough to win, and we have not done that yet. They’re giving us runs, and we’re holding them down, so it’s easy.”
With the Jumbos’ backs against the wall, the job only gets harder from here.