WILLIAMSTOWN, MA. — Bill Barrale understands how crazy postseason baseball can be.
After all, the Ephs' head coach has seen his team win as the top seed of the NESCAC Tournament, and also lose as the top seed. In fact, in his seven years, he's seen it all. This year, he figures, is no different.
"It's been a crazy season, so anything can happen," Barrale said."It's a new season. We have been getting solid pitching and playing solid defense, so if we can get a few timely hits, who knows what the results will be."
Friday the Ephs open the 2012 NESCAC Tournament at three-time conference champion Trinity College, the top seed out of the East Division
The three-day, double-elimination tournament features former NESCAC champions Amherst and Williams from the West, along with Trinity and two-time runner-up Bowdoin from the East, as the Polar Bears will be appearing in the playoffs for the third year in a row, the longest active streak among all conference teams.
Williams (16-19, 7-5 NESCAC West) didn't get into the conference championship until the final weekend of the season, but unlike the Polar Bears, the Ephs needed a bit of help to do it. After starting the year 1-5 in divisional play, including a gut-wrenching sweep at the hands of rival Amherst April 6-7, Williams rebounded with three wins over Wesleyan the following weekend. Heading into the final series of the spring against Hamilton, the Ephs sat in third place in the division at 4-5, while the Cardinals were just ahead in second with a 6-3 mark prior to their three-game showdown with Amherst. Williams got exactly what it needed to catch Wesleyan, as a pair of Eph wins on Saturday combined with the Cardinals failing to gain any victories against the Jeffs put the two-time NESCAC champs into the tournament for the 10th time in 12 years.
"I told our team we've already played five play-off games this season," Barrale noted. "Let's go down there and make the best of it."
Williams won the inaugural conference championship back in 2001 over Tufts, then claimed its second crown in 2007 by once again downing the Jumbos. The Ephs haven't been back to the title game since and completely missed the cut for the 2011 tournament field. The only playoff foe Williams has faced this spring is Amherst, and the Ephs head into this weekend's action having recently dropped a pair at Bates to close out the regular season.
Among those hoping to bring the NESCAC trophy back to Williamstown this weekend will be senior LHP Harry Marino. Marino is 4-3 over eight starts with a 3.20 ERA and a .263 opponents average. He notably became the first Eph in over two decades to toss a no-hitter this season, doing so against Hamilton on April 28.
The other two main starters this season have been sophomore Steve Marino (2-2, 4.15 ERA) and first-year Thomas Murphy (2-3, 3.38 ERA). Lucas Casso is 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA in 10 innings out of the bullpen, while senior Matt Berdoff (1-1, 1 Sv.) has seen the most action with 28 1/3 innings. Senior Dan Grossman (3-2, 6.55 ERA) had logged 22 innings.
At the plate, first-year Luke Pierce is leading Williams with a .326 average and 6 triples on the season. Junior outfielder Darren Hartwell is batting .319 with a team-high 35 runs scored and 15 stolen bases over 17 attempts. Junior third sacker Taylor Mondshein is also hitting .319 with 21 RBI, second on the squad. Senior shortstop Cameron Susk is batting .313 with a team-leading 22 RBI.
After missing the tournament field in each of the last two years, Trinity (29-9, 10-2 NESCAC East) started the conference slate strong with series sweeps over Colby and 2011 champ Tufts. The Bantams nearly locked up the top spot out of the East Division midway through April, as the only thing that prevented them from doing so proved to be a 12-11 setback to Bowdoin on Friday the 13th. Trinity won the series over the Polar Bears, 2-1, then managed to take 2-of-3 the next weekend from Bates to secure hosting duties for this year's championship.
The Bantams earned their first NESCAC title the hard way during the 2003 championship, as they won twice on the final day over host Amherst. Trinity's run to the 2008 championship was one part of a remarkable season in which the Bantams strung together an unbelievable 44-game winning streak to start the year and capped things off with the program's first NCAA title. Trinity's third NESCAC crown came a year later at Williams, as the Bantams went 3-0 over the three-day event.
The Bantams have only faced the Polar Bears among this year's championship field but own a 6-0 record against West Division foes after taking two from Hamilton, Middlebury, and Wesleyan earlier this spring. Trinity boasts a strong mix of production at the plate and steady pitching. Junior Stephen Rogers (Watertown, Mass.) currently sits atop the Bantam stat sheet with a .391 average, collecting 52 hits, five doubles, five triples, and five homers while driving in 31 runs. Senior Edward Donovan (Milton, Mass.) and sophomore Peter Burrows (Floral Park, N.Y.) have seen a majority of action on the hill for Trinity, as the tandem has helped their team post a 2.75 ERA and a .228 opponents' average, both league-low figures.
Returning to the championship as the top seed from the West Division for the second year in a row is Amherst (23-8, 10-2 NESCAC West). Like their counterparts from the East, the Lord Jeffs opened up the year with sweeps in their first two series, taking three from Hamilton on March 30-31 before battling past rival Williams on April 6-7. Owning an 11-2 record after returning from its spring break trip to Florida, Amherst was briefly diverted from its course to the West's number-one seed during the Middlebury series, winning game one on April 20, 3-1, before giving up a late-inning lead in game two in a 6-5 loss. The Panthers snatched the series away from the Jeffs for the first time ever, taking the decisive third game 16-6 the next afternoon. Amherst, which had not lost two games in a row this spring prior to that point, got back on track the following weekend, sweeping Wesleyan to earn the number-one spot in the division.
The two-time NESCAC champion Lord Jeffs own a 5-0 mark against tournament participants, a figure that includes a pair of wins over Bowdoin during the first leg of their spring break excursion back on March 18, but have yet to meet Trinity this season. During last year's championship, Amherst had high hopes of winning its first title since 2005, however two one-run losses to Bowdoin eliminated the Lord Jeffs before the final game.
The Jeffs will have revenge on their minds when they meet the Polar Bears in the tourney opener for both teams. Looking to put Amherst in a prime position to claim its third NESCAC title are senior Kevin Heller (Brooklyn, N.Y.) and junior Bob Cook (Winnetka, Ill.). The duo pace the conference's best offense, as Heller has a .396 average and .484 on-base mark with a team-high 13 doubles while Cook holds a .390 average with a .505 on-base mark. Cook has also impressed on the mound this season, going 5-0 over six starts with a 2.61 ERA and a .241 opponents' average.
Still searching for its first conference crown is Bowdoin (23-16, 8-4 NESCAC East). The Polar Bears, who will be making their sixth tournament appearance, have finished as the runner-up to Tufts in each of the last two years for the NESCAC title. At the 2010 championship, the Polar Bears battled back from a day one loss to reach the sixth game before falling to the Jumbos, 6-1. A year later, Tufts outlasted Bowdoin in 12 innings by a 4-2 score in game four, a game which determined the conference champion when the final day of the tournament was rained out.
Just 3-3 in the division at the midway point this spring, the Polar Bears went 2-1 against rival Colby to set up a showdown with Tufts for the second and final spot out of the East Division. Needing to take 2-of-3 games from the Jumbos, the Polar Bears opened the series with a 5-3 victory on April 27, then recovered from a four-run deficit in the final inning of game two to steal the game - and the last playoff spot - in an 8-7 win. Bowdoin closed out the three game set with Tufts by posting a 4-2 victory. In addition to playing Amherst, the Polar Bears have faced West Division foes Middlebury and Wesleyan, splitting both series with three of the four games decided by a single run.
Pitching has been a strong suit for Bowdoin this season, as its stable of hurlers is one of the best in the NESCAC. Junior RHP Oliver Van Zant (Westport, Conn.) headlines a Polar Bear pitching staff looking for its first NESCAC crown, as the 2010 NESCAC Pitcher and Rookie of the Year owns a 5-2 record with a 2.20 ERA, a .204 opponents' average, and a league-leading 82 strikeouts (1.43 K/INN).
2012 NESCAC BASEBALL CHAMPIONSHIP
Day 1 - Friday, May 11
Game 1 - W2 Williams at E1 Trinity - 3:00 p.m. - at Trinity, Hartford, Conn.
Game 2 - E2 Bowdoin vs. W1 Amherst - 3:00 p.m. - at Wesleyan, Middletown, Conn.
Day 2 - Saturday, May 12
Game 3 - Loser of GM 1 vs. Loser of GM 2 - 10:30 a.m. - at Wesleyan, Middletown, Conn.
Game 4 - Winner of GM 1 vs. Winner of GM 2 - 10:30 a.m. - at Trinity, Hartford, Conn.
Game 5 - Winner of GM 3 vs. Loser of GM 4 - 2:30 p.m. - at Trinity, Hartford, Conn.
Day 3 - Sunday, May 13
Game 6 - Winner of GM 4 vs. Winner of GM 5 - 10:00 a.m.
Game 7 - If Necessary - Immediately Following