Undefeated since returning from its Arizona trip, the baseball team is for real. After sweeping Little Three rival Williams (7-10, 4-5 NESCAC) last weekend, the Cardinals (18-5, 6-0 NESCAC) have now won an incredible 10 games in a row and sit in first place in the NESCAC West; every other NESCAC team has dropped at least one conference game.
Their pitching has dominated, their defense has been reliable, and their hitting has been clutch. And when a team has all three facets of the game working like that, it’s certainly tough to beat. Who knows what the rest of the 2014 season holds in store for the Cardinals, but two-thirds of the way through, one thing is for sure: Wesleyan is the team to beat.
Wesleyan won the first game of the series 4-1 on April 11 at Dresser Diamond behind a masterful, 120-pitch complete-game performance from Nick Cooney ’15 (4-1, 2.79 ERA). The junior left-hander allowed four hits and walked five, but was effectively wild, striking out nine, pumping heat past the Ephs all game long.
“Kind of similar to last game,” Cooney said about what was working for him. “Had the fastball in the beginning, and then started mixing in the curveball a little bit. Just trying to work in on guys. They were popping balls up, jamming them, so it seemed to work.”
Guy Davidson ’16 has been putting on a defensive clinic all season long, and it was no different in this game. In the sixth, the sophomore shortstop made an impressive diving play on a ground ball up the middle, got to his feet, and fired a bullet to first to get the out.
“I just try to talk a lot [to my teammates],” Davison said about the key to his defensive success this season. “It keeps me focused. Communicating keeps you loose. It makes everyone feel in it together and helps you stay confident.”
Cooney seemed to appreciate having such a solid shortstop playing behind him.
“He’s unbelievable,” Cooney said about Davidson and his excellent stop. “I think that got us going to get some runs in the next inning.”
Cooney’s ace-caliber effort was almost for naught, as the Cards trailed 1-0 heading into the bottom of the seventh. After an Ephs error allowed Wesleyan to tie the score, Robby Harbison ’17 played the hero, coming up with a two-out double with runners on the corners to drive in two runs and give the Cardinals a 3-1 lead.
“It felt great,” Harbison said about his go-ahead hit. “He threw me a fastball middle-in. I saw the same pitch my second at-bat, and I was a little early on it. But fortunately I capitalized in my third at-bat. It was a good situation to do it in. So it helped us out a lot.”
Wesleyan tacked on another insurance run in the eighth, and Cooney handled matters in the ninth by finishing strong, striking out the final batter of the game.
“He just threw the team on his back, and kept going,” said Head Coach Mark Woodworth about Cooney. “Could have pitched all day. It was awesome. So pumped for him. He pitched great.”
You could sense the buzz among the Wesleyan players after such a statement game from the Cardinals.
“It’s a huge win,” Harbison said after the series opener. “This team is good. We set the tone for the rest of the season here. And we got to get two more wins tomorrow and keep rolling throughout the rest of the season.”
Wesleyan traveled to Williams on April 12 and did just as Harbison wanted, sweeping both games of a doubleheader, winning the first 7-2, and taking the second 12-2.
Jeff Blout ’14 (4-0, 4.55 ERA) earned the victory in the first game with a complete-game effort, striking out six Ephs and walking none. And Gavin Pittore ’16 (4-0 4.97 ERA) picked up the win in the second game, pitching seven dominant innings, allowing only two hits and one run, while striking out nine.
Harbison, it turned out, was only getting started in the series opener. The freshman designated hitter drove in three more runs and collected six more hits on the afternoon to raise his team-best batting average to .410.
“I’ve been jumping on early pitches a lot,” Harbison said. “I try not to get down in the count too much. And if I see a fastball the first one or two pitches I just try to hit it hard somewhere.”
Woodworth loves what the first-year standout has brought to the team.
“He just gives us great at-bats all the time,” Woodworth said about Harbison. “He’s really aggressive. And I’m happy for him.”
Wesleyan will travel next to Salve Regina (17-11) to take on the Seahawks on Tuesday, April 15, as the Cards look to notch their 11th consecutive win.