The Cards will fly down to Arizona this spring break to open their season at the Tucson Invitational Games. Wes will start off facing a series of teams from all over the country in the tournament before heading north to California, where they will play a sample of the Golden State’s Division III talent . With these two weeks of non-stop baseball, the Cards look to gain momentum heading into the NESCAC season, where they plan to redeem themselves after 2016’s conference playoff run was cut short by Trinity.
Last year’s regular season was a success for Wes, who posted a 23-12 record and tied with Amherst to lead the conference’s West Division. With a 7-5 conference record, the Redbirds stood equal to the Bantams, who had finished second in the East Division. Trinity finished behind a powerful Tufts squad who dominated the NESCAC with an 11-1 record (and a whopping 35-8 overall record). These teams will have a lot on the line heading into the season following 2016’s vicious conference playoffs.
However, the 2016 season was nonetheless a significant drop-off from the team’s excellence in recent years, and the Cards will look to repeat their peak performances from the past several seasons. In 2014, after a 10-2 conference record, the Cards staved off a Tufts comeback in the final game of the conference playoffs to clinch a 6-4 victory and win their first ever NESCAC Championship. The subsequent 2015 season was even more impressive as the Cards went undefeated in the ’CAC, not dropping a game all the way though the championship, where they edged Amherst out, 4-3.
Wes heads into this season without much of its core from the past four years. Starting pitcher Peter Rantz ’16 vacates his spot in the rotation, while the graduations of Jordan Farber ’16, Guy Davidson ’16, and Marco Baratta ’16 leave glaring holes in the starting lineup. Rantz was one of the aces of the team with a 2.97 ERA his junior year and a 3.78 ERA his senior year. Farber was key on offense with a .400 batting average his junior year and then a .331 his senior year. Davidson started at shortstop for most of last season and batted a .386. Perhaps what Wes will miss most of all though is Baratta’s .434 batting average in 2016, which helped offset the team’s shaky defensive game over the course of the season. Among other honors, Baratta was named First Team All-ECAC (Eastern College Athletic Conference) along with All-Region First Team nods from D3baseball.com and the New England Intercollegiate Baseball Association.
Fortunately, the Cards will hold on to senior pitchers Nick Miceli, Ethan Rode, and Asher Young, who will all work to fill the gap left by last year’s seniors. Miceli looks to break the school’s career save record this season, held by current Chicago Cubs GM Jed Hoyer ’96.
Other players that Wes will lean heavily on this season include second baseman Will O’Sullivan ’17, third baseman Ellis Schaefer ’17 and third baseman/outfielder Danny Rose ’19, all of whom went above .300 for their on-base percentage last season.
Pitcher Michael McCaffery ’19 looks forward to seeing how the first-years will help to fill some of the gaps left by the departing seniors.
“I’m really excited for the season,” said McCaffrey. “We’ve got a great group of guys coming back this year and the freshman class coming in should make an impact right away.”
Young expanded on these incoming recruits and how they will spur on the older players to perform their best.
“We’re really excited about our prospects this year,” said Young. “We have an extremely talented freshman class and they’re competing for some important roles, which pushes all the returning guys to be that much more focused. We lost a couple of good arms, Peter Rantz [’16] and Wilson Flower [’16], and some really strong bats in the lineup, so there are certainly opportunities to be had by everyone.”
Young also called attention to the effort to improve the pitching staff this year, given it was one of the team’s soft spots last season.
“For whatever reason, our pitching staff struggled to find a steady rhythm last year and our team was definitely hindered by it,” Young said. “Our hitters really picked us up last year, so as a pitching staff, we’ve been looking to hold ourselves accountable this year and set high expectations. We’ve looked good indoors so far, but everything changes when you go down to Arizona and balls start carrying. As long as we maintain our focus, though, I think we can give our team a chance to win every time out there.”
With this focus in mind, another goal for the Cards this year is to win the Little Three outright after the rivalry locked in a three-way tie last season. It looks to be just as close this year. As mentioned earlier, Amherst split first place with Wes in the NESCAC West, and Williams was not far behind with a 6-6 conference record. If Wes wins this year, it will be the fifth year in a row that the team has kept the title.
At the impending Tuscon Invitational, Wes will first duke it out with Salem State University on March 12 before facing Wisconsin’s finest, Concordia University and Marian University, and then finishing against Kalamazoo College. On March 18, the Redbirds will travel up to the California Classic Tournament to meet Pomona-Pitzer (Pomona College and Pitzer College) and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (Claremont McKenna College, Harvey Mudd College, and Scripps College), and then finish the trip off with games against University of Redlands, Whittier College, and University of La Verne. The Red and Black’s first game after break will be home against Eastern Connecticut State University on March 29.