Back in the friendly confines of Dresser Diamond this weekend, Cardinal baseball will face Amherst in game one of a series that will determine this year’s Little Three champion. Their opponent looks formidable. While Wes dropped three tough contests to Middlebury this past week, the Mammoths went on a four-game run, the peak of which involved a 16-3 obliteration of Hamilton. Wes will play the second and third games of the deciding doubleheader at Amherst on Saturday.
The two rivals have both managed to float above .500 this season without doing anything spectacular. The Red and Black, to be fair, have had a notably harder schedule that included staunch opponents such as the Coast Guard Academy, Claremont College, and Pomona College. Amherst, on the other hand, was fortunate to face lightweights such as Elms College and Nichols College—both of whom they dispatched easily.
One past matchup that bodes well for the Redbirds entering Friday’s contest is a recent trouncing of Mitchell College, an opponent that Amherst failed to vanquish a few weeks back. The Cards did, however, drop one game in their series against Williams, whereas the Mammoths managed a clean sweep. Other than this, both teams enter Friday’s game boasting similar wins and losses.
As the Cards gear up for the series that is bound to be a tough battle, their three losses to Middlebury this past weekend are still fresh in their minds. Played on enemy turf over the span of two days, each game was tinged with heartbreak.
In game one of Saturday’s doubleheader, the Cards came out aggressively, profiting from an RBI single from Ryan Earle ’19 and a daring steal of home plate by Matt Jeye ’18. Middlebury managed to a score a run in the bottom of the fifth, but Nick Miceli ’17 responded in the next inning with a charge home off of a wild pitch to make the score 3-1. The Cards would lead until the bottom of the sixth, when Middlebury shot off in a six-run rally. The final score read 7-3 in favor of the Panthers.
The Redbirds’ NESCAC rival carried that momentum into the next game, driving in three in the bottom of the third. Wes retaliated with two RBI doubles from Earle and Ellis Schaefer ’17, but the Panthers managed to cling to their one run lead until the final frame. Despite the tough 3-2 loss, the game was highlighted by the pitching of Ethan Rode ’17, who went eight innings and gave up only three runs.
Although they had already lost the overall series, the Cards came out on Sunday to fight for pride and key positioning in the NESCAC playoffs. Poor pitching from Middlebury’s mound gave the Birds an early run via walk with Will O’Sullivan ’17 sauntering home, but the middle innings proved to be the difference in the contest: the Panthers racked up five runs, while Wes remained stranded at one. There was a spark of a comeback in the top of the eighth when Danny Rose ’19 managed to drive in Schaefer. O’Sullivan then followed up with a RBI double to send two runs across the plate. The comeback sputtered, however, when Middlebury tallied two runs in the bottom of the frame, securing a 7-4 win.
The results of these three games showcase Wesleyan’s need to improve at the plate. The team’s poor batting performance comes as a surprise, given the string of high scoring games the Cards have put together in recent weeks. As the Cards are sure to face strong pitching from Amherst this weekend, improving their ability to get on base and score runs will be crucial for them to have a shot at winning.
“Rivalry week is the spark that we needed and I’m really confident in how we are going to play this week,” said star pitcher Mike McCaffrey ’19.
Winning the Little Three is not the only thing at stake this weekend. The Cards will also be vying to stay competitive in the NESCAC standings. Right now, the team sits at second place in West Division with a tepid 4-4 record, but a sweep against Amherst could launch the Cardinals past the Mammoths and Middlebury, who are currently tied for first place. After this weekend, Wes will have just two conference games left for the season; the squad will battle Trinity in a doubleheader on Saturday, May 6.
“It’s a huge series this weekend against our arch rival so our complete focus is on that and preparing everything we can to come out with a win,” said O’Sullivan.