c/o Brooke Guiffre

c/o Brooke Guiffre

On Saturday, April 29, Wesleyan baseball secured their first West Division title since 2016 with a series win over Hamilton. It is their third consecutive conference series win this year, which shows great momentum that the Cardinals will carry into the NESCAC playoffs this weekend. As always, the baseball season is long and grueling, but the team came into the season with high hopes.

Outfielder, pitcher, and captain Dylan Judd ’22 MA ’23 expected great things from the start.

“At the beginning of every year, I’m like, ‘we are going to win the NESCAC,’” Judd said. “I know that we have such great camaraderie and a good group of guys where we have a shot every year. I knew that we were losing a few pieces from last year. But we definitely had the personnel to step up and grow into their own.”

Pitcher Patrick Murphy ’24 echoed this sentiment and knew why he and the rest of the pitchers were so motivated to begin the season.

“Most of us had an expectation of coming out much stronger than we did last year, just based on sheer experience that we had,” Murphy said. “I can say for myself that for the pitchers, some of us struggled [last year]. In doing that, we learned a lot. So coming back this year, working hard in the off-season, we all had high expectations.”

While the team did graduate a few of their top hitters from the 2022 season, they retained many veteran pitchers like Murphy, as well as hitters like captain and infielder Kyle Sylvester ’22 MA ’23 and Judd which meant that the team felt as a whole that they were poised for a successful 2023 campaign. Things started out rocky during their trip to Arizona in which they went 5–7 overall and lost four of their last five games before returning home. While none of the Arizona games are in-conference, the bad momentum carried over into the Cardinals’ first home series against Williams in which they lost two games to one. It was a confidence killer and not how the team envisioned their season starting, but it may have provided some motivation for games to come.

Murphy did not appreciate starting the season with this loss.

“That first series against Williams, we really shouldn’t have lost because we lost the first game by three to one so we were right there,” Murphy said. “So I think we got a little bit enraged by it. And you know, we don’t like losing to those [NESCAC] teams, especially if they wear purple.”

The tough losses were the motivation and wake-up call that the Cards needed in order to focus up as a team and set their sights on having the best regular season possible. With added focus, they arrived at Middlebury the next week ready to win.

Captain and pitcher Adam Bowler ’23 also considers this series a major turning point for the team.

c/o Brooke Guiffre

c/o Brooke Guiffre

“The series win against Middlebury was a big confidence booster for a lot of us, because we all went into that series a little hesitant because we knew they were a very good team,” Bowler said. “But even some guys that had not been doing as well as they’d like to before that series had kind of stayed the course and kind of continued to believe in themselves. And it was really cool to see them perform and come up big for us and big spots and help us win after.”

After a frustrating start, the Cardinals were right back in it as they claimed two of three games from Middlebury including a 9–8 extra-inning thriller which was won by a Sylvester runs batted in (RBI) single in the top of 10th inning. 

Outfielder Luke LaSaracina ’25 knew that this team was special following the Middlebury series.

“They [Middlebury] have a lot of hype around them, especially after last year,” said LaSaracina. “They’re a really great team, probably one of the best in the country. And coming out of the series, winning two out of the three games, that just shows that we can compete with just about anybody.”

The Cards kept on rolling, and most importantly, played well when it mattered. One week later, the Red and Black played the other team that wears purple: Amherst. The Mammoths came into the series 4–2 in conference play, whereas Wesleyan sat at 3–3. In order to set themselves up for a potentially higher seed in the playoffs, the Cards needed to come out firing and come back to Middletown with another series win under their belts. In the first game, the Red and Black survived a thriller which came down to the last inning in which Amherst scored two runs but could not tie the game so Wesleyan won 8–7. After losing the second game of the series, the Cards rallied and won the rubber game convincingly by a score of 6–2 bringing both Amherst and Wesleyan’s conference records to 5–4 on the season.

Not only were these two teams tied at 5–4, but Hamilton and Middlebury were also sitting at 5–4 meaning that there was a four-way tie at the top of the West Division. All playoff seeding would come down to the final weekend of NESCAC play in which the Cardinals would play the Hamilton College Continentals.

With the pressure on, Sylvester explained what the series would mean and how the team has been here before.

“If we win two out of three, we lock a home game for the first round,” Sylvester said. “So we were in this position last year versus Middlebury. It didn’t go too well, ended up getting three seed, and having to be away. But we remember that and we [didn’t] want to repeat that.”

Judd echoed his remarks and spoke on the mentality of the team approaching the series.

“I think the team mentality for the weekend [was] two things,” Judd said. “The first is you gotta take it one game at a time. You can’t win game three if you can’t win game one. So [game one] is especially important, just getting out early, getting that win under our belt. I also think another thing that we [needed] to keep in mind is just to be yourself and play our own game out there. Don’t let any pressure of this situation get to us. I think we’ve shown we’re a battle tested team. We’ve been through a lot.” 

Through ups and downs, the Cards were only a few good games away from home-field advantage in the playoffs, which speaks to their persistence and talent.

Murphy felt the pressure, but knew what he needed to do to get the Red and Black off to the right start.

“For me, I know I’m [pitching] that first game,” Murphy said. “So I’ve been starting to focus on what I have to do on Friday to help us win, and that’s just throwing harder, throwing strikes. So I had that same mentality when we went to Middlebury, and we came out with the win. I also think, as far as the team goes, we’re all on the same page that we want to win.”

To put it shortly, they did. Murphy dominated in that first game throwing hard and throwing strikes just as he had planned. He ended up pitching a complete game and only allowing two runs and five hits while striking out six. The offense backed him up as LaSaracina homered and infielder Ernie Little ’26 added two hits and 2 RBIs to secure a 5–2 victory. The next day in the first game of the doubleheader, Hamilton fired back winning 5–0, but the Cards were not done. In the final game of the series, Wes beat the Continentals 5–2 off of six shutout innings and 11 strikeouts from pitcher AJ Karabenick ’24 and a three-run bomb from outfielder Jack Nally ’24 to seal the deal. They played to their strengths and did not let the pressure get to them as their wins over Hamilton secured them the number one seed in the West Division as well as home-field advantage in the first round of the NESCAC playoffs. 

Judd summed up the experience and talked about how the team was able to stay ahead.

“We knew going into the weekend it was going to be a hard fought series,” Judd said. “Hamilton’s offense was leading the league in batting average and on base percentage, so it was going to come down to how well we could slow their offense down. Given the talent we have on both sides of the ball when it comes to run prevention and run scoring abilities, we were able to come through in big moments. Ernie’s [Little] 2-run single to pull ahead in game one and Jack Nally’s home run in game three were decisive swings that allowed us to get ahead and stay ahead. And the guys that went out to pitch did an unbelievable job at missing bats and forcing weak contact. I couldn’t be more proud of this group of individuals.”

Murphy echoed these sentiments and talked about the ability to play best when it mattered during the series. 

“I think that from a pitching perspective we were attacking hitters from the start and made adjustments when we needed to,” Murphy said. “All of us competed with conviction and made big pitches in big moments. When we missed, our defense was there to pick us up. Every inning we showed up with intensity and confidence.”

This weekend the Cardinals will host Bowdoin College in the NESCAC quarterfinals with two games on Saturday and one on Sunday. They enter the series with impeccable momentum, and a team of players working as a cohesive unit to win together. If their past three series say anything about their determination to win, the Cardinals will be able to beat anyone who crosses them on the diamond.


Ethan Lee can be reached at ejlee@wesleyan.edu

Comments are closed