c/o Max Forstein

c/o Max Forstein

Fourteen total solar eclipses and fifty-one Connecticut earthquakes ago. That is when the Cardinals last started a baseball season as well as they have this year. After a disappointing first-round exit from last year’s NESCAC Championships, the Cards returned this year more experienced and driven than ever, knowing that they had to leave no doubt about who was the team to beat. 

“In the offseason, everyone put their head down and worked,” captain Patrick Murphy ’24 said. “And that’s just a testament to their work ethic over the summer, and in the offseason. So that sends a message that there’s no spots guaranteed, everyone has to earn a spot. And you got to show up every day ready to play.”

Wesleyan began the season by exchanging the cold Connecticut rain for some hard-earned Southwest sunshine as they flew out to Tucson, Ariz. for the annual spring trip.

“The trip is awesome,” Ernie Little ’26 said. “It’s pretty much what you look forward to all year, because you’re stuck inside in cold New England for however many months, and then you’re headed out to Arizona, and you’re finally playing baseball. So team bonding-wise, it’s definitely better than anything I’ve ever been a part of. It’s just a really good energy.”

The Cards landed in Tucson with high expectations for themselves, as they wanted to prove that they had what it would take to make an impact in 2024.

“Our expectations were just to make a statement right from the get-go,” Murphy said. “[This was] our last trip to Arizona, for seniors, [so] I think we just wanted to come out of Arizona strong with a lot of wins, so we can set the tone coming back here.”

They did just that, as Murphy pitched beautifully in the season opener, tossing seven shutout innings against Gustavus Adolphus College as the Cards took the game 5–0.

“That really showed everyone that like, ‘Hey, we can compete with anyone,’” Murphy said. “It doesn’t matter who it is. We’ll play good teams, but we’re better than that.”

The Cards kept rolling, as they took two games from Augsburg University (7–6, 10–2) and one game from Hamline University (11–6). 

“Our first win kind of set the bar for us and let us know that we’re a good team,” Little said. “And we can beat anyone. So after that, we were just rolling. We were going down in games, and fighting right back and winning games, which definitely was a step up from last year. So I’d say after a couple of games, the expectation kind of rose.”

The Cardinals kept their heads down and went to work against Augsburg once again. After jumping to a 5–0 lead in the fourth, the Cards put on a show in the sixth, scoring 11 runs, including a grand slam from James Marsden ’24. The final score was 19–1, and if they weren’t before, teams were now on notice that Wesleyan came to play.

With two more wins against Hamline and Saint John’s University (13–9, 5–2) Wesleyan had a 7–0 start, their best start since 2010. The streak was filled with outstanding team and individual performances, but none more than Marsden who homered in five consecutive games over the last five of the streak and was awarded the NESCAC Player of the Week honor for his contribution.

The streak ended as Wesleyan fell to Saint John’s 1–4, but they rebounded, picking up a win against Carleton College 13–11 in preparation for their first taste of NESCAC competition.

On March 19, the Red and Black faced Bates for the first time in two years, and they did not disappoint. As the old saying goes, good offense beats good defense, and Bates put up some good offense with a solid 11 runs. But the Bobcats forgot that good offense can also be beaten by better offense, which is exactly what happened as the Wesleyan bats put up 22 runs, improving their record to 9–1.

As the spring trip wound down, Wesleyan faced a humbling loss to Redlands University 0–15, but responded well by closing out the trip with a 9–8 win against Carleton. They flew back to Connecticut with a 10–2 record and momentum to keep winning.

c/o Max Forstein

c/o Max Forstein

For the home opener, the Cards took on the University of Saint Joseph and handed out a 21–4 blowout, as had become routine, with home runs by Little and captain Matt Halas ’24 punctuating the victory. These non-conference games can sometimes seem unimportant, but the Cards have made a point of taking every game as seriously as possible.

“Sometimes, over the past few years, we haven’t taken those games as seriously,” Halas said. “So the key point we made during the fall and during the winter is to take every single game seriously and treat every single game like it’s a NESCAC tournament game which has really worked well for us so far.”

Coming off of this impressive victory, Wesleyan was set for their first conference play of the year and took on Amherst on their home field. The game was a pitchers’ duel as neither team could get anything going through four innings, and Wesleyan pitcher AJ Karabenick ’24 was dealing. In the top of the fifth, Little put the Cards on the board with an RBI single into centerfield, but the Mammoths responded in the bottom of the inning as they tied the game on a sacrifice fly. From then on Karabenick was lights out as he pitched through the ninth inning, sending Amherst down scoreless each time.

“Historically, AJ [Karabenick] pitches lights out every single time we play there,” Murphy said. “So I knew that heading into the game, he’s gonna show up today because he always does. And then as far as the hitters are concerned, I have all the confidence in the world in them to score runs at will.”

After nine innings, the score was tied at 1–1 sending the game into extras, and in the top of the tenth, the Cardinal offense showed up. With two outs, Halas scored on a single by Cole Torino ’24 to give Wes a 2–1 lead and the next batter, Evan Diaz ’25, hit a two-run bomb to seal the deal. After an RBI triple by Marsden and a one-two-three bottom of the tenth for Cards pitcher Matt Spada ’26, Wesleyan won 5–1.

The following day, the series moved to Middletown and the Cards were not at their best as they fell to the Mammoths 1–5, but set for a pivotal rubber game, they knew what they had to do.

“It was definitely a do-or-die game,” Halas said. “At the end of game two, we reset. We knew we didn’t hit well in that game. But we knew who we were going to face in game three. We’ve had success against that pitcher in the past. And we knew Pat was gonna be on the mound. We weren’t going to be denied like we were earlier in the day.”

Amherst started the scoring with one run in the top of the first, but the Cards responded with two in the third and three in the fourth, jumping out to a 5–1 lead. Although Amherst fought back, the Red and Black held their ground and took the game 7–5, securing their first conference series win of 2024.

On Saturday, April 6, Wesleyan took on Williams looking to secure the Little Three Championship, and, on the heels of a small earthquake that was felt around the tri-state area the day before, the Cardinals bats shook Middletown once more.

The Red and Black capitalized early on the shaky Ephs defense and made them pay in the first inning, scoring five runs including a two-run homer by Luke LaSaracina ’25. The hit parade continued as the Cards put up fourteen runs over the next four innings pushing their lead to 19–1. Murphy locked it down on the other end, allowing only two hits and one run through five innings pitched, and when all was said and done the Cards won 21–1. In 310 total games played between these two schools, dating back to April 13, 1892, the Cards’ 20-run margin of victory is the largest ever between the two teams. But the record books stayed open as the Cards weren’t done making history.

In the second game, Karabenick was lights out as he sent down the first six batters he faced and pitched his way to eight shutout innings, allowing three hits. Unlike his previous start, where run support didn’t come until extra innings, the Cards’ bats backed up their pitcher, scoring 13 runs on 18 hits. Three of the hits came off the bat of LaSaracina, who notched his 100th career hit with an RBI single that drove in the 13th run of the game. Diaz also had himself a day, collecting a home run and two triples in the afternoon. The 13–0 win was the largest shutout victory for the Cards in the aforementioned history between Wesleyan and Williams.

“For the older guys, when we were freshmen, we lost to Williams,” Murphy said. “So being able to return the favor and one-upping them, putting on a record showing on the offensive front, and also pitching, we just showed them—you know, without saying anything—that we’re here and we’re not gonna back down from anyone.”

When the dust settled, the Cards captured the 2024 Little Three Championship, Amherst having taken it last season, but Wesleyan was still locked in, ready for the second half of the season.

“It’s awesome, obviously an awesome accomplishment,” Little said. “But I think as a team as a whole, we have bigger goals in mind. I think we know we should win the Little Three and now we want to win the conference.”

The series ended in a loss to Williams (5–11), but as the Cards have done all season long, they rebounded well and beat Westfield State University (9–2) to bring their overall record to 16–4, the best start since 1999. The team is firing on all cylinders, etching their names into the record books while staying level-headed and playing smart situational baseball to win close games. It’s easy to see why there’s a lot of excitement around the team.

“The guys know that we’re battle-tested,” Halas said. “We’ve been up, we can play with the lead, we can play when we’re behind. And our pitchers have the utmost confidence in our fielders and vice versa. So everyone on the team has trust in one another and knows that everyone’s going to do their job, which is a key part of the success we’re gonna have going forward.”

This weekend Wesleyan will play a three-game series against Hamilton, and with only six division games remaining, the weekend has significant playoff implications. But regardless of the pressure, the Cardinals are ready.

“I’ve never been more excited for a month of baseball,” Murphy said. “That’s because of the work that we’ve done and the results we’ve gotten and how our mindset really hasn’t changed at all. We get excited when things go well, as we should, and when we lose a game we’re upset. But once that next day hits, and we’re at practice, or at our next game, we’re just back to where we were before. It’s a new day, it’s a new opportunity to win a baseball game. So let’s take advantage of it.”

Ethan Lee can be reached at ejlee@wesleyan.edu.