The season hung in the balance, six outs offering a flicker of hope between near-disaster and a fresh start.
And then, everything came crashing down.
With two innings remaining and a chance to earn nine more innings to fight for its playoff life, the baseball team squandered a six-run lead, failing to force a rubber match as Bowdoin walked off in an 8-7 decision, burying Tufts’ postseason chances in Brunswick, Maine.
Rather than mounting the sort of heroic comeback that had become commonplace for the Jumbos in recent years, they were instead swept by the Polar Bears in three games at Pickard Field, officially ending their bid for a third consecutive NESCAC championship.
“We knew what we had to do, we knew it came down to how we played, and in the end we just didn’t get done what we had to do,” senior co-captain Sam Sager said. “The results speak for themselves. You get what you deserve.”
Tufts already had its back against the wall after losing the series opener, 5-3, and falling victim to 13 strikeouts from Bowdoin ace Oliver Van Zant that broke the school’s career strikeout record.
But things looked bright when Saturday’s doubleheader kicked off. Though the Polar Bears struck first in their opening at-bat against sophomore Christian Sbily, the Jumbos responded in the third when freshman Wade Hauser doubled down the right-field line, driving in sophomore Tim Mitropoulos, Sager and senior co-captain left fielder Matt Collins, all of whom had been walked by Bowdoin starter Christian Martin.
The Jumbos tacked on three more in the sixth on a two-RBI single by Mitropoulos, who has assumed the starting second base role and is hitting .375 (12-for-32) since April 13. Mitropoulos later scored on a Collins sacrifice fly, pushing Tufts’ lead to 7-1.
Then, the floodgates opened.
Bowdoin chased Sbily in the sixth after two errors and a wild pitch. Freshman closer Willie Archibald didn’t fare much better, loading the bases in the seventh after another Tufts error. Consecutive hits against freshman Tom Ryan brought the Polar Bears within one run and, after freshman Kyle Slinger surrendered an RBI single and walked Buddy Shea to load the bases, Sam Canales stroked the walk-off single to left that did in the Jumbos.
“Looking back, it’s hard to handle,” junior right fielder Eric Weikert said. “We didn’t come out with the fire in our belly, we didn’t make the plays we had to make, and you’re going to lose to a good team that does that. Reflecting on it a day later, it sucks that it has to end this way. But like coach said in the locker room, it’s history now, and it’s something we have to wear from here on out.”
Tufts managed just three hits in the inconsequential series finale, tallying three more errors that gave them seven on the weekend. Entering the week, the Jumbos ranked fourth in the nation in fielding percentage.
Sager went 4-for-11 over the weekend, and is now hitting .400 on the season with two games remaining. He’s already set the career doubles mark; his 137 career runs are the fourth-most in Tufts history – besting David LeResche (LA ’11) by four – and his 191 hits are second all-time, 28 behind leader Dan Callahan (LA ’02). Sager has also brought his four-year career batting average to .361, which ranks among Tufts’ top 15 all-time.
After the weekend ended, Sager reflected on his time with the program instead of dwelling on a loss that effectively concluded the season.
“You learn a lot about yourself through adversity, and any time an end is near, it makes you appreciate the journey more, so it’s definitely been an emotional weekend for myself,” Sager said. “It just solidifies everything I’ve come to understand about playing baseball here.”
Tufts will miss the NESCAC playoffs for the first time since 2004 after Bowdoin secured the NESCAC East’s second seed behind Trinity. The Jumbos’ 4-8 in-conference record marks the first time they have finished below .500 in the conference since record-keeping began with the 2000-2001 season.
But the team still has three home games remaining, beginning with Monday’s afternoon matchup against Eastern Connecticut State University and ending with a Sunday doubleheader versus Middlebury, which also missed out on a postseason bid.
“To me, personally, the next couple home games are all about going at it the right way,” Sager said. “It’s about appreciating everything Tufts baseball has meant to me and using the last couple games of my Tufts baseball career to instill in younger guys what it means to be a part of this program.”