Tufts benefitted from a combination of walks, hit batsmen and a few timely hits all tournament long, but that was not quite enough to carry the baseball team to its third NESCAC championship title in five years. After playing four games in less than three days from May 9 to 11, Tufts lost the final championship game Sunday afternoon to Wesleyan, 6-4.
Tufts finished the regular season the weekend before, splitting a doubleheader against Bates before sweeping one against Middlebury. The Jumbos ended with a 30-5 record overall and 9-3 in the conference, which was enough to claim the top spot in the NESCAC East.
Tufts played host to this year’s postseason tournament, which followed a double elimination format and featured the top two teams from each division – Tufts and Bates in the east, and Wesleyan and Amherst in the west. All but two of the games were at Huskins Field.
The Jumbos opened the tournament with a 9-5 win over a tough Lord Jeffs team on May 9. Amherst jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the first inning against Tufts lefty starter and de facto ace, rising senior Kyle Slinger. But the momentum changed in the fifth when Slinger picked off an Amherst runner to deflate a threat in the top of the inning, before an RBI single from rising senior center fielder Connor McDavitt and a bases-loaded double from rising junior shortstop Matt Moser put the Jumbos up 4-1 in the bottom of the inning.
Tufts went on to add five more runs and stave off an Amherst comeback in the ninth to seal the win. Slinger battled his way through six innings, giving up three runs on six hits, before rising junior Andrew David earned the save and preserved the win for Slinger. McDavitt finished 5-for-5 for the Jumbos, while Moser ended up with five RBIs on three hits.
“I tried to stay within myself and not do too much,” Moser said. “I was just looking for good pitches to hit and was able to put good swings on them when I saw them. My main approach was to stay relaxed at the plate and enjoy the situation.”
With the win, Tufts moved on to play Wesleyan, who had defeated Bates in the winner’s bracket on May 10. Jumbo rising sophomore starter Tim Superko waged a pitchers’ duel against Cardinals graduating senior Jeff Blout. The game remained scoreless through the first four frames. Tufts struck first and opened the scoring with a run on a pair of doubles by graduating senior third baseman Wade Hauser and graduating senior first baseman Max Freccia.
In the sixth, Wesleyan tagged Superko with three runs on three hits, which proved to be the only hits the Cardinals got in the game against an efficient Tufts pitching staff. Though the Jumbos responded with an RBI single from Moser in the seventh, they were unable to retake the lead and fell 3-2.
The loss sent Tufts into an elimination game against Bates, who had knocked out Amherst earlier that day. Tufts graduating senior starter Christian Sbily and rising senior reliever Tom Ryan held Bates to just one unearned run on four hits. Wild pitching helped give Tufts, which only tallied four hits in the game, seven runs.
Tufts scored five times in the third, with two runs coming from hit batsmen with the bases loaded and another two from a two-out double to left center from graduating senior second baseman Tim Mitropoulos. The Jumbos held on to win 7-1.
As per the double elimination format, Tufts then had to beat Wesleyan twice to win the title, while Wesleyan had to win just once. In game one on the morning of May 11, the Jumbos’ bats came alive as they lit up the Cardinals’ pitching for 10 runs, while rising senior starter Willie Archibald, making his first start in a month, threw 126 pitches to blank the Cardinals over nine innings and lead the Jumbos to a 10-0 win.
The win set up a decisive final game that afternoon, with the winner taking home the NESCAC title. The game got off to a much different start than game one as the Cardinals scored once in the first and then again in the fourth when rising senior first baseman Sam Goodwin-Boyd launched a long solo homerun to center field.
Tufts failed to find any real offensive rhythm against Wesleyan starter, graduating senior Chris Law, who only gave up one hit through the first five innings until he was pulled after back-to-back singles to lead off the sixth. The threat was neutralized when Blout came on to face Tufts again and got a pair of stellar defensive plays behind him to get out of the inning.
“The starting pitcher in the second game threw a knuckleball, which we haven’t really seen all year, so he was able to keep us off balance for most of the game,” Moser said. “There were a few situations I wish I could have had better at-bats but got myself out early in the at-bat.”
Tufts fell behind 6-0 in the seventh, and the pressure dialed up. The Jumbos found some life in the eighth when Cardinal relievers began having trouble finding the plate. Wesleyan’s Blout, Goodwin-Boyd and rising senior Nick Cooney combined to walk four batters and hit another two before the inning was over, giving Tufts three runs without a hit.
“That’s part of our approach,” head coach John Casey said of the team’s patience at the plate, which led to 20 walks and 19 of their hitters hit by pitches. “We’re sitting on certain pitches, and that is something our kids have done the best. The [opposing pitchers] are trying to throw [inside] with some arm-side run and we aren’t moving.”12