Baseball is a beautiful game, but the beginning of baseball season is never pretty. Hitters are still finding their timing, pitchers are still searching for their command and defense tends to be sloppy. That’s why major league baseball teams — made up of the best ballplayers on the planet — need weeks of spring training and dozens of meaningless exhibition games to work themselves back into shape.
The Jumbos did not have that luxury. The first game of their season counts. And like most first games, theirs could have gone better.
Playing at War Memorial Stadium in Hampton, Va., Tufts faltered late in its opener on March 13 against Castleton. The Jumbos led 4-1 through six, only to let the Spartans come back to win 6-4 in 10 innings. Junior Dan Errico was the hero for Castleton with his third hit of the day — a two-run single up the middle off Tufts senior Tom Ryan. Errico’s classmate TJ Fearon closed out the game by setting down the Jumbos 1-2-3 in the bottom of the frame, handing Tufts its first loss of the season.
“We didn’t play very well in game one, so we just try to compete and improve each game,” coach John Casey said.
The Jumbos played much better in the second game of their doubleheader, rebounding to beat the Spartans 3-0 behind eight shutout innings from sophomore Tim Superko. Last year’s NESCAC Rookie of the Year yielded just two hits and struck out eight before giving way to classmate Speros Varinos, who closed out Tufts’ first victory with a scoreless ninth. In addition to earning the win, Superko received NESCAC Pitcher of the Week honors for his impressive start.
“Being named pitcher of the week was a nice recognition,” Superko said of his latest award. “We were all really excited to finally get outside and start playing games. It was awesome to have the opportunity to go south to start our season against some really good competition.”
After an off day, Tufts enjoyed consecutive blowout victories by routing St. Vincent 12-0 and Guilford in similar fashion, 20-7. The Jumbos were off and running, mashing their way through an 8-3 road trip in Virginia and North Carolina. Liberated from the frigid New England winter, Tufts averaged nearly 11 runs per game. The Jumbos were constantly on base, reaching safely in over 45 percent of their plate appearances. Tufts had plenty of hits, too, averaging over a dozen per game and batting a robust .328.
Despite losing senior tri-captain and team ace Kyle Slinger to injury, the pitching staff also excelled, limiting opponents to a .217 batting average while striking out more than one batter per inning. Slinger, last year’s NESCAC Pitcher of the Year and preseason Div. III All-American, has not pitched since the team’s loss to Castleton. While the Jumbos eagerly await his return, their success in his absence speaks to their talented array of arms.
“Pitching depth is a strength,” Casey said, “[but] we are waiting to get Slinger back.”
The highlight of the trip was a 20-0 pasting of St. Joseph’s on March 21. The Fighting Saints didn’t put up much of a fight, allowing the Jumbos to explode for 13 runs in the bottom of the third. Tufts sent 19 men to the plate that inning, batting around twice as they built up an insurmountable lead. The Jumbos added another run the following inning and six more in the fifth. That was more than enough for Superko, who spun a three-hit shutout and retired 14 Saints in a row at one point. Tufts stayed hot in its second game that day, edging Apprentice School, a member of the United States College Athletic Association, 9-5 after pushing across four runs in the top of the ninth.
Tufts ended its trip with another lopsided win the following day, pounding Marymount 18-5 for their fourth consecutive victory. Aided by six Saints’ errors, the Jumbos scored in all but two innings, breaking the game wide open with an eight-run fourth. Batting cleanup, first-year Tommy O’Hara paced the assault by going 5-for-6 with three RBIs and a pair of runs scored. Senior tri-captain and leadoff man Connor McDavitt also had a big day, scoring five times and going 3-for-5 with a double and a walk.
O’Hara’s monster game capped a stellar trip for the third baseman, who currently leads the team in batting average (.452), on-base percentage (.564) and slugging percentage (.667), as well as hits (19) and total bases (28). Junior Cody McCallum also had a terrific trip, batting .422/.527/.511 with a team-high 17 runs and 18 RBIs. Coach Casey was impressed by their performances but has yet to find the stability he is looking for.
“McCallum, Superko and O’Hara all played well, as have McDavitt and [junior pitcher Andrew] David,” Casey said. “Our lineup is still unsettled, however, and we have to be more consistent in our approach each game.”
Tufts will aim for its fifth straight win today against Massachusetts Maritime at the New England Baseball Complex in Northboro, Mass. The Jumbos currently have a record of 8-3.