The No. 28 Jumbos, having finished the regular season on top of the NESCAC’s Eastern Conference, are taking the postseason one game at a time. Tufts recently cracked the Div. III top 30 rankings, leaving open the possibility of an at large bid regardless of the outcome of the NESCAC tournament.
Despite its late April losses to Keene State College and Bowdoin, Tufts finished the regular season with four straight wins — in great position to hold steady in the national rankings.
Tufts played the first round of the NESCAC tournament against Amherst on Friday, May 13, as it did in the past three years. Aa the team’s closest game of the NESCAC tournament, Tufts won over its perennial rival Amherst 5-4. The winning run came in the seventh inning thanks to an outfield RBI single from rising sophomore Tommy O’Hara.
Tufts cruised to an easy victory, 6-1, in Saturday’s matchup against Wesleyan, putting the Jumbos on the fast-track for the conference title. The majority of the scoring came in the final innings, but the Jumbos maintained a lead throughout the entire game.
The Jumbos then played Sunday against the Trinity Bantams, knowing that they would win the NESCAC for the first time since 2011 if they win the morning game. The Jumbos fought hard in the game, jumping out to a 5-1 lead by the top of the fourth inning with a trio of unearned runs and an inside-the-park homer from rising junior Mike McLaughlin. The team extended their lead, scoring seven in the sixth inning. Even though with five runs in the top of the seventh, Trinity’s comeback wasn’t enough and Tufts claimed the NESCAC title 18-6.
“[Amherst] beat us in the first round last year,” rising senior Harry Brown said. “It was Bates who eliminated us, but I’m definitely excited to play them again. It’s almost the same matchup, obviously the teams are a little bit different, but they’re a really good team.”
The Jumbos have played well this season, although not always consistently. The Jumbos offense, led by Brown and O’Hara with batting averages of .396 and .331 respectively, has proven itself explosive when the team desperately needs runs.
Pitching was the other area of strength for the Jumbos, who finished with the lowest combined ERA in the NESCAC at 3.36. Tufts also struck out 286 batters on the season to lead the NESCAC. With rising sophomore standout R.J. Hall (6-0) and rising senior Speros Varinos (6-1) leading the rotation, the pitching staff will be on full display throughout the postseason.
The Jumbos came into the season with high expectations, having finished well in the NESCAC East over the last two years.
“[Our expectations] are the same as every year,” coach John Casey said. “We’re just going to go out and compete as well as we can. We were trying to figure ourselves out, find out who can play where and who can do what. We were a little disappointed with the previous year, and the guys knew that, but outside of that, we approach it the same way all the time.”
Tufts started the season in decent form. The team went 7-3 in its March games over a 12-day road trip and this initial run gave the team some valuable information.
“Our goal [in Virginia] was to figure out who was going to step up and take over what spots,” Casey said. “We came out of there feeling like we had a lot of guys who could compete and [that] we had some depth. Going into the season we felt like pitching would be a strength, and that was certainly the case.”
The Jumbos staked their claim as the best team in the NESCAC in April. The team went 18-3, and more importantly, 10-0 in conference play. Tufts dropped a single conference game to Bowdoin on April 30.
The team locked up its first-place spot toward the end of April, and as a result, knew their postseason seed far earlier than usual. The team refused to just sit back on the first-seed spot, finishing the regular season strong to allow their momentum to carry them deep into the postseason. Now the NESCAC champions, the Jumbos have their eyes on the NCAA tournament.
“We’ve done our job; they’re all just another baseball game,” Casey said. “We’ll play how we play, and [our opponents are] going to have to beat our best. It doesn’t matter who we play; we’ve got to control ourselves and how we play.”