Tufts, still ranked first in New England, battled through one of the team’s busiest stretches of the season last week, emerging with a 3-2-1 record after playing six games in five days. A nearly four-hour duel between the Jumbos and the MIT Engineers last Thursday was called due to darkness, resulting in an unusual tie.
Tufts then took two out of three in its NESCAC East weekend series at Colby and came home to split the double-header against UMass Dartmouth on Monday.
First-year catcher and outfielder Ryan Day commented on the concentration of games played over the last week.
“It’s definitely a lot more games in a shorter time and I feel like everybody understands how many games we have to play,” he said. “Everyone is really dedicated and enjoys playing a lot of games. So it takes away the physical and mental strain, although it is still taxing.”
While the Jumbos won the divisional series against the Mules, failing to sweep the series will make it tougher for the Jumbos to stay on track to make the playoffs. Tufts (4-2 conference, 19-4-1 overall) sits in second place in the NESCAC East, two games back from division leader Bates (6-0 conference, 11-5 overall). Though Tufts is still in a strong position to at least finish in the top two in the division and make the conference playoffs, Bowdoin is just one game behind and has already faced Bates.
Having already faced Trinity and Colby, the division’s two weakest teams, Tufts will likely need to take at least two out of three games in each of its next two series against Bowdoin and Bates to secure a playoff bid.
In the Colby series, the team decisively won the opening game 6-2 on Friday and dominated 12-3 in the rubber match on Saturday afternoon, but fell short in the Saturday morning game 5-2. Senior tri-captain Speros Varinos solidified his status as the Jumbos’ ace by pitching a complete game in the series opener, allowing just five hits and two runs and earning his sixth win in six appearances this season.
While the Mules struggled at the plate, the Jumbos tallied 10 hits, including doubles from junior first baseman Nick Falkson and sophomore shortstop Will Shackelford. Tufts still fell short of its impressive season average of 9.5 runs per game.
The Jumbos picked up their first run just three batters into the game when junior third baseman Tommy O’Hara singled in senior second baseman and leadoff man Tom Petry. The Jumbos then padded their lead in the fourth with a pair of hits and aid from sloppy Mule defense to go up 3-0. Finally, Tufts responded to Colby’s first score in the bottom of the fifth with three more runs in the sixth to go up 6-1 and seal the win.
In the rubber match on Saturday afternoon, every single Jumbo in the batting order had at least one hit, while both Petry and senior right fielder Oscar Kutch went three-for-four. Day, starting as catcher, and first-year Elias Varinos, starting as shortstop, also had good showings at the bottom of the lineup as both players boasted an RBI double each in the game.
Tufts jumped out to an early lead with three runs in the first inning, but the game opened up in the later frames with two runs scored in the seventh and four unearned runs in an ugly eighth inning for Colby’s defense. The first Jumbo to score in the frame came in on a fielding error while the next two were walked in with the bases loaded. A single from Kutch to right field, the Jumbos’ lone hit in the inning, plated junior Stephan White to score the final run of the frame.
Day added on to an already lopsided 10-2 margin by crushing a two-RBI double in the top of the ninth. Senior tri-captain pitcher Tim Superko held Colby to just three runs and eight hits in eight and a third innings pitched to clinch his third win on the season.
Saturday’s win followed an ugly loss earlier in the day that saw the normally prolific Jumbo offense limited to just two runs on five hits and the normally reliable Jumbo fielders commit three costly errors. After Colby got on the scoreboard first in the second inning, Tufts took a 2-1 lead in the top of the sixth after a Colby error and two consecutive walks plated junior designated hitter Malcolm Nachmanoff. But the game opened up for Colby in the bottom of the sixth when the hosts capitalized on three Tufts errors to score three unearned runs, without a single hit in the frame.
“I think the seven-inning game is always interesting because we always see the other team’s best pitcher and they try and steal a game from us,” Superko said. “We try to put a lot of importance on those games and we were a little bit to hesitant to throw that first punch, so we are going to work on that this weekend against Bowdoin.”
After a much-needed day of rest on Sunday, Tufts hosted UMass-Dartmouth in the team’s annual Patriots’ Day doubleheader on Monday, but may have underperformed in splitting the two games. During game one, the Corsairs’ pitching staff shut down the Jumbo offense and allowed just one run on three hits. UMass Dartmouth, meanwhile, got out to an early lead with RBI triples in the first and third innings to go up 3-0 after three frames. Shackleford scored the team’s lone run of the game with a solo home run in the third, his first home run of the season, but the blast wasn’t enough to spur the Jumbo offense.
Redeeming themselves from the early afternoon loss, the Jumbos defeated the Corsairs 10-2 in the nightcap. Junior Kevin Galasso, senior Matt Rothstein, junior Ian Kinney and senior Rory Ziomek combined for a seven-inning, three-hit, eight-strikeout performance that held the visitors to just two runs. Kinney, who pitched the fifth and sixth frames, earned the win since neither Galasso nor Rothstein pitched long enough to qualify for it.
O’Hara and senior center fielder Harry Brown each had two hits, two RBIs and a run scored on the game, while sophomore catcher Harrison Frickman’s leadoff double in the fourth was the Jumbos’ lone extra-base hit of the contest. Tufts got on the scoreboard early with four runs in the bottom of the first inning, including RBI singles from Falkson and Brown.
Superko noted the team’s consistent success in pitching.
“We always have a deep bullpen and guys to step up for us. Usually it’s the last game of the weekend when we are pitching at the end of our bullpen versus the end of [our opponents], so I’ll take any of our guys over their guys,” Superko said. “We will win that battle most of the time because of our depth in pitching.”
Against MIT last week in a marathon of a game, Tufts blew a lead late in the contest and was denied an opportunity to reclaim the win in extra innings by the setting sun and the lack of lights on Huskins Field. The Jumbos entered the eighth inning up 7-5, but the Engineers scored two runs to tie it up.
Tufts regained the lead in the bottom half of the frame after O’Hara walked with the bases loaded, sending McLaughlin home, but a single from MIT’s sophomore catcher Alec Kushner in the top of the ninth tied it up again and sent the game to extras. The game was still tied at 8-8 in the top of the 10th when the umpire called the game with the light waning — officially, the result goes down as a nine-inning draw.
Tufts is back in action this weekend with a crucial series against Bowdoin at home to battle for second place in the NESCAC East. The first pitch for the opening game is scheduled for 3:00 p.m. on Huskins Field on Friday, with games two and three on Saturday.
Day said that the team hopes to become more consistent in its performance.
“Some games we show up with great attitude and energy, while other games that is lacking a little bit,” Day said. “We want to have discipline and consistency and show up the same way … regardless of our opponent.”