Jumbos to battle Bobcats for NESCAC East supremacy

Senior pitcher Matt Rothstein throws the ball during the game against the Roger Williams Hawks at Huskins Field on April 11. Ray Bernoff / The Tufts Daily

After taking two out of three games at home this past weekend against the Bowdoin Polar Bears (12-15), the Jumbos (22-5-1) are just a game behind the Bates Bobcats (13-8) in the NESCAC East Division. Additionally, Tufts is now ranked No. 10 in the country.

In Sunday’s series finale, the Jumbos fell to the Polar Bears in a low-scoring 3-2 contest. Both teams remained scoreless until the top of the second, when Bowdoin’s sophomore first baseman Jack Wilhoite stepped up to the plate with two men on base and grounded out to shortstop, plating an unearned run. In the next at-bat, senior left fielder Bjorn Hanson singled to shortstop to score another unearned run and give Bowdoin a 2-0 lead. Later, Bowdoin added what proved to be the winning run in the top of the sixth when senior third baseman Evann Dumont-LaPointe hit a sacrifice fly to right, plating junior center fielder Joe Gentile.

In the bottom of the seventh, the Jumbos finally responded. After sophomore left fielder Casey Santos-Ocampo singled to left and senior tri-captain center fielder Harry Brown walked, Bowdoin swapped pitchers. Following the switch, Tufts’ sophomore catcher Harrison Frickman grounded out to second base, allowing the runners to advance to second and third with two outs.

Sophomore shortstop Will Shackelford then scored both Brown and Santos-Ocampo with a single to left, bringing Tufts within a run of tying the game. The team was unable to even the score, however, and Bowdoin clung to the victory, narrowly escaping elimination from playoff contention.

“As a team, we couldn’t really string together hits at times and [Bowdoin] made some really good plays,” Santos-Ocampo said. “They didn’t give us any free bases, only made one or two errors, and had one or two walks. They made some really good defensive plays, and that was the big difference in that game.”

The day before, Tufts won both games in the doubleheader against Bowdoin. In the later encounter that yielded a 6-5 victory, the Jumbos produced offensively up and down the order as seven different players had base hits. Tufts got on the scoreboard in the first inning with an RBI single from junior infielder Nick Falkson to second, scoring senior infielder Tom Petry.

In the second inning, Shackelford smashed a two-run double to right center, giving Tufts a 3-0 lead. Later in the inning, junior third baseman Tommy O’Hara hit a sacrifice fly to left field to plate Shackelford. O’Hara added to the lead in the fourth frame with an RBI single to right, bringing home Petry to make the score 5-0.

Bowdoin responded with four total runs in the fifth, sixth and seventh frames. The Polar Bears almost scored again in the ninth inning, as infielder Eric Mah hit a run-scoring fielder’s choice off of junior pitcher Ian Kinney to cut Tufts’ lead to one. However, Kinney managed to get Wilhoite to ground into a double play to end the game.

Earlier that day, Tufts claimed a 6-1 victory in seven innings with senior tri-captain pitcher Speros Varinos clinching his seventh consecutive win on the season. Speros has now won every start this season, amassing a 1.47 ERA in 49 innings pitched.

The game opened up early for the Jumbos in the bottom of the first, when junior outfielder Mike McLaughlin doubled to left center to score Petry and senior outfielder/pitcher Oscar Kutch. After junior outfielder Malcolm Nachmanoff walked, Brown plated O’Hara on a sacrifice fly to left-center field for the third and final run on the inning.

In the bottom of the second, after Bowdoin had scored a single run in the top half of the inning, Kutch hit an RBI double and O’Hara slapped an RBI single to give Tufts a 5-1 lead. The Jumbos added to their lead in the fourth when O’Hara hit a solo shot to right field.

A number of Tufts players have been having strong offensive seasons, with eight players boasting a batting average of .300 or better. Shackelford holds the team’s highest batting average, hitting .406 in 22 games played with 15 runs and 26 hits on the season. Despite this, he explained that he does not look at his statistics.

“I made a decision at the beginning of the year … that I wasn’t going to look at stats at all and that has helped me a lot,” Shackelford said. “Being a sophomore, I didn’t start many games last year at all so I was hoping I would get an opportunity this year. As I’ve had opportunities, I just tried to play baseball as well as I can each game and I try to have a whatever happens, happens kind of mentality.”

Shackelford has a simple mentality about his at-bats.

“When I walk up to the plate, I try to clear my mind,” he said. “I get the sign from coach and I get into the box and I really just try to see and hit the ball. I simplify it down … because it’s so easy to overcomplicate hitting and try to do too much when you are at the plate.”

O’Hara was named the NESCAC Baseball Player of the Week after he went 8-for-17 (.471) in the last five games. In the Bowdoin series alone, O’Hara went 5-for-11 (.455) with four RBI. For the season, O’Hara is ranked first in the NESCAC in walks with 24, second in home runs with three, second in on-base percentage at .504, fifth in RBIs with 26 and sixth in runs scored with 29.

Looking ahead, the team will host Bates at home for a decisive three-game series this weekend. With Bates ranked first in the East, the winner of this series will clinch first in the playoff rankings, while the loser will take second.

“This is a pretty big week for us as we are getting close to the playoffs,” Santos-Ocampo said. “Our mentality is focusing on winning every pitch and every inning. With the talent we have on this roster, I think we can go pretty far as long as we are mentally there.”