After junior first baseman Nick Falkson hit a walk-off, two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth in the final game, Tufts completed its sweep of Bates in a three-game series and clinched the NESCAC East Division pennant for the fourth consecutive season. The team faced Bates once on Friday followed by a double-header on Saturday and won 4-3, 9-1 and 6-4, respectively. The Jumbos also defeated Eastern Nazarene on Thursday by their second-largest margin of the season, 23-2.
Bates got on the scoreboard early in the final contest, scoring three runs in the top of the first, but in the bottom of the frame Tufts responded with a run after Falkson stole second and senior outfielder Oscar Kutch scored on a wild pitch. The Jumbos tied it up in the bottom of the second with a single from senior second baseman Tom Petry, scoring in first-year catcher Ryan Day, and a sacrifice fly to left field from Kutch plating junior shortstop Christian Zazzali.
The game remained at a draw until the sixth inning, when senior tri-captain outfielder Harry Brown scored an unearned run on a passed ball. The run handed Tufts a 4-3 lead. At the top of the ninth, junior pitcher Ian Kinney replaced first-year pitcher Elias Varinos, and Bates’ senior infielder Brendan Fox singled to center field, plating the tying run and evening the score 4-4. Kutch grounded to shortstop to start off the bottom frame, and at the next at-bat, junior third baseman Tommy O’Hara was hit by a pitch. With O’Hara on base, Falkson stepped to the plate and crushed a home run down the left field line for two runs, winning the game and the series with a walk-off home run.
“Our only thought was winning every inning because we only had to win one [game in the series] to be in [the playoffs], so we had a lot of confidence going,” Brown said. “When we were losing the first game, we were just thinking that if we win these last three innings, we will win the game and this mentality worked for us.”
In the first seven-inning game of the day, Bates put up one run in the first to start the game, but junior left fielder Mike McLaughlin retaliated with a home run to right field in the second frame to tie the game 1-1. Sophomore infielder Will Shackelford followed the homer with a single to center field, plating sophomore infielder Casey Santos-Ocampo.
The game opened up for the Jumbos in the third inning after McLaughlin singled to left field, plating O’Hara, and junior outfielder Malcolm Nachmanoff reached on a fielder’s choice scoring in Falkson for two RBIs. At the next at-bat, Santos-Ocampo hit a double down the right-field line, plating McLaughlin for an unearned run. Finally, Petry singled to right field for two additional RBIs, completing the five-run inning.
The Jumbos tacked on two more runs in the fifth and sixth innings, and clinched the 9-1 victory. Senior tri-captain pitcher Tim Superko started the game and was relieved by first-year pitcher Brad Marchetti in the fifth inning.
In the first and lowest-scoring game of the series, Tufts entered the bottom of the eighth trailing Bates 3-2. O’Hara grounded out to first base for the first out of the inning. After Falkson walked, Santos-Ocampo reached on a fielder’s choice, plating Falkson. After Zazzali hit a fly ball to shortstop for the second out, Day stepped to the plate and singled down the right side, plating McLaughlin for the winning run.
“I don’t think everyone is ever too stressed in close games. You just go out and do your best, and when we are clicking, everything goes well,” O’Hara said. “It is fun to play against good baseball teams in tough competitions like [Bates].”
Kinney then closed out the game in a 1-2-3 inning, clinching his fifth save of the season. Tri-captain pitcher Speros Varinos started the game and clinched his eighth win allowing just six hits and three runs and earned seven strikeouts and no walks.
Against Eastern Nazarene, Tufts posted six runs in both the second and fourth frames, and five runs in the seventh, defeating Nazarene 23-2. Zazzali, O’Hara, McLaughlin, Santos-Ocampo and sophomore catcher Eric Schnepf all had doubles on the game. O’Hara had his fourth home run on the season.
“It just all clicked for us … we wanted to win every inning, so that was our mentality,” Brown said. “We had a high run margin and a big weekend coming up and so we didn’t take our foot off of the gas.”
The first-years had a great showing in the seventh inning, as first-year infielder JP Knight started off the inning with a single to left field. This was followed by a single from junior outfielder Stephan White, plating Knight. During the next at bat, Day hit a home run to right field for three RBIs.
Finally, junior infielder Boomer Saraga grounded out to second base, plating Shackelford to end the inning. First-year Brad Marchetti pitched two scoreless innings and earned his first win on the season. Classmate Elias Varinos pitched the seventh and eighth innings, both of which were 1-2-3 innings.
After a week of wins, the Jumbos are ranked No. 10 nationally and have the best record in the NESCAC conference across both divisions. Tufts also boasts the highest number of runs scored in the NESCAC in conference games, with 92.
“We want to make sure we are working on things as hitters because the playoffs are about who is playing their best baseball at the end of the year,” Brown said. “We have four games to get to playing our best baseball, get our bullpen going and get our hitting consistent, and I think we are getting close to that.”
Now 25-5-1 and 9-3 in the conference, the team will face Eastern Connecticut State on May 1 and Plymouth State on May 2. On May 7, they will host Middlebury in their last conference match-up of the season before the NESCAC Championships.