Tufts defends NESCAC title, looks forward to NCAA berth

Graduating senior pitcher Matt Rothstein pitches during the game against the Roger Williams Hawks at Huskins Field on April 11. Ray Bernoff / The Tufts Daily

Despite losing to Middlebury 5-1 in the preliminaries, No. 11 Tufts (30-8-1) came back and defeated Middlebury twice in a row, clinching its second consecutive NESCAC championship. The team entered the postseason as the top-seeded team in the NESCAC Championship tournament.

Having won last year’s conference tournament and advancing to the finals of the NCAA New England Baseball Region, the Jumbos are looking to build on their successes and make another deep run in the tournament this time around.

Tufts began the season on a tear, triumphing in all but one of their nine spring break games. The Jumbos stayed hot after returning to Medford to win their fourth consecutive NESCAC East Division title. The team’s consistency was remarkable, as Tufts posted winning streaks of four games or more on four different occasions and only once lost two games in a row.

The Jumbos’ offense has been uniformly outstanding, with 10 players hitting .300 or better and the squad collectively posting the eighth-highest on-base percentage in Div. III (.428). Rising junior shortstop Will Shackelford has led the team with a .380 batting average, good for third in the NESCAC. The Jumbos have hit not only for average but also for power, as Tufts leads all NESCAC teams in doubles (79), home runs (18) and RBIs (282).

“We had a really big team effort this year and our statistics tell the story,” tri-captain pitcher Tim Superko said. “We don’t have that many guys having crazy years, it’s more of a contribution from every guy and the bullpen has been awesome this year picking up starters when they don’t have a good game. Hopefully this will pay off in the postseason.”

An indispensable part of the heart of Tufts’ order has been rising senior third baseman Tommy O’Hara. The Glenview, Ill. native has slugged four balls out of the park, tied for second-most in the NESCAC. O’Hara has also earned a conference-high 33 walks, leads the NESCAC in runs scored (42) and leads Tufts in RBIs (44). Graduating senior outfielder/pitcher Oscar Kutch has been another consistently solid contributor, ranking second on the team in both extra-base hits (15) and in hits (45).

Any conversation about the Jumbos’ pitching staff begins with graduating senior tri-captain Speros Varinos. In eleven starts (8-1), the Middleton, Mass. native has struck out 78 batters in 70.1 innings while boasting an ERA of just 1.92. In turn, Varinos’ win, strikeout, inning and ERA totals are all conference-bests. Varinos was also selected for the 2016–2017 College Sports Information Directors of America team for Academic and Athletic Excellence and was the 2016 NESCAC Pitcher of the Year. In addition, he was selected by D3baseball.com as both preseason second team All-American this spring and third team All-American in 2016. Superko, a graduating senior, and pitcher R.J. Hall, a rising junior, have also thrown major innings for the Jumbos, with both players hurling over 42 innings and striking out at least 30 batters.

“The program has meant so much to me and developed my mentality on and off field,” Varinos said. “We really stress being competitive and giving everything you have and this [also] translates to school and life. We compete regardless of the situation, and we always find a way to get better and reach a higher standard. Coach [John] Casey stresses being the best person you can be and holds us all to a higher standard, and I learned to try to develop that in everyday life as well.”

Eight Tufts baseball players graduate this year: Varinos, Superko, Kutch, tri-captain outfielder Harry Brown, pitcher Charlie McQuinn, infielder Tom Petry, pitcher Matt Rothstein and pitcher Rory Ziomek. Several of them leave with their names etched in the record books. Superko currently has 235 career strikeouts, which places him second on the program’s all-time list. Meanwhile, Varinos’ eight wins in a single season ties him for the third-best mark in Tufts history, with the playoffs presenting the chance for him to tie or break Bud Niles’ (A ’50) 68-year-old record of ten wins in a single season.

“It would be awesome to go out winning another NESCAC championship, as that is a goal we set every year, and leading the legacy for years to come of winning back-to-back championships would be amazing,” Superko said. “As long as we play our best baseball ahead of us, regardless of what happens, I want everyone to look back and know that we maxed out on our potential.”