2005 Season Preview - Jeffs Set to Repeat as NESCAC Champs

March 10, 2005 

AMHERST, MA - For the Amherst College baseball team, the 2004 season could be summed up in one word - bittersweet. The year was a series of ups and downs for the Lord Jeffs, who finished the season 19-18. After a disappointing regular season, Amherst got its act together late in the year. The Jeffs climaxed in the NESCAC tournament where they shocked top-seeded Trinity College before stunning archrivals Williams College to claim the league championship. However, the conference champs were ousted early in the Division III national tournament in a pair of heartbreaking losses to Eastern Connecticut State University and Endicott College. 

"Last year was a wild rollercoaster ride. We ended up where we thought we'd be all along, but we certainly are gunning for a much smoother regular season," said senior co-captain Josh Santry

In his 39th season, four time New England College Coach of the Year Bill Thurston looks to lead the Lord Jeffs to another league title and a shot to redeem their disappointing ending. The team begins their quest this Saturday in Fort Meyers, FL when they take the field for their season-opener against Anderson College. 

The 2005 squad is nearly as seasoned as its veteran head coach. The team returns the core of its infield, led by junior first baseman Dave Levinson, who led the team with a .359 batting average and 42 hits last season. Rookie Nick Boehm will back up the junior slugger. Zach Schonberger '06 returns at shortstop and provides the biggest power threat offensively. As a sophomore, Schonberger led the Jeffs with five home runs and 26 RBI, while recording a .504 slugging percentage. Santry, who will start at third base for the third consecutive season, has proved to be solid defensively in the hot corner while showing great potential with the bat as well. Second base will most likely be manned by Mark Mazzone '07, who emerged as the hero of last year's NESCAC championship game, knocking in the game-winning run for the Jeffs. 

The team is deep at the designated-hitter spot, with backup first-baseman Joe Houkal '05, and pitchers Kyle Lavery 05 and Rob Anderson '06 all likely to appear at the plate. "We have a plethora of experience in the infield and that will be integral to our success, especially in the all-important NESCAC games," Santry stated. 

Although the Jeffs lose two starters in the outfield, they return a promising young cast of players who saw significant playing time last season. Senior co-captain Dave Powers has become a staple in leftfield over the past few seasons, scoring a team-high 28 runs and batting .315 from the clean-up spot in 2004. Andrew Green '06, who led Amherst in stolen bases last season (5), will be joined by the speedy sophomore duo of Jared Banner and Tommy Scott. All three players established themselves as solid fielders and threats on the base-path and should see substantial action. 

The biggest question mark for Amherst this season will undoubtedly be behind the plate. A trio of freshmen will replace recent graduate Tom Sullivan '04, who started all but two games at catcher last year. The Jeffs will most likely catch by committee with the talented, but inexperienced rookies. Neal Allar, Josh Card, and Matt Over will all compete for playing time and must elevate their play to handle a relatively untested pitching staff. 

The ace on the mound will unquestionably be sophomore Brian Donahue. In his freshman campaign, the NESCAC Rookie of the Year led the team with a 2.61 ERA and 45 strikeouts, earning Second Team All-New England honors. Donahue will be joined by classmate Nick Kehoe who made five starts as a freshman. Junior flamethrowers Joe Vladeck and Anderson, should round out the starting rotation. Each pitcher has shown flashes of brilliance on the mound and will be vital to the Jeffs' success. 

Senior Ed Imperatore, who recorded an impressive 3.00 ERA last year, will be the first option out of the bullpen. Freshman Chris Edgar may see some time on the hill, while Lavery and Mike Erkkinen '05, former position players, will be key factors in the bullpen as well. "They've looked great in the scrimmages so far," said Powers of the new relievers. 

The Jeffs will be tested early and often this year, taking on a number of ranked opponents. During their trip to Florida the Lord Jeffs will take on Division III powerhouse Rowan University on March 16 and will also challenge former national champions University of St. Thomas on March 20. Amherst will challenge another former national champion when they look to avenge their tournament loss at Eastern Connecticut State on April 6. "I think our tough competition in Florida will prepare us well for NESCAC play," said Imperatore. 

In conference play, the team has their sights set on April 16, when they play host to NESCAC favorite Trinity. "Over the last two years we have created a great rivalry with Trinity," said Santry. "Those games are always competitive and fiery and there is certainly no love loss between us." 

If the young talent can rise to the challenge, this season should be one to remember for the Amherst College baseball team. "We're definitely a family, and I think that will show on the field," said Powers of the Jeffs' team chemistry. "We don't have any real stars, but we are solid up and down the roster. Anyone is capable of stepping up at any time." Though there may be no stars, the Lord Jeffs promise to shine in 2005.

-Ryan McDowell '06