Preview: Jeffs Heading to Middlebury for NESCAC Series

AMHERST, Mass. – The Amherst College baseball team will look to continue its winning ways this weekend, when the Lord Jeffs travel to take on Middlebury College in a three-game NESCAC West series.  

Game Details: Please note that this weekend's schedule has changed due to the expectation of rain on Saturday. Amherst and Middlebury will play a doubleheader on Friday, with the first game set to begin at 11 a.m. The teams will then play a single game on Saturday at 11 a.m.

Live Coverage: Each of this weekend's games will feature live statistics. 

Series History:Amherst has posted a 27-9 record against Middlebury since these teams began playing regularly in 2001, with the Lord Jeffs winning all 11 series and earning four three-game sweeps. Amherst opened last year's set with a 7-6 walk-off victory and would later earn a 7-3 win in a NESCAC Championship elimination game, with Alex Hero '14 and Taiki Kasuga '14 hitting a combined .458 (11-for-24) in the four meetings. 

Playoff Implications: Middlebury (9-11, 3-6) is a long shot to qualify for this year's NESCAC Championship and could be eliminated from postseason contention as early as Friday. Amherst (18-5, 6-0) needs only one more conference victory coupled with a Hamilton loss to earn a second consecutive playoff berth, with the Jeffs also in the driver's seat to grab the top seed out of the West division. Depending on how Hamilton fares against Wesleyan this weekend, Amherst could secure that top seed before Sunday. 

Series Preview: The Jeffs and Panthers have been heading in opposite directions as of late, with Middlebury dropping six of its past seven games after taking two out of three from Williams. Amherst, meanwhile, has won 11 of its past 12 as the team to beat in the West, notably posting a 2.92 ERA during its current eight-game winning streak. 

The Lord Jeffs went yard only once in their first 15 games of the 2012 season, but they have begun to find their home run swings as of late. Amherst has hit five homers in the past eight games and could keep that trend going this weekend, as Middlebury surrendered five round-trippers in four games against the Jeffs last year.

Kevin Heller '12 hit a walk-off single during a 7-6 win over Middlebury in the 2011 series opener and added a game-winning grand slam against the Panthers during the NESCAC Championship. Currently leading Amherst in batting average (.430) and slugging (.620), Heller is hitting .500 (18-for-36) in 10 games against the NESCAC this year. He is tied for the program record for career home runs (18), while his 166 hits leave him only one shy of the school's all-time mark.

Heller is one of eight Amherst starters hitting above .310 and one of four batting .400 or higher, as the Lord Jeffs began the week leading the NESCAC at a .343 clip. This is a considerable jump from last year's team batting average of .316, with the Jeffs also seeing continued improvements with their defense. After ranking ninth in fielding percentage in 2010 (.940), Amherst bumped that mark to .958 in 2011 and is currently ranked second in the conference (.964).

Complementing those impressive offensive and defensive statistics has been a consistent pitching staff that ranks third in the NESCAC in ERA (3.70). The Jeffs surrendered four runs or fewer in 10 consecutive games from Mar. 30 to Apr. 15, posting a 1.88 ERA and .195 opponents' batting average during that stretch. The bullpen was even more impressive in that span, surrendering only one run and seven hits for a 0.39 ERA and sub-.100 OBA. Middlebury has surrendered at least 10 runs on five occasions, as the Panthers began the week with a 5.77 ERA and .309 OBA. 

Should further changes be made to this weekend's schedule, they will be posted here as soon as they are announced.