MIDDLETOWN, Conn. – Jonathan Ramirez '16 dropped down the game-winning squeeze bunt in the bottom of the 13th inning, scoring Danny Pillitteri '13 and bringing the Amherst College baseball team one win away from the NESCAC title as the Lord Jeffs knocked off host Wesleyan University in a 5-4 thriller on the second day of the NESCAC Championship Saturday at Andrus Field.
Winning the longest game in the conference's postseason history, Amherst (24-11) now advances to Sunday's title matchup, where it will face the winner of Wesleyan and Trinity, whose losers' bracket final was suspended by rain later on Saturday with the Cardinals leading 5-3 after five innings. The teams will resume play Sunday morning, with the finals to follow at 12:30 p.m.
The designated home team after playing as visitors on Friday, Amherst trailed 4-2 in the eighth but Mike Odenwaelder '16 blasted a two-out two-run home run to even the score and swing momentum toward the Jeffs. After reliever Adam Medoff '13 got out of a bases-loaded jam in the top of the ninth, Amherst filled the bases with nobody out in the bottom half but could not get the winning run across against Cardinal reliever Sam Elias, sending the Little Three rivals into extra innings.
With both teams missing numerous scoring chances in the 10th, 11th and 12th, Amherst reliever Keenan Szulik '16 left a pair of Cardinals stranded in the top of the 13th then the Jeffs finally scratched one across, taking advantage of a pair of hit by pitches before Nolan Stewart '13 laid down a sacrifice bunt and Ramirez won it on a gutsy squeeze call, with Pillitteri sliding in safely after Wesleyan pitcher Jimmy Hill could not make a clean play on the ball.
First baseman Conner Gunn '16 went 4-for-4 for Amherst while Bob Cook '13 pitched six solid innings and went 3-for-5 with two runs scored. Taiki Kasuga '14 was 3-for-6 and Odenwaelder finished 2-for-4 with two runs, three RBI and a pair of walks. After Cook's quality start, Eric Kotin '14 surrendered one run in 1.2 innings then Charles Nutter '15, Medoff, Riley Streit '16, Cam Windham '14 and Szulik combined for 5.1 scoreless innings of relief, with Medoff going 2.2 clutch frames as he worked around two hits and four walks to keep Wesleyan off the board.
Donnie Cimino starred at the plate for the Cardinals (24-14-1), going 5-for-6 with a walk, double and two RBIs while Chris Bonti was 2-for-3. Starter Jeff Blout battled through eight innings on the mound, surrendering four runs as he scattered 13 Jeff hits.
With Cook and Blout trading zeros early, Wesleyan scratched an unearned run across in the top of the third as Andrew Yin reached on a two-out error and a pair of infield singles brought him home. Amherst broke through in the fourth as Cook drew a leadoff walk and Odenwaelder smashed an RBI double to the wall in left to drive in his pitcher. Gunn then put the Jeffs on top 2-1 with a one-out RBI single before an inning-ending double play kept Blout out of further trouble. The Cardinals capitalized, evening it in the top of the fifth as Cimino drove a two-out RBI single to right.
An inning later, Steve Moran drew a one-out walk off Cook and Guy Davidson doubled down the left-field line to put Wesleyan on top, 3-2. With Cook departing after six, the Cardinals touched Kotin for an insurance run in the seventh as Bonti singled, Yin sacrificed him to second and Cimino delivered another RBI base hit.
Wesleyan threatened for more in the seventh against Nutter, but Kasuga's strong relay from short cut down a run at the plate on Bonti's two-out double, keeping the deficit at two. Needing to rally against Blout, Kasuga led off the eighth with a single, and after another Cardinal double play, Cook singled to prolong the inning and Odenwaelder delivered, blasting a Blout curveball for a two-run moonshot to left to tie it at 4.
With Medoff coming on for the ninth, Cimino blasted a one-out ground rule double, but in between two walks, the Jeff righty got Dennett and Davidson to fly out. Gunn led off the bottom half with a single before the Cardinals threw away Vandini's sac bunt and Stewart was hit by a pitch, ending Blout's long outing with the bases loaded. Elias came on and struck out Ramirez before inducing a pop up to Kasuga. With two down, Amherst pinch-runner Nic Meyer '16 tried to score on a wild pitch but was cut down, completing the squander.
Wesleyan came back and loaded the bases in the 10th as Ben Hoynes singled and Medoff hit Bonti then walked Cimino with two down. But the Jeff senior escaped as catcher Dave Cunningham '16 made a great sliding catch on Yin's foul then Sam Goodwin-Boyd flew out to center to end the frame. Hero led off the bottom half with a single, chasing Elias as Hill entered, but after an intentional walk to Odenwaelder, the Jeffs could not capitalize. It was more of the same in the 11th as Streit relieved Medoff with one on and one out and retired the side then Amherst couldn't cash in on Stewart's one-out single and Kasuga's double to left.
The Cardinals put two on again in the 12th when Streit hit Bonti and Cimino singled with two away, but Windham entered and got Goodwin-Boyd on a groundout. Cook singled to start the bottom half, and after Odenwaelder popped up, Cunningham drove one to deep right that seemed destined for a game-winning extra base hit with Cook leaving first at the bat's crack. But Moran got a terrific jump on the ball and made a running catch on the warning track then doubled Cook off to end the side.
Wesleyan started the 13th with a Dennett walk and Moran single, but Szulik relieved Windham and got three straight outs. After Hill hit Pillitteri and Vandini to start the 13th, Stewart executed the sacrifice and Amherst head coach Brian Hamm called for a safety squeeze on consecutive pitches. After Ramirez fouled off the first, Hill pitched out and the Cardinals nearly picked off Pillitteri, but the Jeff senior dove back to third around the tag. With Hamm keeping the play on, Ramirez bunted back toward the mound but Hill tried to flip it home with his glove and could not make the play, sending the Jeffs spilling onto the field in celebration.
In the first-ever postseason meeting between Amherst and Wesleyan, the Jeffs evened the teams' season series at two games apiece. Amherst now advances to the final day of the tournament for the first time since 2008 after the program won back-to-back titles in 2004 and 2005. The Jeffs will have two shots at the crown on Sunday if necessary, as the team coming out of the losers' bracket will need to triumph twice to win the double-elimination tournament.
2013 NESCAC BASEBALL CHAMPIONSHIP