MIDDLETOWN, Conn. – Fred Shepard '14 fired a complete game shutout and the Amherst College baseball team won its first NESCAC title in eight years, defeating host Wesleyan University, 7-0, at Andrus Field on Sunday as the Lord Jeffs completed an undefeated run through the conference tournament with a dominant all-around effort.
With the win, Amherst secured the NESCAC's automatic bid to the upcoming NCAA Championship, improving to 25-11 on the year. Wesleyan drops to 25-15-1 and will await the announcement of the 56-team tournament field at 10 a.m. Monday in hopes of an at-large bid. The Jeffs advance to one of eight regional championships to be held May 15-19.
After needing 13 innings to knock off the Cardinals on Saturday, Amherst left little room for drama in the championship game, scoring twice in the first inning and once in the second before breaking it open with four more in the fifth. The conference title is Amherst's first since winning back-to-back crowns in 2004 and 2005 and the third in program history. The NCAA appearance will be the team's fifth all-time and first since 2005.
Shepard was masterful at times and commanding throughout the title tilt, scattering six hits as he struck out four and walked one, keeping Wesleyan's hitters off balance from the first inning to the ninth. Meanwhile, the Jeff offense took advantage of a Cardinal staff that had already thrown 33 innings over the past 48 hours, pounding 10 hits as Conner Gunn '16 led the way with a 3-for-4, two-RBI performance. Bob Cook '13, Alex Hero '14 and Nolan Stewart '13 each had a pair of hits for Amherst while Mike Odenwaelder '16 drove in two and Taiki Kasuga '14 drew three walks, scoring a pair of runs.
Andrew Yin and Donnie Cimino each had two singles for Wesleyan, which had no extra-base hits against Shepard. Starting on one day's rest, Nick Cooney took the loss, lasting just 1.2 innings and surrendering three runs before Amherst broke the game open with four in the fifth inning against Cardinal reliever Sam Elias.
After a perfect first from Shepard, Amherst jumped on Cooney quickly with Hero doubling in Kasuga then scoring on a wild pitch to stake the Jeffs to a 2-0 lead. The Cardinal lefty continued to labor in the second, handing a bases-loaded walk to Kasuga to put Amherst up three and spell the end of his day.
Elias came on and put out the fire but the Jeffs eventually broke through against Wesleyan's ace reliever, plating four in the fifth as Kasuga drew a leadoff walk, Hero singled and Cook beat out a textbook bunt down the third baseline. Odenwaelder then snuck a seeing-eye single through the left side to drive in two and after Dave Cunningham '16 sacrificed, Gunn drove a two-run single up the middle to cap the surge. The switch-hitting rookie added another hit in the seventh as he went 7-for-8 to close out the tournament.
Meanwhile, Shepard allowed just two base-runners over the opening five, both singles. After the Cardinals left runners on first and third in the sixth, the southpaw worked a perfect seventh and eighth. Yin and Cimino singled to start the ninth, but Shepard bore down one more time, inducing an infield pop-up and fielder's choice before getting Steve Moran to ground to third. Nolan Stewart '13 made the pickup and threw to fellow senior Danny Pillitteri at second for the force, ending the contest in poetic fashion as the Jeffs rushed the field in celebration.
With Amherst's three wins over the weekend, Stewart, Pillitterri and classmates Cook and Adam Medoff became the winningest senior class in program history, upping their four-year record to 94-42 (.691). They will have a chance to add to that total beginning Wednesday as the Jeffs make their first NCAA Tournament appearance under head coach Brian Hamm.
2013 NESCAC BASEBALL CHAMPIONSHIP