The 2015 Wesleyan baseball season was highly anticipated, fraught with hopes of picking up where the accomplished 2014 squad left off. The entire starting lineup of 2015 was back from the 2014 team, which had gone 31-13, winning the first-ever NESCAC Championship in program history and going deep into the NCAA Division III regional with a 4-2 mark. Though three pitchers from the 2014 squad graduated that year, the Cardinals had three tremendous returners on the mound and a fourth pitcher with enormous promise. The result? A program record for regular-season wins (25), a third straight Little Three title and another trip to the NESCAC tournament, the third in a row for the Cardinals and fifth excursion in the last seven seasons.
The Cardinals head to Nashua, N.H., on May 8 for the opening game of the 2015 NESCAC Championship, facing Bates College in the first round. Coincidentally, it was a Wesleyan-Bates matchup in 2014, won by the Cardinals, 4-3, that started the Cardinals’ journey to the title.
“This team is an affirmation of everything that sports should be,” said Head Coach Mark Woodworth ’94. “We have a senior class that had a losing record its first year, and, through sheer will and heart, they have transformed themselves into one of the best teams in the nation. They have worked harder than every team in the country; they are always in the batting cage, always taking ground balls, but also taking care of their school work, their health, their rest, their teammates. That commitment to the smallest of details, 365 days a year, has turned into amazing achievement.”
Beginning the campaign with its annual spring training trip, of late to Tucson, Ariz., the promising season got off to a 6-0 start. The team returned with an 8-4 record but full of resolve to make the remainder of the season all it could be. The Cardinals went on to a 17-4 record over its local schedule. Embedded in the 17 wins were 12 straight NESCAC West triumphs, bringing about the first perfect slate in NESCAC West history. The Cardinals took three games each from Williams, Middlebury, Amherst and Hamilton. Only twice in NESCAC history, coming from NESCAC East Trinity in 2008 and 2009, has a conference team swept through the league schedule.
“Even in the coldest days of this past winter, these guys have had laser-focus on the work needed to take their game to the next level,” said Woodworth. “The nine seniors have definitely been the heart of the transformation of this program, but not forgotten are all the achievements of classes older and younger than them. It takes a village to be great, and that also includes the support of everyone from Athletics Director Mike Whalen ’83 to Joe Fountain, the team’s certified athletic trainer, and Bob Chiapetta, the equipment manager.”
Seniors occupy five starting spots in the lineup, including the entire outfield of left fielder Jon Dennett ’15, center fielder Donnie Cimino ’15 and right fielder Ben Hoynes ’15. Add to that first baseman Sam Goodwin-Boyd ’15 and second baseman Andrew Yin ’15. Cimino and Yin have been the most decorated of the group with all-NESCAC accolades in past years. Yin has also been a two-time CoSIDA/Capital One Academic All-American.
The combined talent of the weekend starting pitching corps of Nick Cooney ’15, Gavin Pittore ’16 and Sam Elias ’15 is unprecedented. Never before in program history have the Cardinals had a starting group go a collective 20-3 with a 1.93 ERA and a .197 opposing batting average. Cooney stands 7-1 on the season; Pittore is 6-2; Elias is 7-0 with three saves. The squad’s number-four starter, Peter Rantz ’16, is 4-2 with a 3.42 ERA. Wesleyan’s team ERA of 2.98 ranks among the top-25 in NCAA Division III. Even the NCAA Division III World Series team of 1994, on which Woodworth was the starting shortstop, had a 3.66 team ERA behind All-American Craig Brewer ’95 (12-0, 2.09 ERA).
“Everyone knows the importance of pitching on a successful baseball team,” said Woodworth. “We have three number-one starters on the same staff and that type of elite pitching is what got us to the World Series in 1994 and it’s really exciting to have it again right now.”
At the plate, Wesleyan is paced by shortstop Guy Davidson ’16 with a .352 mark. He leads the squad in doubles with nine and is tied with Goodwin-Boyd for home-run leadership as each has four. The rest of the starting lineup features Ellis Schaefer ’17 at third base, and Nick Miceli ’17 or Eric Jones ’16 at catcher. Marco Baratta ’17, Robby Harbison’’17 and Jordan Farber ’16 are also in the mix as key contributors, mainly at designated hitter. Wesleyan outscores its rivals by an average of 6-3 per contest.