Baseball Begins NESCAC Title Defense Over Spring Break

Coming off a NESCAC title victory in the 2021 Covid-shortened season, the baseball team opened their 2022 season with a spring break trip to Florida, where they went 4-2 in six games.

Jacob Ribitzki '24 throws a pitch and Amherst players get ready to a swing during a game in Florida last week. Photo curtesy of Clarus Studios. 

The Amherst baseball team traveled to Auberndale, Florida, over spring break to open their 2022 season, playing a total of six games over six days and returning home with a solid 4-2 record. The Mammoths look to defend their title as NESCAC champions this season, aiming to win their third championship in the last four seasons. They boast a roster that returns 12 total players, including the entire pitching staff, from last year’s successful campaign in the Covid-shortened season.

“We have high expectations this year,” said senior captain Sachin Nambiar ’22. “It was clear at the beginning of the spring that we had a ton of talent on this team, and our eyes are set on repeating as NESCAC champions.”

Led by reigning NESCAC Coach of the Year J.P. Pyne, the Mammoths also return stalwart second baseman Daniel Qin ’22 and flamethrower Nick Giattino ’24, each of whom was awarded their own respective hardware in the form of NESCAC Player of the Year and NESCAC Rookie of the Year honors at the conclusion of last season.

Though there certainly is experience on the roster, the majority of this year’s players have yet to play a full collegiate season. With nine first-years and a number of sophomores and juniors who were not on campus last spring, gaining experience in the early stages of the season will be vital.

“It’ll be interesting to see how we fare against the rest of the NESCAC with every other team getting back the majority of their rosters as we did,” said Nambiar. “We don’t have a lot of guys who have played a full 30-plus game season, so it’ll be important that our guys stay healthy down the road.” Signs are encouraging thus far, though, he said: “It’s very promising to see how well the team has meshed, and how great the guys who weren’t here last year have been.”

This newfound team chemistry has been evident in the Mammoths’ early season results. They picked up right where they left off from last year’s title run, needing only seven innings to comfortably defeat Anderson University 13-0 by the mercy run rule on March 13. Jacob Ribitzki ’24 got the start and picked up his first win of the season, pitching 5.1 scoreless innings and allowing just three hits while racking up nine strikeouts. The Mammoths tallied 15 total hits, and seven different Mammoths had at least one RBI.

The bats went cold the following day, however, as the Mammoths managed only five hits in a 5-2 loss to Ripon College. Nambiar went 5.1 innings and was handed the loss, but he blanked the Redhawks through the first four innings of the contest before they managed to add two runs in the fifth inning and another in the sixth.

The Mammoths then battled familiar foe Bowdoin in a doubleheader the next day, splitting the two-game series. The offense exploded in the first of two seven-inning games, recording five first-inning runs on the way to a dominant 10-1 win. Game two began in a similar manner — the Mammoths jumped out to an early 3-0 lead, tallying two runs in the third inning and another in the fourth. However, a disastrous fifth inning proved too great to overcome for the Mammoths. The Polar Bears scored nine runs on seven hits in their half of the fifth — over half of their 13 total hits for the entire game — to take a 9-3 lead into the sixth. The Mammoths added two runs of their own in the following inning, but the Polar Bears scored an insurance run in the seventh and blanked the Mammoths in the final frame for a final score of 10-5.

With a day of rest in between, the Mammoths then took on Franklin & Marshall College on March 17. For the first time all week, it was the opponents who got on the board first, with the Diplomats jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the second inning. The Mammoths clawed two runs back in the third inning, but the Diplomats struck again in the bottom half of the frame to make it a 4-2 lead after just three innings of play. The score remained until the Mammoths finally came through with four important runs to take a 6-4 lead in the seventh inning, before adding two insurance runs in the eighth. The Diplomats made it interesting, scoring a run in each of the final two innings and bringing the tying run to the plate in the ninth, but Alan Dai ’24 shut the door to end the game at 8-6 and earn his first save of the season. Tyson Luna ’25 picked up his first collegiate win, pitching 4.0 shutout innings after the Diplomats put four runs on the board in the first two frames.

The final game of the trip appeared to be the Mammoths’ toughest test so far, as they matched up against No. 9 Rowan University. Yet the Mammoths rose up to the challenge, once again getting on the board first, this time with three runs in the second inning, all of which came with two outs. A moonshot of a grand slam in the third inning by Christian Fagnant ’24 broke the game wide open, widening the margin to 7-0, and the Mammoths added two more to their lead in the sixth inning off of a Jackson Reydel ’23 triple. Ribitzki made his second start of the trip and commanded the Profs all evening. He pitched a full eight innings, tallying one strikeout and allowing only five hits. Seventeen out of his 24 recorded outs came on fly balls to the outfield. The Profs managed to score a run in the eighth inning, but this was the only blemish on Ribitzki’s start, and the game ended with a final score of 9-1. Ribitzki was awarded NESCAC Pitcher of the Week for his efforts in his two starts last week.

The Mammoths seem to have found their most effective lineup, as seven players started all six games: Jack Boyle ’25, Jack McDermott ’25, Ryan McIntyre ’25, Luke Padian ’24, Jack Dove ’23, Chris Murphy ’22, and Qin. Fagnant also started every game behind the plate except for the second game of the doubleheader against Bowdoin.

“It feels so great to finally be competing for Amherst for the first time,” said Fagnant. “All our guys have worked hard with whatever situation they were in over the past two years and it shows. If we keep working hard and show up every day ready to compete, this team has a chance to go really far.”

Fagnant’s hard work has already paid early dividends. After these first six games, he leads the Mammoths in batting average (.400), RBIs (9), and OPS (1.155).

Looking ahead, the Mammoths play their home opener against No. 11 Wheaton College on Friday, March 25, with the first pitch at 3:30 p.m. They will then travel to Waltham, Mass., to take on Brandeis University in a doubleheader on March 26.