|Nick Falkson was the 2017 NESCAC Player of the Year|
MEDFORD – After winning their second straight NESCAC title and fourth in the last eight seasons last year, the Tufts University baseball team returns to defend its conference supremacy in 2018.
Head coach John Casey's Jumbos won the league championship in dramatic fashion last spring. Tufts became just the second team since the NESCAC Baseball Championship started in 2001 to win games six and seven of the tournament to earn the title. Several key contributors from that squad are back, but there are also some significant holes to fill.
NESCAC Player of the Year Nick Falkson and three-time All-NESCAC first team pick Tommy O'Hara, co-captains for 2018, lead the Jumbos who open their season against Castleton on Friday in Newport News, Virginia. They powered an offense that averaged 7.95 runs per game a year ago. Senior reliever Ian Kinney and junior starter R.J. Hall are the top returnees on the mound from a Tufts team that was first in NESCAC and 11th nationally with a 3.18 earned run average last season.
Tufts has the top two spots in the starting rotation and in the batting order to fill. Two-time NESCAC Pitcher of the Year and All-American Speros Varinos along with four-year starting lefty Tim Superko have graduated. Outfielders Harry Brown and Oscar Kutch, both All-Conference first team honorees during their careers, have also left. Gritty second-baseman Tom Petry, a four-year starter, will also be missed.
O'Hara is already Tufts' career runs batted in leader with 136. He had five rbis in Tufts' 10-6 win over Middlebury to win the league title last May, and he led the NESCAC with 43 runs and 46 runs batted in as well as with 35 walks and a .503 on-base percentage. Falkson hit .373 with 37 runs batted in and 33 runs scored in 2017. He compiled impressive .457 on-base and .477 slugging numbers as well as making just one error at first base for a .997 fielding percentage.
Junior Will Shackelford emerged as an All-Conference player at shortstop last season, finishing second on the team with a .368 average. Seniors Casey Santos-Ocampo, Mike McLaughlin and Stephan White are veteran outfielders, while classmate Christian Zazzali has experience in the middle infield.
Juniors Harrison Frickman and Eric Schnepf have shared the catching duties for the past two seasons, though Schepf will miss some time with an injury. The Jumbos will want to find room for sophomore Ryan Day's bat (15 rbis in 19 games last year) in their line-up and he is a catcher by trade. Senior Malcolm Nachmanoff and junior John Moschella also wield productive bats.
Hall was an ace for the Jumbos in the post-season, including seven shutout innings in a NESCAC Tournament win over Amherst and a complete game allowing just four hits and a run to Oswego State in the NCAA Tournament. Sophomore Elias Varinos was vital to Tufts' conference championship going 8.1 innings allowing just one earned run in his first collegiate start versus Middlebury. Also a candidate for an infield role, he's competing for a regular turn in the starting rotation. The third weekend spot is up for grabs with a few freshmen showing promise.
Kinney saved six games and made 18 appearances for the Jumbos last spring and was the team's bullpen leader as a sophomore as well. Senior Kevin Galasso had a great year out of the pen in 2017 with a 1.93 era. Junior Joe Thomas and sophomore Brent Greeley will also look to fill larger roles.
Tufts, ranked 26th in Collegiate Baseball Newspaper's D3 preseason poll and receiving votes in the D3baseball.com poll, leaves for its annual spring trip to the Mid-Atlantic states this week and will play 10 games during spring break. The Jumbos are likely to earn Coach Casey's 700th career victory during the week, entering the season one win shy.
Their New England schedule – field conditions permitting – is scheduled to begin March 28 at Mass Maritime Academy. NESCAC East play starts with three games versus Trinity at home March 30-31.