A Saturday evening that featured 29 innings of baseball at Archie Allen Field spread across two games against the WPI Engineers could have resulted in a NEWMAC West Division title for the Springfield College baseball team.
The Pride needed a sweep in that April 27 doubleheader to capture the crown, thus guaranteeing one of the top two spots in the conference tournament and the ability to forgo the play-in game on Thursday. With Brian Johnson and Shawn Babineau tag teaming games one and two, Springfield put themselves in a great position to achieve this goal.
However, game one painstakingly ended that possibility. The Pride lost, 2-1, in a game that spanned 18 innings (the second time Springfield has played over 17 innings in as many seasons). Johnson pitched 11 of those, tossing 130 pitches in arguably one of the top pitching performances of his career.
WPI tied the score, 1-1, in the top of the sixth inning. From the bottom half of the sixth to the 18th, Springfield put the go-ahead run in scoring position nine times, and failed to bring the winning run across.
Not a sound came from the home team’s dugout as the Pride stranded the tying run on third base to end the game in the 18th inning. The division slipped away. WPI celebrated on their home field. A regular season defined by inconsistency took a harsh tailspin at the end.
Although, the season is not completely finished.
Springfield settled for the No. 5 seed in the conference tournament, and will play MIT for the second consecutive season in the play-in game on Thursday — fighting for a spot among the top four teams in the conference in pursuit of a NEWMAC title.
The Pride were in this exact position last season. It traveled to Cambridge and lost, 5-0. MIT was also the same team Springfield took a 17-inning loss to 56 weeks ago. This season, the teams played to a split in a March 30 doubleheader.
It’s hard to predict who will take the mound for the most important game of the year. Johnson and Babineau each pitched over 120 pitches just five days ago. A week between starts is how both have operated this season (Babineau has even had a couple weeks between starts at times). There may have be an exception for this game, however.
Johnson allowed seven earned runs in 5.2 innings last time he faced MIT on March 30, although he struck out ten. Babineau threw eight innings of two-run ball on the same day, getting the win.
Another candidate from the starting rotation is Noah Bleakley (5.06 ERA in 32 IP). He pitched six strong innings against Elms on April 23, allowing two hits and no runs while striking out seven.
Jack Cooney (.347/.438/.388) and Mark Joao (.379/.438/.631) anchor the offense. The lineup is comprised of several speedy base stealers, as Springfield leads the NEWMAC with 88 stolen bases. Cooney (25) and Brandon Russo (26) lead the team. MIT has thrown out 12 runners in 58 attempts (.171 caught stealing percentage), ranking fifth in the conference.
MIT recently defeated No. 11 Wheaton, 19-2, in game one of a doubleheader last Saturday. The Engineers’ three best arms have each thrown in some capacity over the past five days. Patrick Callahan (2.31 ERA in 50.2 IP) and Casey Bussone (3.46 ERA in 54.2 IP) each threw multiple innings against No. 3 Southern Maine on Sunday. Zack Kopstein, who threw seven shutout innings in last year’s play-in game, worked 6.1 innings this past weekend in one of the games against Wheaton.
Offensively, Matt Johnston is one of the better hitters in the NEWMAC (.347/.424/.567), tied for the lead with 46 RBI. Jared Schwait (.333/.471/.444) has swiped over 20 bags and leads the team in doubles (11). They combined to go 6-for-17 (.353) with five runs and three RBI against Springfield earlier this season.
Springfield’s quest for the program’s first ever NEWMAC title begins at 3:30 pm. A live stream of the contest can be found here.
Featured photo courtesy Jack Margaros