Don’t call it a comeback.
It can be called impressive, unlikely or even dumbfounding, but LL Cool J’s famous words could not be more spot-on for the circumstances the Springfield College Pride find themselves in now after a wild weekend in western and central Massachusetts.
A resilient team flying under the radar and just above the Mendoza Line all season, the Pride went into the weekend as a bubble team to get into the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference tournament. At 7-7 in the NEWMAC, facing Western Division-leading WPI for a three-game set, the Pride looked as if their resilience had finally met its match. However, after three critical wins by the tally of 3-2, 4-2 and 5-3, the Pride not only swept WPI with the latter two wins on the road, but clinched the No. 2 seed overall for the NEWMAC Conference Tournament, set to begin Saturday with a double-header at home at Berry-Allen Field against the Engineers of MIT.
“I reminded our guys that two years ago we were in the exact same situation,” said coach Mark Simeone. “I just reminded them how we approached it last time, and we played well and found a way to win all three [games].”
Not every win is pretty, and that was certainly the case for Springfield this weekend, as gritty performances made way for big wins.
On Friday, the Pride won on a walk-off wild pitch, the first half of Saturday was claimed by Springfield after a four-run scoring barrage in the seventh, and a two-run ninth inning broke the tie in the ninth and sealed the deal for Springfield in the second match.
It is always a fun guessing game, be it college or professional sports, to look at playoff scenarios and look at the borderline irrational, hypothetical scenarios that could happen, knowing that certain opponents or statistics would likely inhibit those scenarios from happening.
Springfield claiming the West and ultimately second seed was that borderline irrational, hypothetical scenario.
“We wanted three [wins] no matter what, and we came together as a team and are getting hot at the right time,” said senior Springfield ace Travis Lane, owner of a 3-1 record with a 2.37 ERA in five starts this season.
But now that David has beaten Goliath, the Pride have placed themselves into the Goliath role, as the target is on their back from here on out, and focus becomes a critical key to success as they take on a formidable MIT squad.
For a fan of the game, this match-up could not be better as far as interest is concerned, as the two meetings have resulted in 2-1 and 2-0 margins, the former being the product of 15 innings. Both matches were won by the Pride.
“We have to get game one and get off on the right foot,” said senior closer Peter Baranski. “We have to stay together and stay hot,” added Lane.
Don’t let seeding and past results be deceiving; MIT is a dangerous team. Second only to Wheaton in the Eastern division, the 16-10 (12-5 in conference play) Engineers lead the conference in home runs and earned run average, and are in the upper echelons of most in-conference statistical categories.
Moreover, there are individual standouts such as David Hesslink, whose 0.66 ERA over five conference wins is good for second in the conference while resulting in a 4-0 NEWMAC record.
“They have a good pitching staff, they’re well coached and they compete very well. I would anticipate a good, solid series and we’re going to have to play well to win that series, but I believe we will and I’m looking forward to it,” said Simeone.
Not to be outdone, however, Springfield certainly poses a dangerous squad of their own to MIT, with assets such as senior Sean Smith, who has put together a .366 batting average over 26 games, good for fourth in the conference. On the rubber Springfield has threats such as Lane and Baranski, the reigning NEWMAC Pitcher of the Week after three lights out appearances against WPI.
It is tough to do what Springfield College did this past weekend against WPI, and it is almost equally difficult to draw up a better first round match-up between a two and three seed.
The drama will ensue Saturday with a double-header at noon and 3 p.m., followed by an “if necessary” rubber match Sunday at 1 p.m. All three matches will take place in Springfield.
Let the tournament begin.
Logan Mullen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org