Wednesday, May 7, 2003


MEDFORD – The Tufts University Baseball team enters this weekend's (May 9-11) New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) Championships as marked men. Head Coach John Casey's Jumbos are the defending champions after winning last year's NESCAC title during a rain-shortened tournament in Medford.

Tufts went on to win two NCAA tournament games last May. They are in the NESCAC final four for the third straight year and have won seven straight games entering the tournament. Among those victories was a 10-1 shellacking that ended #1 in the nation Eastern Connecticut's school-record 23-game winning streak on April 28. The incomplete nature of last year's NESCAC Tournament that lingers adds to the drama as the 2003 championship opens at Amherst College on Friday (May 9). Tufts (21-8), which is the East Division's second seed in the four-team tournament, plays #1 West seed and host Amherst College at 3:00. Play continues on Saturday and Sunday on the fields at Amherst and American International College in Springfield.

Tufts has played in the NESCAC final in each of the two seasons the tournament has existed. They lost to Williams, 8-5, in the 2001 championship game. Last year, heavy rain on Sunday forced the cancellation of the seventh and final game of the tournament between Tufts and Trinity. The Bantams, who had forced the final game by winning 9-8 earlier in the day, were winning the seventh game, 4-2, after four and a half innings. Puddles started forming on the field, and NESCAC policy states that the final has to be a full nine-inning game. If not, the team that won Saturday's winner's bracket game would be declared champion. Tufts had defeated Trinity 6-2 in that game. The rules were followed, but it was controversial.

The NCAA Tournament wins were the Tufts program's first in 52 years last spring, and the Jumbos are aiming to go back again this year. Their chances in the NESCACs are strongly bolstered by a pitching trio that has been nothing short of sensational this spring. Senior Jon Lee (Manhasset Hills, NY/Herricks), senior tri-captain Dave Martin (Arlington, MA/Arlington) and junior Randy Newsom (Cincinnati, OH/St. Xavier) are a combined 19-4 with a 2.45 earned run average and 119 strikeouts with just 33 walks in 168.2 innings.

Lee just broke the program's 53-year old record for career victories with his 29th at Babson on Sunday. He is 9-2 overall with a 2.01 earned run average and a league-high 52 strikeouts in 62.2 innings. He no-hit Bates on March 29, then earned victories in both ends of a double-header at Bowdion on April 12. He was a two-time NESCAC Player of the Week recipient this season. Martin enters the tournament at 6-1 with a 3.10 era in 61 innings. He pitched a seven-inning, two-hit shutout at Apprentice on March 22 during the team's spring trip. Newsom, who has been used as a starter and as the closer this season, is 4-1 with a 2.20 era and five saves in 45 innings. He has 35 strikeouts and a team-best .183 opponent's batting average against.

Sophomore Jeremy Davis (Little Falls, NY/Little Falls) pitched seven shutout innings in the victory over Eastern Connecticut. Senior Mike Byron (Hanover, MA/Hanover) has been very reliable out of the bullpen with nine appearances and a 4.05 era. Sophomore Jeff Volinski (Andover, MA/Andover) has had some good outings. Tufts is the top-ranked pitching staff in NESCAC with a 3.33 earned run average.

The offense has heated up lately after a slow start up north. Junior C/DH Greg Hickey (Medway, MA/Medway) has been consistent all season, hitting .408 with four home runs and 31 runs batted in (fifth in NESCAC). Senior CF Evan Zupancic (Lake Oswego, OR/Lakeridge) became the program's all-time home runs leader (22) this season, and is hitting .398 with five home runs and 26 RBIs this spring. His 38 runs scored are tied for second in the conference. He's among the NESCAC leaders with 10 doubles and 12 stolen bases as well.

Senior LF Jon Herbert (Davidsonville, MD/South River) and senior SS Brian Shapiro (Swampscott, MA/Swampscott) have had off years at the plate, but each is capable of leading the Jumbo attack during NESCACs. Herbert his two grand slams this year and has RBIs in each of the last seven games entering the tournament. Shapiro has had two hits in four of the last six games. They are both veteran bats with four years of experience.

Junior 3B Adam Kacamburas (North Reading, MA/North Reading) and sophomore 2B Frank Dinucci (Wilton, CT/Wilton) have been .300 hitters this year in addition to their excellent play in the field. Kacamburas is at .320 with 19 walks that have helped compile his .480 on-base percentage. Dinucci is hitting .300 with 18 walks and a .447 on-base average. He's hit in the clutch, with 17 RBIs while primarily batting in the bottom of the order.

Freshman RF Matt Clement (Norwood, MA/Norwood) has been a good addition to the line-up. He's hitting .281 with 10 doubles and has shown patience at the plate with 13 walks. Sophomore 1B John McBride (Billerica, MA/Billerica), who is a nephew of New York Mets pitcher Tom Glavine, has hit .282 out of the ninth hole.

Sophomore Bob Kenny (Milford, MA/Milford) has split the catching chores with Hickey. Martin made a few starts in the outfield and at designated hitter late in the season. Junior infielder Nick Palange (Hudson, MA/St. Mark's School) and junior outfielder Drew Blewett (Great Falls, MT/Great Falls) are reserves with experience.

The Jumbos lead NESCAC in fielding with a .956 percentage and 31 double plays.

Trinity, the #1 seed in the East, and #2 West seed Williams College meet in Friday's other first round game. The Jumbos lost two out of three to Trinity this season and did not play Amherst or Williams. Tufts is 4-3 overall in the NESCAC Tournament.