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After slow start, baseball bounces back strong

in Columns/Sports by

After a slow start losing two doubleheaders to open up the season, the Baseball team bounced back over spring break in Fort Myers, Florida. The team flew south for their annual trip the first Saturday of spring break to escape the cold. After seven days of sunshine, the team returned with an overall record of 6-8, going 6-4 in Florida. Over 100 Division III baseball and softball teams from across the United States headed to Fort Myers to compete in the annual Gene Cusic Collegiate Classic. The tournament is a memorial for Cusic, a former Lee County Parks and Rec athletics manager and baseball fan. Established 26 years ago, the classic has expanded tremendously, originally having just 11 teams. Other Conference teams to attend this tournament included Gettysburg and Haverford.

The Garnet baseball team faced a packed schedule with 10 games in just six days. The trip began on an incredible high note with a walk-off win in extra innings in their first game on Sunday. Jared Gillen ’20 drove in the game winning run for the Garnet to defeat Rivier College in extra innings. The team lost a doubleheader on Monday to Defiance College and rallied to finish 4-2 in their next 6 games, defeating Hiram College, Rockford University, Baruch College and the United States Coast Guard Academy. One of the team’s losses was to Alvernia University who is currently ranked 23rd in the nation in Division III.

Other notable performances came from Conor Elliott ’19 and Cole Beeker ’20 at the plate, as well as Ryan Warm ’20 on the mound who, despite the loss, had a strong pitching performance against Alvernia. Elliot and Beeker lead the team with batting averages of .383 and .367 respectively.

Despite the busy schedule, the team was able to get some rest and relaxation during their spring break. Fort Myers is the spring training home of both the Boston Red Sox and the Minnesota Twins, offering a great opportunity to see some Major League Baseball. The team saw the Minnesota Twins defeat the Toronto Blue Jays before returning to Swarthmore on Friday to conclude their spring break trip.

Up next for the Garnet is a home doubleheader against Penn State Berks on March 18th after their game scheduled for March 14 against Eastern was canceled due to weather. Centennial Conference play will begin April 1 against Johns Hopkins University, who was picked to finish first in the conference coaches poll. The Garnet, who were picked to finish 10th in the same coaches poll, must make a strong conference play campaign to reach the Centennial Conference playoffs.

José Fernández, Dee Gordon, and why we watch sports

in Columns/Sports by

José Fernández would have been first to tell you that baseball is, at heart, just a game.

      He always had a smile on his face. It didn’t matter whether he was dicing up hitters with his filthy curveball, cheering on his best friend and teammate Giancarlo Stanton in the Home Run Derby, or even just looking silly at the plate. Nobody played the game of baseball with as much pure, childlike joy as José Fernández did.

      Perhaps this is because all of the other challenges he faced in his life. From early on, Fernández knew he wanted to play baseball for the rest of his life, and he knew making his way to America was the best way to achieve that goal. Fernández made four attempts at defecting from Cuba as a teenager. He failed three times, spending months in prison. His failures did not deter him. His love for the game and desire to improve his family’s quality of life pushed him to keep trying to get out of Cuba. On his fourth attempt, Fernández made it, although not without problems. While on a boat to Mexico, a woman fell overboard into stormy waters. In spite of being a teenager with little experience in the water, Fernández instinctively dove overboard and saved the woman, only to discover that she was his own mother.

      Fernández made it to America in 2008. Once here, he struggled to adapt. Like most defectors, he didn’t speak much English and was overwhelmed by all of the technology and culture that shape the American lifestyle. While at an airport in Tampa, a serviceman entered a  bathroom to find Fernández on the floor, searching for the handle that would make the automatic toilet flush.

      To Fernández , baseball was the easy part of living in this country.

      Fernández was part of a new group of players that are challenging the old-school notion that there is no fun in baseball. He played with flair, excitement, and a chip on his shoulder, but most of all, he played with incredible talent. José Fernández was a damn good ballplayer. No pitcher had struck out batters at the same rate he did. Fernández’s Fielding-Independent Pitching and Earned Run Average Plus put him among the all-time greats. The former first-round pick took the baseball world by storm, bursting onto the scene quickly. At 20 years old, Fernández compiled an incredible 2.19 ERA over 170 innings, while leading the National League with the fewest hits per 9 innings. He was almost unanimously named NL Rookie of the Year and came in third for Cy Young voting.

      Fernández’s death shocked the sports world. On Sunday, Fernández and two other friends  accidentally drove full speed into a jetty off the coast of Florida while boating. Officials found their bodies at around 3:00 am, noting that Fernández most likely died on impact. Fernández was 24 years old and had just announced that he and his girlfriend were soon expecting a baby girl. The social media world exploded, with players upon players expressing their love for Fernández  and grief over his loss. Videos poured in of Marlins players and fans crying over his death. If one thing is for sure, it’s that Fernández was loved very much.

      A player of his ability and youth has never died so suddenly before. The Marlins were stunned, as were the residents of Miami. The home game against the Atlanta Braves was cancelled. However, they still had a regular season game scheduled for Monday, and decided to honor Fernández as best as they could.

      One of the reasons we love sports is the emotions that come with being a fan. Monday night’s game was definitely not lacking in this department. The Marlins took the field with everyone wearing Fernández’s number 16 jersey. Even players from other teams hung Fernández jerseys in their dugout. A moment of silence was held, followed by a somber horn rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Tears were shed.

      In the bottom of the first inning, leadoff hitter Dee Gordon came up for his at-bat. Usually a left-handed hitter, Gordon took the first pitch from the right side while wearing Fernández’s helmet and mirroring his load. He switched over to his normal left-handed batter’s box on the next pitch.

      Dee Gordon is not a power hitter. He’s known for his ability to get on base and then steal bases. He’s a great player, but nobody expects him to hit for power.

      However, on the next pitch, Gordon took a big hack. He swung out of his shoes, and  Bartolo Colon’s 85 mile-per-hour pitch was smashed out of the park. Colon didn’t turn around.

      Gordon sprinted around the bases, trying to compose himself. He failed. Tears streamed down his face by the time he touched the plate and gestured to heaven, telling Fernández that he did that for him. He walked back to the dugout, where his teammates embraced him. When asked about his home run, Gordon let his emotions take over, saying, “I told the boys, ‘If you all don’t believe in God, you all might as well start.’ I ain’t ever hit a ball that far, even in BP. We had some help.” It was Gordon’s first home run of the season.

      The Marlins went on to win the game 7-3. They had completed their tribute to Fernández. It’s hard to watch games like these and think the baseball gods did not have a hand in Gordon’s home run. For a team and a city that was hurting, they have found solace that Fernández was looking down on them, jumping up and down with his trademark smile, celebrating Gordon’s home run.

Women’s Lacrosse Looks to Build on Success

in Season/Sports/Spring/Women by

The Swarthmore Women’s Lacrosse team blew through its early season schedule, dispatching its first four opponents, Eastern, Drew, Rochester and Widener by a combined score of 50-18. The team is satisfied with its strong start; in the words of midfielder Annalise Penikis ’13, “It has been great that everyone has gotten a chance to play and get comfortable in games.”

However, the team recognizes that much tougher tests lie ahead. The first such test came on Tuesday night, when Swarthmore lost narrowly to twelfth-ranked Amherst College, 11-8. Swarthmore was led offensively by Penikis (2 goals and 2 assists) and Elyse Tierney ’15 (3 goals). Despite the loss, the team’s strong performance was a signal that the team will be prepared for the gauntlet that is the Centennial Conference schedule. The conference is one of the premier lacrosse conferences in NCAA Division III, and the Garnet recognize that they will need to bring their best effort every game if they hope to match or improve upon last season’s 5-4 Conference record and playoff berth.  While Franklin and Marshall and Gettysburg stand out as national powerhouses, midfielder Corinne Sommi ’14 stressed that “every game in our conference will be a key game.”

“We are no longer the underdogs,” Sommi continued, adding, “We need to prove that our success [last year] was not just luck and that we are a program on the rise.”

While upsetting Franklin and Marshall and Gettysburg would be impressive achievements, defender Caroline Murphy ‘14 noted that “a few teams in the conference are very evenly matched,” particularly Ursinus, Dickinson and Washington College. As Swarthmore strives to qualify for the playoffs for a second consecutive year, winning these games will be “extremely important,” in Murphy’s words.

Whether or not the team has faced strong opponents thus far, it has opened the season focused and driven. Head Coach Karen Borbee attributed the team’s success thus far to “a solid group of returning players from last year,” noting that “they have really helped the new players to feel comfortable.”

Swarthmore’s prolific offensive attack has been led by Penikis. With 14 goals and 10 assists through the first four games, she has played a role in almost half of the team’s scoring thus far. Also contributing offensively have been Sommi (12 points), Sara Lentricchia ’15 (8) and Tierney (5). Sommi came up particularly big in Swarthmore’s lone closely contested contest thus far, a 9-8 victory against Drew, by scoring the game-winning goal on a breakaway with just under five minutes remaining.

Swarthmore’s defensive has been just as stifling as the offense has been prolific. Borbee lauded the team’s “strong defensive play” in the first four games. The team’s defense has been anchored by goalkeeper Michelle Ammerman ’14, who has 13 saves and is allowing just 4.40 goals per game. Freshmen Connie Bowen and Christine McGinn have also seen considerable time between the pipes, with Bowen picking up her first college win. Murphy has been the team’s defensive leader, collecting a team-leading 13 ground balls and causing 6 turnovers. Also contributing on the defensive end have been Tierney (6 gb, 6 ct), Lentricchia (3 gb, 1 ct), Catie Meador ’13 and Samantha Reichard ’15.

The team’s early games have been particularly helpful for the Garnet’s young players, who have had the opportunity to be eased into game action during some of the lopsided affair. The variety of people who have played has helped Swarthmore “work out the kinks” and develop “teamwork and patience,” in Murphy’s words. The relatively even playing time has helped every player on the team to remain focused and motivated, something Penikis emphasized as being particularly important: “I think our team has a lot of drive this year. Every person on our team wants to work hard to get better, which has definitely contributed to our success.”

After taking on Cabrini tonight (7pm at Clothier field), Swarthmore opens its Conference season at home against Ursinus on Saturday night (7pm). Defeating the Bears will be critical to Swarthmore’s dual goals of, in Penikis’s words, “to make playoffs again this year” and to either “win the conference” or “get an at-large bid” to the NCAA championships.

Baseball Surges During Spring Break Trip

in Men/Season/Sports/Spring by

It’s a good thing the Swarthmore baseball team traveled to Florida for spring break.  With the local weather the way it has been, the team might never have gotten a game in.  Rain on Monday and Tuesday postponed the scheduled games at and against Penn State-Brandywine.  Monday’s game was rescheduled for Wednesday afternoon.

It was nothing but sunshine in Florida though, where the Garnet competed in the RussMatt Central Florida Invitational.  Playing a grueling nine-game slate, Swarthmore came away with a 6-3 record to climb over .500 for the first time all season, with a record of 6-5.

The team showed continuing improvement throughout the trip, particularly in the pitching.  What appeared to be a liability in an early season loss to Arcadia has proven to be a strength, as the Garnet rode quality starts to three wins in a row, shutting out Juniata 11-0 and sweeping Rhode Island College in a doubleheader.

The starting pitching was solid in recent losses as well: Oscar Leong ’16 threw five shutout innings in an eventual 8-3 loss to New Jersey City, while Nathan Booth ’16 allowed three runs in five innings in a 4-3 loss to Juniata.  Upperclassmen have pitched well too–Luke Alventosa ’15 allowed one run on just four hits .in a complete game effort against Rhode Island, while Ramsey Walker ’13 had a complete game of his own, allowing three runs in the nightcap.

Travel helped awaken Swarthmore’s bats, as an offense that had scored just two runs in its first two games exploded for 43 in the first four games of the trip.  Rory McTear ’13 has been on a tear, leading the team with a .462 batting average and .548 on base percentage.  He isn’t the only one, either.  During the trip, eight players had a batting average over .300.  Tim Kwilos ’13 and Nicko Burnett ’14 have provided the big guns, slugging a home run each and knocking in eight and seven runs, respectively.

Kwilos said the team improved rapidly as it shook off the early-season jitters.  “We are a young team with a lot of guys trying to either win a starting spot or find their roles within the lineup, so people really viewed this trip as an opportunity to show what they had and how they could contribute.  So as guys settled in, we’ve seen everyone take a good step forward and we saw much more consistent play by the end of the trip.”

McTear emphasized that the Garnet were playing better as the trip went on.  “Our two wins over Rhode Island College on the last day of the trip were the best we have played all year.  We got two stellar pitching performances and got contributions at the plate from lots of guys, especially Danny McMahon ’15, Cody Ruben ’14, and John Lim ’16.”

Lim, along with Leong and Booth, has in particular adjusted well to the college game.  The second baseman/catcher has hit .391 with five RBIs so far in his first season.  McTear pointed out that all of the freshmen pitchers have been doing well, saying that “all [have] thrown some quality innings and haven’t been afraid to challenge hitters.”  Kwilos said it was especially important this year that the younger players perform well, and was impressed that they had thus far. ” We have been preaching all year that we need everyone, regardless of age, to contribute this year if we are going to be successful, and I think the freshmen understand that.”

There is still a week left on the nonconference schedule, but it is never too early to think about the upcoming Centennial Conference season, which begins with a doubleheader at home against Dickinson on March 30.  Both Kwilos and McTear thought the spring break games provided a strong preparation for the always competitive slate.  Each player emphasized, in Kwilos’ words, “what a grind the season is” and how “we need to be ready for quick turnarounds each week.”  McTear added that many games “allowed for all of the players to get multiple opportunities to play.”  At the same time, Kwilos pointed out that the game is the same regardless of opponent.  “I think it was more important for us to focus on our play as a team and take steps forward as a group…We know we’ll need a consistently high level of play to have success.”

Following Thursday’s game at Cairn, the next Garnet home game is a doubleheader against Oneonta State on Saturday.  The first game is scheduled for 12:00, while the next will follow at 3:00.

Corinne Sommi

in Athlete of the Week/Sports/Spring/Women by

Athlete of the Week: Corinne Sommi

Jr., Lacrosse, Darien, Conn.

What She’s Done: Scored eight goals during spring break competition to help the Garnet to a 4-0 start to the season.

Favorite Career Moment: Making the conference playoffs last year, that was the first time the Swarthmore Women’s lacrosse team has ever made it into the semifinals.

Season Goals: My goals for the season are to upset a strong team in the conference like Gettysburg or F&M and to advance further in the conference playoffs.

Best Part of Spring Break: The beautiful weather, and our van rides with assistant coach Anita.

Least Favorite Animal: Spiders. Terrified of them.

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