VC baseball players warm up under Californian sun

Lefty Max Spencer winds up to deal a pitch during a spring break game in California. Spencer had a fantastic trip, posting one of the best statistical starts in Vassar history./ Courtesy of Dave Hartnett

Last week, to prepare for upcoming Liberty League games, the Vassar College baseball team traveled to California for spring training. Despite going 2-5 on the West Coast, the team performed impressively throughout the trip. “We would’ve liked to win more games on the trip, but we knew it was going to be a difficult task,” Coach Matthew Righter admitted. “The purpose was to grow as a team and compete with high-level programs that were already halfway through their seasons.”

Initially, the team fell 3-2 in their opener against Chapman University. While sophomore Dan Bonfiglio snagged the Brewers’ first season hit in the first inning, Chapman was first to score. Though sophomore Evan Trausch and senior captain Bobby Kinne secured bases, the Brewers were unable to score, and Chapman posted two more runs. Senior Eric Strickland earned a Brewer run in the sixth, and Vassar entered the ninth down 1-3, where Elliott Layne earned his first hit and another Brewer score. In his first year, Layne is batting a .385 with a notable on-base percentage of .600. However, his run wasn’t enough, as Vassar lost, failing to score with bases loaded in the ninth. On the mound, lefty sophomore Max Spencer allowed just three hits in four innings, striking out four hitters.

Following this tight loss, the Brewers played another close game against Occidental College, falling 3-4. The first six innings passed without any Vassar runs. In the seventh, junior Matt Schwartz earned a hit, allowing first-years Matt McGannon and Tanner Blough to touch home. Vassar failed to score again despite having two runners on base, ultimately taking the loss.

The team faced another quick turnaround, taking on Pomona-Pitzer the following morning. Finally, the Brewers clinched an 8-6 win, highlighted by a grand slam that helped Kinne secure a Liberty League Honor Roll spot. Two runs by Trausch gave Vassar the lead in the third, but Pomona-Pitzer answered with five runs. At the top of the sixth, Kinne slammed his third career home run, putting the Brewers up 7-6. Strickland’s following hit allowed senior Matt Hernandez to reach home, and junior pitcher Bryan Rubin ended the game with a strikeout, earning his first season save. “The win against Pomona was huge for us because we had been so close to winning the first two games,” Kinne recalled. “Losing two one-run contests can be tough on morale, so finally hitting a breakthrough meant a lot. It’s a sign of good things to come for our offense, defense, and pitching staff.”

After two practice days, the Brewers came out strong against Caltech. Pitching a 5-0 shutout, Spencer had one of the best games in Vassar program history. The tall sophomore let up just two hits while allowing no runs over eight innings, not only earning him Liberty League Pitcher of the Week, but also tying him for the second-longest starting stretch without any allowed runs. Two allowed hits in an eight-inning start were the fewest ever in Vassar history. “Caltech was one of those special games where it feels like everything goes right,” Spencer said. “I trusted my pitches enough to go right at every batter. Especially with how well our fielders are doing, it’s easy to have confidence in them making tough plays when I need it.” Runs from Blough, McGannon, Hernandez and newcomer Gunnar Widercrantz helped Spencer secure the victory. “Our pitching is coming right together,” Coach Righter noted. “Spencer was an ace this trip and should lead us going into conference play.” He explained, “If our starting pitchers do well, it takes the pressure off of our bullpen, helping us contend for a Liberty League title.”

Against the University of La Verne the following morning, the Brewers couldn’t make up for a six-run inning by their opponents, ultimately falling 3-10. The Brewers had the lead in the third, thanks to Kinne’s second home run of the season and a score by Layne. But La Verne responded with six runs, and while Bonfiglio scored in the sixth off a single from Schwartz, La Verne followed with three more runs to win.

The following afternoon saw a similar game, as Vassar took a 6-9 loss to Occidental College. The top of the third saw five Brewer runs, including scores from Layne and Trausch and RBI doubles from Schwartz and Bonfiglio. Despite this tremendous inning, Occidental eventually regained the lead, totaling eight runs over four innings. Scoring on a fly from Trausch, Layne cut the deficit to just two runs in the seventh. But Occidental answered with their own run, claiming the victory. The final day of the trip ended in a loss for the Brewers as Whittier College racked up nine runs in four innings. Kinne, McGannon, Bonfiglio, Blough and junior Jesse Mulham were the only Brewers to secure hits for the day.

The seven games played over break emphasize the strength in numbers on this year’s team. “We have a lot of talent every year, but this team has the most depth and dedication of any I’ve played on,” Kinne noted. With abundant players at each position, the Brewers have the ability to tackle any in-game situation they encounter.

Heading into conference play, the Brewers will focus on this new depth and attempt to maintain a strong work ethic. “The games we played this break were valuable, allowing us to prepare for the Liberty League,” Layne concluded. “Our main goal now is to win the league and make a run for the College World Series. Our team mentality of ‘get the job done’ will help us achieve larger goals moving forward.”

The teams out West may have been some of the strongest that Vassar will face all season. Many opponents had multiple games under their belts, emphasizing the Brewers’ skill to keep games close. “The teams we faced had more pitching depth than we’re used to. We faced some mid-90 pitches, which was an exciting test for us,” Kinne clarified. “The Liberty League is a strong conference, and I’d equate the talent we saw out there to top league teams.” The Brewers will open conference play against Saint Lawrence University on Friday.

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