Baseball lead off conference play with Senior Day doubleheader

Senior+right-handed+pitcher+Johnny+Maffei+has+pitched+two+complete+games+this+season.+The+first+was+a+shutout+against+Bethany+Lutheran+College+on+March+9.

Photo: Bryan Simmons-Hayes

Senior right-handed pitcher Johnny Maffei has pitched two complete games this season. The first was a shutout against Bethany Lutheran College on March 9.

By Tyler Foy, Sports Editor

Emerson’s baseball team opened its NEWMAC season by splitting a Senior Day doubleheader against Clark University, with the stands of Fraser Field stacked with friends and family.

Before the first pitch was thrown, 10 seniors took turns walking out to home plate with relatives—including the lone team captain of the 44-man roster, infielder Calvin Jacey. 

This season is Jacey’s second as captain. He finds the experience to be strange but said he’s been able to carry on the responsibilities since his debut as a Lion.

“I don’t have anybody else to lean on in terms of leadership,” Jacey said. “At the end of the day, [my role is] to make everybody buy into what my program has been trying to do these past four years.”

Head Coach Nicholas Vennochi said Jacey has been an outstanding communicator, motivator, and source of inspiration for other players. 

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“Everyone looks to Cal,” Vennochi said. “He’s just so consistent and he’s a good guy. I think that dudes look at him and say, ‘Man, if I work as hard as Calvin, good things are gonna happen.’”

Vennochi also said Jacey and his class have been instrumental in establishing a more coherent vision for the program.

“This class just changed the culture,” he said. “The whole program raised the bar and bought in from day one.”

The class of 2022 was stripped of portions of its seasons due to COVID cancellations and statewide shutdowns. Jacey said the Senior Day ceremonies hope to commemorate these limitations.

“This is a celebration of everything my class has been through,” Jacey said. “Having virtually two seasons taken away and just grinding through all the adversity that we have to go through.”

When it came to game time, the ballgame was not only Senior Day, but also a chance to start conference play strong.

Senior right-handed pitcher Johnny Maffei stood on the mound to start game one, which proved to be a pitcher’s duel. Through the first three innings, each team only mustered up one hit apiece. 

Maffei found himself in trouble in the fourth inning after walking and hitting a batter. A groundball to Emerson first-year second baseman Briggs Loveland put one runner away, but brought another into scoring position. 

Photo: Bryan Simmons-Hayes
The Lions lead the NEWMAC in stolen bases with 36 through April 6

A fly ball from the Cougars’ Trevor Ham allowed Zachary Gitschier to score from third for the first run of the ballgame. Maffei’s control started to get loose after hitting a batter and throwing a wild pitch, but he bailed himself out of more damage with a strikeout to end the inning.

The Lions had no response for the next couple of innings, and Ham struck again, extending Clark’s lead in the sixth. Maffei escaped another jam later in the inning but the Lions didn’t fire back until the eighth. Senior outfielder Quinton Copeland opened the inning with a single and moved to second on a ground ball. Junior first baseman Chris Ferara laced a single into the outfield, scoring Copeland and closing the deficit to 2-1. 

Despite outhitting Clark, the Lions couldn’t capitalize and left eight runners on base in the 2-1 loss. Maffei pitched his second complete game of the year, this time in front of his friends and family. 

“I can’t thank coach Vennochi and coach [Rob] Carillo enough for just coming to trust me and giving me the opportunity [to what],” he said. “When I thought of goals for the year I never thought a complete game was in the repertoire, let alone two.”

Vennochi said the choice to let Maffei play through the game was simple.

“Johnny earned it,” Vennochi said. “He’s a big dog. It didn’t look like he was faltering at all and they weren’t really hitting them. So it’s kind of an easy decision.”

The scorecard prior to game two indicated a handful of lineup changes, including the entrance of junior right-handed pitcher AJ Ortega for the Lions. The Cougars set the tone in the opening of the game, scoring one and tacking on another in the top of the third. 

Heading into the bottom of the third, down by two, Jacey got to first after being hit by a pitch and moved to scoring position by stealing second. Copeland found outfield grass with a single to score Jacey from second and cut the lead in half. 

Three scoreless frames followed and the Lions continued their offense in the fifth inning. Two outs into the inning, senior outfielder Rory Tettemer placed a ball deep enough to show off his speed with an RBI triple. Copeland drove in Tettemer on his second single of the game to secure the Lions’ first lead of the day.

Copeland went on to steal second and third, bringing his career total to 38 and breaking Emerson’s record set by CJ Rogers in 2016. 

The Cougars were able to tie the ballgame in the top of the sixth, but the energy would shift in the bottom of the seventh. Jacey sparked the offense again by reaching first on a single. A double struck by junior catcher Matt Nachamie reclaimed the lead, scoring Jacey from first, and a walk put another runner on base. Copeland, who by this point had already driven in two, sent a double into the gap to extend the Lions’ lead by one. Junior infielder Thai Morgan cranked a single into center field to clear the bases putting Emerson up 7-3.

Photo: Bryan Simmons-Hayes
Junior infielder Thai Morgan has batted .375 with four home runs, scoring 18, while also stealing eight bases to this point of the season.

The Lions weren’t done yet. With two runners on, junior infielder Jake Hatch broke the game wide open by a blast to center in the ninth, clearing the fence and extending Emerson’s lead to 10-3.

This would be the nail in the coffin for the Cougars, resulting in the Lions’ first NEWMAC win of the year. Jacey said that, even with the festivities of Senior Day, the difference maker between games was the change in the dugout atmosphere.

“The ceremony went pretty well and then the first game happened and it was nearly dead… Our energy was super low,” Jacey said. “We responded tremendously in the second game which was the best game we played all season. That’s the first time I’ve ever seen the entire senior classes’ parents together, so it was pretty good to get a win.”

Vennochi said the decision to hold Senior Day on the first NEWMAC game of the season was to allow all families to gather together without having difficulties with graduation. 

With 18 games left in the season, Jacey said he hopes to finish stress-free and make the most of his final moments as a player.

“As a college athlete, you hear about mental health,” Jacey said. “[Being a student-athlete is] stressful, but…I can enjoy myself. There’s no reason not to.”

Maffei looks to stay sharp with his performances and continue the success he’s found so far this season. 

“You have to be ready for the big moments and you have to come through,” he said. “These last few weeks I’m just going to take it all in and that’s what I’ve been doing.” 

The Lions hope to play in the NEWMAC playoffs this season.  

“John Beilein, the old Michigan basketball coach, said, ‘freshmen want to play, sophomores want to start, juniors want to score and seniors want to win,’” Maffei said. “And the fun part about this team is more than just the seniors want to win.”

The Lions went on to lose their following matchup against Worcester Polytechnic Institute on Tuesday in a close 11-10 game, and look to bounce back in their weekend doubleheader against Babson College.