Beaver Tales No. 2: A Look At Two Babson Baseball Greats
Welcome to our second edition of Beaver Tales. In this installment, we talk NCAA Woman of the Year, Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk, and our feature story... the epic senior season of 2011 graduate David Ahern and the amazing parallels between Ahern and recent Hall of Fame inductee Kevin Higa ’03.
- As you may have read on BabsonAthletics.com, recent field hockey graduate Colleen Kelly '11 was one of 30 finalists for the 2011 NCAA Woman of the Year Award. Simply put, this is a spectacular accomplishment. It speaks not only to Colleen’s incredible athletic career -- she was the New England East Player of the Year and a First Team All-American last fall and was a three-time All-New England selection – but also to her wonderful achievements off the field. Colleen graduated as a member of Babson’s elite Honors Program, was a four-year NFHCA National All-Academic selection, and she volunteered her time to a number of charitable organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, Cradles to Crayons, and Locks of Love. And trust me when I say that the items listed here are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what Colleen was able to accomplish during her four years at Babson. She was an incredibly positive force on campus and she continues to be a wonderful ambassador for the College in her job as a Global Management Trainee at Anheuser-Busch InBev. Congratulations Colleen!
- The cross country and track and field teams
recently volunteered at the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk on
Sunday, September 18. The two squads set up at refueling station 6
at mile 14, where they assisted and encouraged more than 8000
walkers, including Babson Professor Len Green, as they completed
the famous 26.2 mile course to benefit the Jimmy Fund. The two
teams have volunteered for this incredible event for a number of
years under head coach Russ Brennen, who lauds his
athletes’ desire to give back to their community.
"It is great to see that the 'team' effort is not just restricted to meets and practices here at Babson, but extended to the community as well," Brennen says. "These student-athletes are pushed hard between their athletic and academic responsibilities, so it is awesome that they can take what little free time that they have and do some good with it. I'm very proud of these young men and women, who are fantastic representatives of the College."
And now on to this month’s feature…
DAVE AHERN '11 VS. KEVIN HIGA '03 - A TALE OF BABSON BASEBALL GREATS
Even before we found out that David Ahern ’11 had been honored as Babson baseball’s first-ever All-American when he was selected to the Third Team by the ABCA this summer, it was clear to everyone around the program that the 2011 season was something special. Whether it was at the plate, here he hit .438 with a program-record 18 doubles and a school record-tying nine home runs, or on the mound, where he sported a 5-2 record with a 1.19 ERA, it was obvious to all that watched him that David was a tremendous player in the midst of a truly amazing senior campaign.
As David was dominating Babson’s opponents on the field, it just so happened that the Athletics Department was gearing up for the 2011 Athletics Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in mid-April. One of this year’s inductees was another baseball great… Kevin Higa ’03. As I looked back at Kevin’s brilliant career at Babson in preparation for the event, I began to notice just how many striking similarities existed between the 2003 graduate and current star David Ahern.
|Kevin Higa '03||David Ahern '11|
First, we acknowledge the obvious differences. Kevin and David came to Babson from opposite sides of the country and had very different career paths during their time on campus. A native of Hawaii, Kevin was a middle infielder who played three years at shortstop and one at second base (the one year he didn’t play short was due to an arm injury). He was a true five-tool player who could hit for both power and average, run well, was awesome with the glove and had a great throwing arm. Conversely, Ahern came to Babson from nearby Bedford, and at various times in his career was a starting pitcher, a closer, a DH, and an outfielder. And if Higa was a five-tool player, Ahern has to be considered a six-tooler when you add in his pitching ability, as he also hits for power and average, has blazing speed on the base paths, also flashes the leather, and has an absolute canon of an arm, both from the outfield and on the mound.
Now just a few of the obvious similarities, which extend well beyond uniform number (they both sported number 21 during their Babson playing days). Both are right-handed hitters, and although their swings and approaches differed slightly, both put up incredible numbers at a field whose design heavily favors left-handed hitters. Both also had excellent eyes at the plate and were notoriously difficult to strike out – Kevin fanned just once every 11.33 plate appearances while David struck out once every 10.02 trips to the dish.
Of course, the fact that both players were great hitters goes without saying. What stands out more are some of the jaw-dropping feats they each accomplished. The first one that caught everyone’s attention early on this past spring was David’s monumental hitting streak to start the year. Coming into the season, the Babson baseball record for consecutive games with a hit was 19, set not once but twice by – who else? – Kevin Higa*. That mark stood until 2011, when David opened the season by hitting in 21 consecutive contests, which, coupled with his three-game hitting streak to end the 2010 season, gave him the new Babson record of 24 straight games with a base hit.
Hitting streaks aren’t the only statistical achievements shared by the two sluggers… Kevin ranks in the top 10 in Babson history in 13 offensive categories, while David appears in the top 10 in eight and the top 14 in 11 of those offensive stats (and would rank higher had he not served exclusively as a pitcher during his freshman year). Kevin graduated in 2003 as the Beavers’ all-time leader in hits, doubles, RBIs, runs scored, and total bases, while David left Babson with the highest career batting average in program history (.381) while ranking third with a .593 slugging percentage. The two also rank among Babson’s all-time single season leaders (David broke Kevin’s single-season mark with 18 doubles this past spring, while his 63 hits and 110 total bases were just shy of Kevin’s season records of 68 hits and 117 total bags), and when you mix in David’s pitching achievements – he is second in career ERA at 2.42 and saves with nine – you begin to realize that the names “Higa” and “Ahern” will be forever linked in the Babson baseball record books.
|Both hit for power and average...||...and enjoyed a flair for the dramatic.|
But on top of everything else discussed above, when it comes to fusing the greatness of these two players together in the annals of Babson history, nothing compares to what they accomplished in the postseason spotlight. In fact, each had one particular NEWMAC Tournament performance that was so incredible, it will be remembered for all time by those who saw it. Ironically, and unfortunately for our conference rivals in New London, Connecticut, both feats happened to come against the United States Coast Guard Academy.
Personally, these two games rank among the greatest that I have witnessed in any sport in more than 12 years at Babson. The first came back on April 27, 2002, when the Beavers hosted Coast Guard in the opening round of the double-elimination portion of the NEWMAC Tournament. The Bears scored five times in the top of the fifth to go up 5-1, but Kevin hit a two-run homer in the bottom half of the inning to cut the deficit in half. Babson then scored another run in the seventh, and with two outs in the bottom of the eighth, Kevin launched his second home run of the game to tie the contest at 5-5.
Neither team would score again until the top of the 13th inning, when Coast Guard pushed across a two-out run to take a 6-5 lead. However, in the bottom of the frame, a single and a sacrifice bunt brought Kevin to the plate with one out and a man on second. I would later find out from a colleague in the visitors’ dugout that had the first pitch to Kevin been a ball, the Bears would have intentionally walked him to put runners on first and second. They never had the chance, as Kevin blasted the first pitch he saw over the wall in dead centerfield to give the Beavers an amazing 7-6 victory in one of the best baseball games Babson has ever seen. It was his third home run of the afternoon – giving him yet another program record.
Fast forward to April 22, 2011. Babson hosts Coast Guard in the NEWMAC Tournament again, but this time under more dire circumstances. On this occasion, the two teams meet in an elimination game after each lost their opener in the double elimination bracket. Even worse, the Beavers’ opening round defeat was the result of a five-run, ninth-inning rally by MIT which stunned the Green and White and left them in desperate need of a clutch performance from their starting pitcher… David Ahern.
Unlike Kevin’s three-homer game nine years earlier, David’s epic performance didn’t jump out at you right away. He had only allowed seven earned runs in 43 innings for the season, so it was no surprise when he kept Coast Guard off the board for the first five frames. He had also hit safely in 31 of the team’s first 35 games, so no one was stunned when he led off the bottom of the first with a ringing double down the left field line.
|Kevin was also a brilliant shortstop...|
What did stand out early in that game was the sense of uneasiness that comes when a heavily-favored team is facing a crushing early exit from the conference tournament. The nerves were compounded when Ahern was stranded at third in the first and again when Babson left two men on without scoring a run in the second. The Beavers finally pushed a run across in the bottom of the fourth, but Coast Guard tied it with an unearned run off Ahern courtesy of a two-out error in the top of the fifth.
The first indication that David was in the midst of something special was his strikeout total. He fanned one in the first inning and they struck out the side in the second. Another punchout in the third and two more in the fourth gave him seven for the game – already his career high not even halfway through the contest – and following two in the fifth and one in the sixth, David had reached the 10-strikeout mark for the first time as a collegiate pitcher. He went on to fan two more batters in each of the eighth and ninth innings to give him 14 for the game – tied for the second most ever by a Babson pitcher.
Unfortunately, while David was mowing down opposing hitters, the Babson offense was struggling against Coast Guard starter Derek Petty. In fact, the only Beaver to reach base from the fifth to the ninth innings was Ahern, who singled in the fifth and walked in the eighth and was stranded both times.
With the game still tied at 1-1 after nine innings, David returned to the mound in the top of the 10th. Although he wouldn’t add any more strikeouts, he would retire the side in order, completing his second 10-inning performance of the season – both of which are tied for the Babson single-game record for innings pitched in a game.
In the bottom of the tenth, a single and a stolen base brought David to the plate with a man on second and two outs. In a situation eerily reminiscent of the 2002 game, Coast Guard chose not to walk Babson’s best hitter with a base open in extra innings**, and like Kevin nine years prior, David made the Bears pay when he lined a single off the glove of the diving right fielder for the game-winning hit. The final score was Babson 2, Coast Guard 1, and David’s final line reads like the stuff of statistical legend: 3-for-4, 2B, BB, 1 RBI at the plate and 10.0 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 14 K on the mound.
|...while David was a dominating pitcher.|
For me, this was where the link between David and Kevin was
solidified forever. Both had enjoyed record-breaking careers, both
had earned numerous awards and honors, and now both had absolutely
terrorized Coast Guard with off-the-charts-spectacular performances
in the postseason. Beyond that, both were incredible individuals
off the field. At Kevin’s Hall of Fame induction, I proudly
declared that he was one of the nicest individuals that I have had
the pleasure of meeting during my Babson tenure. Undoubtedly, I
could say the same about David. Both men carried themselves with
dignity and grace whether they were between or outside the lines,
and they both played the game the right way at all times. As a
prime example, when David surpassed his hitting streak, Kevin
emailed longtime assistant coach and Professor of Marketing Norm
Govoni and said simply, “You gotta love it.”
I could not have been happier for Kevin when he was enshrined in the Athletics Hall of Fame, and I was equally thrilled for David when he became the first baseball player in Babson history to earn All-American honors. Simply put, both David and Kevin deserve every honor that has been bestowed upon them.
Oh yes… there is one final link between Kevin and David. In an absolutely surreal epilogue to this amazing story, one could actually argue that David’s game against Coast Guard wasn’t the best of his career, and in fact wasn’t even his best of the WEEK. Five days after that monumental performance, the Beavers hosted Southern Maine in the team’s final non-conference game of the season. He hit a three-run homer in the first, added a solo blast in the fifth, and belted another solo shot in the sixth, giving him three home runs in a game to tie the school record originally set by… of course, Kevin Higa.
- written by Chris Buck, Babson Sports Information Directorï»¿
* Kevin also had hit streaks of 11 and 10 games during his career. Overall, he hit safely in 115 of the 143 games in which he played as a Beaver. In fact, his longest streak of games without a hit was THREE… that “slump” encompassed 11 total at-bats – three against NAIA powerhouse Palm Beach Atlantic, five against Bowdoin, and three against Wesleyan – all of which came in the first week of Kevin’s college career. Coincidentally, he still drew two walks, scored a run, and drove in a run during that three-game stretch.
** In Coast Guard’s defense, this time around there was some merit to the Bears’ decision to face David. Sophomore Pat Matvichuk hadn’t stolen second until the first pitch to Ahern, which was a strike. It’s unclear whether they would have put David on had the first pitch been a ball, but surely the pitcher being ahead 0-1 played into the decision to continue to face him with the winning run on second.