SHEPHERDSTOWN— There are so many sayings spread all around baseball that they lay thick as dandelions on a cow pasture field used by 10-year-olds.
“Hitting is contagious.” “Pitching is contagious.” “Strike one is the best pitch in baseball.” “He is a five-tool player.” “Get ‘em early.” “Get out the rally caps.”
But nobody ever says, “Thinking is contagious” or “Hustle is contagious.” And many a baseball game (at any level) is won with hustle or thinking.
When Shepherd, winners of nine of its last 10 games coming into a Tuesday home-field, conference doubleheader against Ohio Valley, was able to only get a split with the Fighting Scots (winning the opener 2-1 behind pitcher Andrew Gallant and then dropping the listless nightcap, 8-4) the aftermath could have been labeled “The unwanted split.”
The Rams came in as the firmly entrenched second-place team in the WVIAC’s North Division. Ohio Valley was stuck in sixth-place in the South Division with a 7-11 conference record.
Three winning games at West Liberty the previous weekend put limits on just who Shepherd Coach Wayne Riser might use as his starting pitchers against the Fighting Scots.
First-game starter Gallant had been a pleasant surprise this season, saving six games and winning two, after a miserable 2011 season that saw him compile an ugly ERA of 8.72.
Gallant stymied Ohio Valley with his fastball, curveball, and control. He had a no-hitter for five innings and made the meager two runs his teammates managed stand up for a one-run win.
Gallant did not issue his first walk until the seventh when Ohio Valley scored its only run.
Shepherd won because Gallant was in complete control for six innings and Nash Hutter had hit a towering solo homer to move a precarious 1-0 lead to two runs. Brandon Coffey’s RBI single had scored Chad Murphy, who had one of the Rams’ four hits off hard-luck loser Shayne Miller.
Rams’ slugger Nathan Minnich (who came in batting .531 with 16 homers) was 0-for-2. Was his lack of luck “contagious”? Or was Miller just better than the Shepherd batting order? Miller entered the day with a 5.40 ERA and a 4-5 record.
Freshman Matt Copley was Riser’s choice as the second-game starting pitcher. Copley mostly tried his fastball. He tried it in any count and any situation where Ohio Valley had baserunners. And Ohio Valley had seven hits and four runs in just four innings.
Travis Sluger had delivered a two-run single and Murphy had an RBI double as Shepherd trailed only 4-3.
Ohio Valley found its “hitting shoes” against Shepherd reliever Justin Byrd, scoring four times (three earned) in the sixth and pushing a one-run lead all the way out to a five-run cushion.
A Shepherd run in the sixth had the deficit at four runs. In the seventh, Ohio Valley reliever Nick Hunter walked leadoff man Murphy on a 3-1 pitch and walked Ryan Messina on 3-0 pitch. Hunter had a four-run lead . . . and he walks the first two batters in the inning.
Shepherd needed to get two more runners aboard to even look at the scoreboard. Nash Hutter was next for the Rams. Tyler Welch replaced Hunter. Hutter took two balls from Welch and the count was 2-0. Inexplicably, Hutter swung at the next offering . . . and popped out to second.
And then Brandon Coffey hit into a 6-4-3 double play to give the Fighting Scots a split of the two games.
Minnich had gone 1-for-3 in the nightcap. His hit was a badly misjudged flyball to left field. Minnich had not hit . . . and Shepherd had not hit. Was the lack of hitting “contagious”?
One certainty. Thinking hadn’t been “contagious”.