Some time this late winter/spring a sign with the simple date “2012″ will be placed alongside the dates “2004″ and “2009″ on the facing of the utility building in deepest left field at Shepherd’s Fairfax Field baseball facility.
The “2012″ will indicate Shepherd’s latest WVIAC baseball championship. The other two dates were also years in which Coach Wayne Riser’s Rams won conference championships.
Riser will not be there to see the application of “2012″, signifying Shepherd’s latest conference championship.
He resigned in September, leaving after more than 20 years as Shepherd’s winningest baseball coach. Leaving with more than 500 wins and three conference championships in the last nine years.
Riser is now at the University of Mary Washington, a NCAA Division III school in Virginia.
Riser’s abrupt departure was the second leaving of a long-time Shepherd baseball standard bearer. Four-year slugger Nathan Minnich took his Tino Martinez Award and his fistful of Rams’ career and single-season offensive records with him to a first professional season in the lower minor leagues.
The other senior members of last year’s championship team were infielders Nash Hutter and Travis Sluger and pitcher Andrew Gallant.
Underclassmen missing from the 2012 team will be Aaron Scoville, Trevor Appleby, Jamie Driver, Kenny Beyer, Sam Beatty, and Billy Kelly.
Replacing Riser on an interim basis will be Matt McCarty, one of the stalwarts on the 2009 WVIAC championship team. The last two interim coaches Shepherd appointed — basketball’s Justin Namolik and Melanie Ford — retained their positions after a year as interim coaches.
McCarty and assistant coach Anthony Jackson were both on Riser’s staff for several years.
Two of the most recognized players from last year’s 33-19 record team are junior left-handed pitcher Paul Hvozdovic and senior catcher/infielder Chad Murphy. Hvozdovic was 10-4 and had 17 starts while pitching to an earned run average of 2.57. His control is his best asset as he walked only 19 in 108.2 innings. Hvozdovic fanned 81 and opponents batted .248 against him.
Murphy batted .351 while playing mostly at second base. His 14 doubles were second-most on the team and his on-base percentage of .487 was also second-best. He may begin this season as the team’s catcher.
Outfielder Michael Lott started his first two years at Shepherd, batting .354 last year as a sophomore when he scored 54 runs. Lott had an on-base percentage of .454.
Infielder Jake Cook batted .340 in 43 starts last season. The senior may find himself playing several positions this year.
Another returning starter is junior utility man Brandon Coffey. Coffey was an infielder/catcher/pitcher in 2012 when he hit .263 with 36 RBIs and pitched 41 innings with 10 starts. His earned run average was 5.71.
Sophomore utility man Ryan Messina was a .272 hitter and drove in 44 runs while clubbing seven home runs. Messina is listed as a catcher/outfielder this year.
Another sophomore is Bryan DiRosario, who hit .232 and had 14 starts. He was playing shortstop toward the end of the 2012 season and is listed as both an infielder and pitcher this season. He pitched only four innings a year ago.
Sophomore outfielder Steve Ferguson (.182 average) and sophomore catcher Cody Bumbaugh (.083 average) played sparingly last season. Bumbaugh struck out 15 times in 24 at-bats and Ferguson fanned eight times in 22 at-bats.
The two most useful pitchers returning are sophomore right-handers Brian Martin and Matt Copley. Martin was often solved early in the season, but made some progress as the year wore on. Copley also found trouble when the weather was cold, but also got more batters out as the season moved into April and May. Martin appeared in 12 games and Copley made 19 appearances in Shepherd’s 52-game season.
“Probably our top six pitchers going into the season are Hvozdovic, Josh McCauley, Davis Hall, Ryan Pansch, Martin, and Copley,” said McCarty of his staff.
McCarty has 11 new players on his 2013 roster. Seven of them are freshmen. Right-handed pitcher Pansch is from Washington High and infielder Fraser Brown is from Jefferson High. If Pansch is healthy, he could join McCarty’s short list of starters for important conference games because he has a reliable fastball and excellent control.
“We were able to teach Pansch a curveball in the fall,” said McCarty. “He could be one of our starting pitchers. He’s doing well.
The other five freshmen are first baseman Tyler Thomas from Woodbridge High, infielder/outfielder Garrett Pope from Calvert High in Maryland, outfielder Darius Jones from Patuxent High in Maryland, infielder/pitcher Daniel Castro from Patuxent, and pitcher Jared Snow from Martinsburg.
“Tyler Thomas could be a starting corner infielder, probably at first base, when the season opens. He could bat in the middle of the order,” said the interim head coach.Thomas is listed at 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds.
Transfers or first-year players include infielder T. J. Weisenberg, a junior from Potomac State who played at Martinsburg High, junior outfielder Kyle Porter from Good Counsel High in Maryland, pitcher McCauley from James Buchanan High, and pitcher Hall from Herndon.
McCarty said about the new players: “Weisenburg will be the shortstop. The reason we brought him in is his fielding. He should shore up our middle-infield defense.
“Porter comes from Catonsville Community College and will open in left field. He could hit in the middle of the order somewhere. We look for McCauley to be a weekend pitcher when we get into the conference schedule. He’s a transfer from WVU,” the coach said.
Dillon Regalia was redshirted last season as was infielder Mark McCormick. Justin Byrd is a senior pitcher whose earned run average was 6.12 last season.
McCarty and Jackson will face a 48-game schedule that is sure to be diluted some by weather. Thirty-four of those games are against WVIAC opponents.
The 14 non-conference games are scheduled against South Carolina-Aiken, Winston Salem State, Shippensburg, Millersville, and Lock Haven. Winston Salem State is the team that gave the Rams their second loss (and elimination) in last year’s Atlantic Region tournament.
Shepherd has 13 home dates at Fairfax Field with the first one coming on Saturday, March 2 against Millersville. There are eight games before that, mostly on a neutral field or in Aiken, South Carolina.
The Rams are in the North Division of the WVIAC along with Seton Hill, Pitt-Johnstown, West Liberty, Wheeling Jesuit, Alderson-Broaddus, and Fairmont State.
In the conference’s South Division are Concord, West Virginia State, West Virginia Wesleyan, Charleston, Davis & Elkins, Ohio Valley, Bluefield, and Glenville.
The West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference is in its final season. It will disband this spring with nine of the current members joining the newly-formed Mountain East Conference.
This year’s conference baseball tournament will be held in Beckley. Whichever team survives will be the last champion ever crowned in the league and also the last team to represent the WVIAC in the NCAA Division II Atlantic Region tournament.
McCarty has coached in collegiate summer leagues the past three years, beginning with the Winchester Royals (2010), and moving through the New England League (2011), and then to Front Royal of the Valley League in 2012. Jackson has also coached in the Valley League.
McCarty was a pitcher/infielder when playing for Riser at Shepherd. And Jackson was a catcher for the Rams.
“We’ve gotten outside to practice maybe three or four times on our field and maybe a handful of times on the turf of the football field”, the coach mentioned.
The season begins in Aiken against the Pacers, who were 37-18 in 2012 and have already won their first three games of this season and will take a 5-1 record against the Rams. The Pacers were ranked fifth in the country before a loss to Carson-Newman last weekend.
The last season in the WVIAC has many first-time happenings. And it’s the first year without Riser and Minnich around to coach or hit tape-measure homers.