When Shepherd’s schedule began in mid-February, the Rams had three trusted starting pitchers in newcomers Josh McCauley and Davis Hall as well as returning all-conference left-hander, Paul Hvozdovic.
Those three pitchers were to be the starters when three-game, weekend series with conference teams came along. Freshman right-hander Ryan Pansch from Washington High was to have a role as a reliever and not much more.
Shepherd didn’t have a closer.
Returning to the Rams’ staff were Brian Martin, Matt Copley, Bryan DiRosario and Brandon Coffey. Other freshmen that joined Pansch as need-to-prove-themselves freshmen were Tyler Thomas and Daniel Castro.
The original plan went smoothly enough until just after Shepherd had swept a doubleheader against Davis & Elkins. It was discovered that McCauley had never been eligible to play. And like happened in the 2012 season, the Rams had to forfeit games.
McCauley had beaten Davis & Elkins. That game became a loss. And McCauley was finished for the season.
Pitchers Martin, Copley and Castro failed to distinguish themselves. Coffey was being used some at second base and so was DiRosario.
When McCauley was declared ineligible, Shepherd needed a third starter for its weekend series against fellow North Division opponents. Coffey, DiRosario and Pansch were the logical choices.
However, Pansch had never been given more than four inning assignments. There was nothing wrong with his stamina or ability to stop the opponents in his short stints.
The problem was that Pansch was basically a one-pitch hurler. He threw about an 86-mile per hour fastball, but had no second pitch. If he threw 40 pitches, he might try two curveballs. There was no changeup or any sort of offspeed pitch.
Pansch could get it by conference batters the first time around the order. Even when the eighth and ninth men he was facing knew they were getting a fastball, they could only send routine grounders or flies to the opposite field. Or they would strike out.
Pansch’s fastball was that effective.
He was getting by and sometimes even thriving with his one pitch.
But when he faced the better hitters a second time, he wouldn’t do as well. When the Rams play doubleheaders, both games are seven innings long. When they play a single game on Sundays, that game is the regulation nine innings.
Because Pansch became less effective after four innings of work, he wasn’t used that often as a starter. Instead, he became a one- or two-inning closer.
Before this past weekend’s important three-game set against Seton Hill, Pansch had appeared in 15 games and was used as the starter only three times. His record was 3-2 and he had a save.
Pansch appeared in two of the three games against the 16th- ranked Griffins. His first appearance earned him a save when he retired all six batters he faced in two innings. He came right back the next day, entering the game with Shepherd trailing, 5-2.
Pansch retired nine of the first 10 men he faced, and Shepherd was able to tie the game at 5-5. He threw about five curveballs and only two of them were strikes.
In his fourth inning (and sixth in two days), Pansch was solved for a home run.
Shepherd would lose the game. Pansch had allowed three hits in four innings while fanning three, yet he was saddled with the loss.
Before yesterday’s doubleheader at Fairfax Field against South Division leader, West Virginia State, Pansch had pitched 44 innings, allowed 40 hits, 16 earned runs, only 11 walks and had struck out 58. His ERA was 3.27 and the batting average against him by opponents with metal bats was only .241.
The third game of the Shepherd vs. Seton Hill series was started by Coffey, who yielded five runs in only three innings.
Toward the end of his first collegiate season, Pansch has quickly become the third most-trusted pitcher on a staff that should appear in the last-ever WVIAC tournament to be held this year in Beckley.
Pansch throws almost all fastballs. His useful habit of working very quickly helps his fielders stay alive and alert. His few walks have also helped him be successful.
Without the trusted McCauley, Shepherd’s list of starting pitchers was diminished. If Shepherd is still alive and Pansch doesn’t start the third game in the tournament, he will be available as a possible closer, short reliever or long reliever.
An effective one-pitch hurler isn’t seen very often. But Pansch has defied the baseball odds by fanning 58 in only 44 innings of work.