Shepherd bats, pitching off to strong start

SHEPHERDSTOWN – Shepherd baseball coach Matt McCarty knew that his lineup was likely to keep his team in many games this season.

Now combine that timely hitting with good starting pitching and the Rams are off to a strong start and tied for third in the Mountain East Conference standings.

Shepherd junior outfielder Matt Wilson (left) is greeted at the plate by senior designated hitter Ryan Messina after hitting a solo home run on March 15 against Concord in Shepherdstown.

Shepherd junior outfielder Matt Wilson (left) is greeted at the plate by senior designated hitter Ryan Messina after hitting a solo home run on March 15 against Concord in Shepherdstown.

Shepherd split a four-game series this past weekend with conference-leading Concord, winning one game apiece in back-to-back doubleheaders on Saturday and Sunday. The Rams have won 10 of their past 14 games and have built upon their experience facing some of the country’s best programs last month while opening the season in a tournament in South Carolina.

Outfielders Michael Lott and Matt Wilson have led the Rams (10-7, 8-4 Mountain East) at the plate thus far this season, with each batting above .400. Meanwhile, catcher Spencer Wolfe (.379), first baseman Brandon Coffey (.368), second baseman Jacob Carney (.324), outfielder Kyle Porter (.300) and designated hitter Ryan Messina (.294) also have joined in the hit parade as Shepherd has scored 11 or more runs four times this season and boasts an overall .309 team batting average.

“We know that with our offense, we’re not going to be out of a lot of games,” McCarty said. “But our pitching has been outstanding all year. Pitching is keeping us in games.”

Senior lefthander Paul Hvozdovic has amassed an unblemished 3-0 record after making four starts, including a 3-1 complete-game victory Saturday against the Mountain Lions in Shepherdstown. Hvozdovic’s 1.44 earned run average through a team-high 25 innings pitched also paved the way for victories against conference foes Virginia-Wise and Charleston earlier this year.

Fellow starters Ryan Pansch (1-3, 2.41 ERA) and Jamie Driver (2-1, 2.52) have also racked up considerable time on the mound as the Rams hold a 4.02 to 5.57 edge over their opponents this season in team ERA.

“Our pitching in the last 12 games has been very, very good,” McCarty said. “Our offense, once we get into a groove, I think we’re going to score a bunch of runs.”

Shepherd closed out a tough three-game road trip to open the season against some of the best competition in the country in Division II. The Rams opened their 2014 campaign with a 9-7 loss to No. 2 South Carolina-Aiken, followed by consecutive defeats at the hands of No. 4 Mount Olive (14-3) and No. 1 Tampa (7-2).

“You’re never happy with three losses, but our guys, that’s where we want to be … on the national stage,” McCarty said. “That’s where we’re taking this program. Our guys got a chance to see what those teams are like and what it takes to be at a high level day in and day out. These guys got a chance to see that they can play with those guys. It’s just them starting to believe in themselves. That’s the biggest thing right now.”

The Rams responded by winning 10 of their next 14 games, including a pair of victories against preseason Mountain East favorite Concord. Prior to this past weekend, the Mountain Lions were a perfect 8-0 in league play.

Shepherd also swept a two-game series at Virginia State late last month, before winning three-of-four apiece against conference rivals Virginia-Wise and Charleston.

“We’re not where we want to be, but we’re close,” McCarty said. “Once we get rolling a bit here, winning is contagious. The more wins we put together the more our confidence is going to keep rising. I think this team can be very, very good if we stick to it.”


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