SHEPHERDSTOWN – The school-record winning streak may have come to an end, but the Shepherd University baseball program continues its ascent through the regional rankings.
The Rams won three of four games this past weekend against Notre Dame College, extending their school-record winning streak to 16 games before dropping the second game of a doubleheader on Sunday in Shepherdstown.
Before Sunday, Shepherd – which climbed one spot to No. 5 in the latest National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Division II Atlantic Region Poll released Monday – hadn’t lost since March 16.
The Rams (25-8, 23-5 Mountain East Conference) are alone in first place in the conference standings, sitting 2.5 games ahead of second-place Concord.
Shepherd returns to action at home on Wednesday with a doubleheader scheduled against West Virginia Wesleyan. The Rams will follow that up with back-to-back doubleheaders on Friday and Saturday at home against West Liberty State.
The previous school record of 14 consecutive victories was set in 1997 by a Shepherd team that finished 39-7.
Last weekend, the Rams continued their winning ways with a combination of strong pitching and timely hitting. On Saturday, Shepherd defeated Notre Dame, 8-1, in the first game and 9-4 in the nightcap.
The Rams topped the Falcons, 8-7, in the opener on Sunday, but fell 9-4 during the second game.
Shepherd junior Spencer Wolfe was named MEC Player of the Week by the league Monday after he went 7-for-12 in the four games, driving in 10 runs and scoring five times. He belted three home runs over the weekend, including a grand slam in the 8-7 win on Sunday.
“These guys, they just battle,” said Shepherd coach Matt McCarty. “They play hard for a full game and they compete. There’s not a situation that they don’t feel they’re going to succeed in.”
Shepherd leads the conference in team hitting with a .331 batting average. The Rams also boast a league-best .468 slugging percentage, including a conference-leading 62 doubles and 19 home runs. Shepherd also leads the league in walks and stolen bases.
Meantime, the Rams rank third in the league with a team 3.94 earned run average, led by undefeated senior lefthander Paul Hvozdovic (7-0, 1.83 ERA, 57 Ks, 54 IP). The Shepherd pitching staff has issued a league-low 61 walks, while striking out a league-high 189 opposing batters.
On offense, Wolfe ranks second in the conference with a .426 batting average, while he leads Shepherd with a team-best six homeruns. Wolfe is followed closely by outfielder Michael Lott (.425), and the Rams are bolstered by the likes of Matt Wilson (.405), Jacob Carney (.378) and Kyle Porter (.343), who all feature prominently in the lineup. Porter leads the league with 22 stolen bases in 24 attempts.
“Coming into the season we liked our lineup a lot and we thought we were going to score a lot of runs, have a lot of hits and a lot of stolen bases,” Porter said. “But our pitching has really stepped up.”
Hvozdovic leads the Mountain East with seven victories on the mound and his five complete games and 57 strikeouts are tied for tops in the league. His four walks are tied for the fewest allowed by a starting pitcher, even though his 54 innings pitched dwarfs the 33 thrown by West Virginia State’s Tyler Hall, who also has surrendered only four walks.
“He’s a really dominant pitcher and other teams aren’t even throwing their No. 1s against him,” Porter said. “He’s really locked in. He’s trying to have a really good senior season like the rest of us.”
Jamie Driver (6-1, 3.86 ERA, 35 Ks, 49 IP) has developed into a solid No. 2 starter for the Rams, while reliever Ryan Pansch (3-3, 2.70 ERA, 34 Ks, 2 saves, 30 IP) has continued to offer quality innings later in games.
“Early on, I would say pitching was standing out,” McCarty said. “We knew that it was just a matter of time before our guys got rolling offensively. As of late, our offense has bailed us out some times, but our pitching has been very good.”
The lone blemish thus far may be the Rams’ play in the field. Shepherd has committed 63 errors through 33 games, placing the Rams 10th in fielding percentage among the 12-program deep Mountain East.
“Defense has been shaky,” McCarty said. “That’s the one phase that we’re missing. If we could put all three phases together who knows where we’d be right now. But our pitching is picking up our offense. Our offense is picking up our defense and our pitching. It’s all working right now.”