Six carry-over hitters, host of new pitchers could warm Rams, even in February
SHEPHERDSTOWN – Don’t go shearing the wool from the Shepherd Rams’ baseball team.
The 2019 Rams are scheduled to open their season on Feb. 1 at Pembroke State in North Carolina. They will greet the next few days after that, with a tip of the hat to Groundhog Day and other dates against the same Pembroke State.
They may not be able to keep warm or do much damage while in North Carolina, but when they find better weather farther along on the schedule and back in West Virginia, this is a Shepherd team that has some quality NCAA Division II players.
Six hitters that all did well last season give coach Matt McCarty a lineup that should punish some Mountain East Conference pitching staffs.
Brenton Doyle is the most consistent of the hitters and is still only a junior after bagging several individual conference and regional honors a year ago. Justin Smith was shadowing the .400 mark for much of the year before falling back just a little. Nick Atkinson is both a quality hitter and outfielder and finished near the .360 mark. Christian Hamel plays several positions as well as serving as the designated hitter at times. His batting average for the second straight year was in the mid .340 range. Another utility player is Eddie Nottingham, who batted about .365 in 2018.
Brian McCourt moved into the everyday lineup at the beginning of April and rewarded McCarty with another .340-plus hitter. McCourt was the designated hitter most of the time, but is also a middle infielder.
Those six hitters need to be joined by at least two of the new faces that are all over this year’s roster.
Infielder Dalton Stewart hit .243 at Division I UMBC last season. In 36 games and with 111 at-bats, Stewart was a starter for the Retrievers. Graduate student Syeed Mahdi comes from Norfolk State, where as an infielder he had 47 starts, stole 13 bases, had 156 at-bats and batted .224. Freshmen infielders are Brennan Holmes, from Cabell Midland High, and Connor DeWees, from Red Lion in Pennsylvania.
Other position players new to the roster are outfielder/pitcher Brandon Cook from St. Mary’s in Maryland, red-shirt freshman Ryan Ricer and catcher Andrew Edwards from West Potomac High, who first committed to Division I George Mason in Fairfax, Virginia.
Last year, Shepherd rode the innings-eating arm of right-hander Ryan Potts as often as possible. After Potts, the Rams had nobody back to this year’s roster who was very reliable. Potts was a double-figure winner, but in the conference tournament the Rams were ousted. because of shaky pitching.
Transfer Andrew Wanger from Virginia Tech could be the most effective of the new faces. He sat out last season. Wanger helped Brunswick (Md.) to consecutive state championships, with shutout victories in the state championship games in both 2016 and 2017.
Mitchell Wilson from UMBC had eight starts and 12 appearances with last year’s Retrievers. His 3-1 record was supported by a 3.40 earned run average. Junior college transfer Eric O’Brien comes from Monroe CC in New York and was 5-4 in 10 starts and 14 appearances, pitching 59.2 innings and walking only 15 while fanning 55 and finishing with a 3.32 earned run average.
Graduate student Mike Collins pitched at Mt. St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg. He had 13 starts, amassed 52.2 innings and had a 3-8 record. Collins was burdened with a 10.25 earned run average, but was facing Division I competition.
Other new-to-the-roster pitchers are Ryan Marketell (eight starts, 2-4 record, 36.2 innings, 35 strikeouts and a 5.40 earned run average at Monroe CC), Steve Bowley from Cumberland County, a junior college in New Jersey and Tyler Shorter from Potomac State in Keyser.
Trenton Burgreen, who batted about .250 last season as the starting shortstop, and Eric Sloper, a .285 batter at second base, also return. Also back are Jared Carr, Daniel Keer and infielder Giovanni Torres.
Returning pitchers from 2018 are Mitchell Johnson, Colin Benner, Adam Miller and Wes Martin. Pitcher Joe Rindone missed the 2018 season, but started numerous games in 2017.
Barring injury, Shepherd has a menacing lineup of returning hitters. But if the Rams are to move ahead to the Regional playoffs, they’ll need more than the six they already have. And Potts needs help in carrying the pitching load. If the 2019 staff has first-year arms getting most of the available innings, then these Rams can disregard the cold and overcome the problem-filled middle infield defense it was shackled by in 2018.
Any injuries to incoming pitchers or already available hitters will make improvement difficult to overcome, with the season beginning on Feb. 1.