Shepherd begins chasing quality non-conference teams
SHEPHERDSTOWN – Beginning this weekend, Shepherd will see a season-long list of high quality, non-conference baseball teams that annually manage their schedules and move into NCAA Division II Regional tournaments.
First off, it will be UNC-Pembroke, a team that had three wins and no losses against the Rams last season. Pembroke went through its season with a 39-15 overall record. Next weekend, it will be USC-Aiken, a team Shepherd had a win against in 2018 but lost to twice. Aiken finished with a 35-19 record.
Those first two weekends might show the Rams the best teams on their entire schedule.
If Pembroke and Aiken aren’t the best teams Shepherd will see, then that honor will likely be taken by Millersville, which went 37-20 after playing in the Atlantic Region tournament staged in West Lawn, Pa. Southern New Hampshire also visits cozy Fairfax Field early in the season and will bring many of the same players that helped it to a robust 41-17 record in 2018.
Also carded on the Rams’ schedule are Merrimack, the author of a 31-21 record and its conference champion, as well as Shippensburg, a team that rallied toward the close of its season and had a 28-24 record.
This will be Shepherd’s final season in the Mountain East Conference before joining the PSAC (Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference) beginning in the 2019-20 school term.
It’s been three consecutive visits to the Atlantic Region for the Rams, who have bargained for post-season NCAA tournaments in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
No Shepherd team in history has ever won a Regional event and then gone on to the eight-team NCAA Division II College World Series.
With the season’s start today against Pembroke, the Rams will put on early display pitcher Ryan Potts, an 11-game winner last season and in line to be mentioned with all-time players like hurlers Brian Sands, J.R. Fitzwater, Paul Hvozdovic, Brian Collins, Brian Renner, Ty Hart, Jason Ritenour, Charlie Drummond and Charlie Gordon, if he duplicates his 2018 version of keeping the Rams in a winning mode.
Cold weather and any winds could limit the early-season pitch counts of many of the pitchers, including first-year players Mitchell Wilson, Eric O’Brien, Michael Collins, Andrew Wanger and Ryan Marketell.
Returning to the every-day lineup is All-America outfielder Brenton Doyle, who batted .415, set the Shepherd single-season record with 98 hits, drove in 68 runs, scored 64 runs, had 14 homers and was successful on 22-out-of 23 stolen base attempts.
Doyle is still only a junior. Regulars Justin Smith, Nick Atkinson, Christian Hamel, Eddie Nottingham and Brian McCourt all batted well over .300 last year. Most of the returning hitters can also play more than one position, giving the Rams added versatility.
The Rams also have seven first-year infielders/outfielders/catchers attempting to pry their way into the everyday lineup.
Pembroke is a postseason team. So are Aiken and Millersville and Merrimack. Southern New Hampshire won 41 games.
The health of the pitchers could be a make-or-break factor this season. With so many games in the cold temperatures of February and most of March, a growing list of arm injuries would derail the grandest of postseason plans. But if arm injuries don’t occur, this Shepherd team has much of its batting order in place, especially if one or two new-to-the-team faces produce like many of the holdovers should.