Tournament pitching means everything to Rams’ chances
SHEPHERDSTOWN — After defeating MEC Pitcher of the Year Michael Stout and then drubbing Fairmont State, 23-0, in its final road series of the regular season, Shepherd came back to Fairfax Field to complete the year with a Saturday doubleheader versus the same Fighting Falcon team.
In what amounted to a dress rehearsal for this week’s conference tournament, Shepherd dispatched Coach Phil Caruso’s nine by scores of 12-3 and 10-7 to move its overall record to 34-14 and league record to 24-6.
Fairmont’s four straight defeats to Shepherd ended its regular season with a 25-23 overall mark and 16-16 in MEC games. By finishing third in the North Division of the league, Fairmont qualified for the tournament it missed in 2018.
Shepherd’s four starting pitchers in the games against Fairmont were Mitchell Wilson, Ryan Potts, Steve Bowley and Ryan Marketell, all right-handers and all four the ones Coach Mark McCarty used in the Rams’ last-month, four-game series when facing conference opponents.
The other starter McCarty had during the regular season when conference rivals were played was Adam Miller. Eric O’Brien started the last non-conference game against Atlantic Region power Millersville.
In a condensed four-day tournament like the Mountain East Conference event, pitching is usually the factor in deciding which team goes on to the Atlantic Region Tournament, a part of the NCAA Division II national tournament.
Tournament games are a legitimate nine innings in length, while all regular season games come in doubleheaders and are only seven innings in duration.
The extra two innings in tournament games often mean starting pitchers — if they are still around — reach the 100-pitch range after seven innings and can throw 125-130 pitches in any attempt to pitch nine-inning complete games.
By the time a tournament team reaches its fourth game, its pitching is the focal point of its chances of doing well that late in the event.
In stopping the Fighting Falcons, 6-3, in Bridgeport at Fairmont’s home-away-from-home field, the Rams gleaned 10 hits off Stout, who entered with a 7-1 record. Wilson was Shepherd’s winning pitcher in that game. In the 23-0 trouncing of Fairmont in the nightcap of that day’s doubleheader, Shepherd capped its offensive show with six home runs. Potts sent his record to 7-3 with his effort. Back home at Fairfax Field, the Rams chased pitcher Will Brown early. Brown had a 6-1 record and 2.89 ERA, but lasted only two-thirds of an inning before being replaced by Caruso after allowing seven of the nine batters he saw to reach safely against him. Shepherd’s 4-0 lead against the departing Brown went to 7-0 after just three innings.
MEC batting leader Jared Carr went 3-for-4, Justin Smith slammed a three-run homer off Brown, Nick Atkinson (who raised his once-puny batting average over 140 points in the final month of the season) had a home run, while Brenton Doyle, Syeed Mahdi and Trenton Burgreen all scored two runs.
Shepherd had outscored the Fighting Falcons, 41-6, in the first three games of the series.
Bowley was the winning pitcher in the 12-3 romp.
The Rams amassed an early 10-2 lead in the last game of the series with Atkinson drilling a two-run homer, Smith totaling six bases on his three hits, Doyle adding to his league-leading runs-scored total with three more, and the Rams having 17 base runners in their first four turns.
So, this week is the MEC Tournament — Shepherd’s last before moving to the PSAC next season.
The Rams will probably score enough runs to win games . . . but will their pitchers adjust to the nine-inning games, and will their inner defense (including catchers) be solid enough to get them through?