Shepherd baseball roster crowded with new players
After another Mountain East Conference championship last year, Shepherd went into the summer of 2017 with a roster that had been generally depleted of starting pitchers and missing four regular infielders and outfielders who had helped the Rams again win their way to the NCAA Division II postseason playoffs.
Looking ahead to the 2018 season, missing players would be: pitchers Ryan Pansch, given All-America recognition after going 10-0 on the year; left-hander John Bentley; and A.J. Stead, whose 2017 season was less than spectacular with a 4.91 ERA and a 5-6 record.
Multiyear starters J.J.Sarty, Brandon Kirk and Jacob Carney, as well as outfielder Ron Farley, played their final games as Rams in 2017.
Shepherd needed a quick infusion of quality players – especially pitchers – to remain atop the heap of Mountain East teams.
Now, with the beginning of the 2018 season just ahead on Feb. 2 at North Carolina-Pembroke, the roster has been given a boost with the influx of 13 first-year faces, including six pitchers.
Even with the departures of Sarty, Carney, Farley and Kirk, the Rams have a core of returning starters from the team that had the league’s best regular season record and that won the conference tournament championship.
Brenton Doyle surged at midseason of his freshman year and batted .327 as the team’s right fielder. Chase Hoffman is already a two-year starter at third base and hit .285. Trenton Burgeen became the starting shortstop near the beginning of April and completed his freshman season batting .312.
Dalton Haymaker was the catcher and raised his average to .281 with multihit games in late April and May. Daniel Helene, now in his fourth year, finished with 15 homers and a .264 average, but struck out an alarming 71 times. Reid Entsminger took over in left field in both late-season tournaments and hit .371 in 13 starts. Joe Burack had 20 starts at catcher and finished with a .271 batting average.
Infielder Brian McCourt made 26 starts and completed his first season with the Rams with a .276 batting average.
Second-year outfielder Riley Lazich was used more often in the season’s final weeks than before and had a .391 average while getting two starts.
Returning after missing all of the 2017 season is catcher/first baseman Christian Hamel, who hit over .300 as a freshman starter in 2016.
The lone starting pitcher back is right-hander Joe Rindone, who lost his last four decisions and saw his ERA balloon to 5.90. He was 5-6 overall.
Much-used Ryan Potts (4-1 record), Dan Galati (7.65 ERA) and Ryan Simpson (8.19 ERA) were on last year’s roster.
Now, about the 13 first-year players who could hold the fortunes of the 2018 season in their pitching hands and bats.
The six new pitchers are freshmen Adam Miller (Sherando High), Gavin West (Millbrook High) and Mitchell Johnson (Southern High in Maryland); transfers Wes Martin (University of Maryland Eastern Shore) and Logan Manz (Salisbury University); and Nic Hammer, a reserve quarterback on the football team who is playing baseball for the first time. Manz pitched 14 innings for Salisbury in his last college season.
Transfers coming in who aren’t pitchers include outfielder Nick Atkinson (Virginia Commonwealth University), who didn’t play in 2017; outfielder Justin Smith from Hagerstown CC, who batted .412 in 57 games for the Hawks; shortstop Giovanni Torres from Lackawanna CC in Pennsylvania, who hit .295 in 44 games; and catcher/first baseman Eddie Nottingham from Catonsville (Md.) CC, who batted .337 with four homers and 36 RBIs in 50 games last year.
Freshmen position players are infielder/outfielder Jared Carr (St. James near Hagerstown), infielder/outfielder Daniel Kerr from Marian Catholic in Pennsylvania and Kendall Jordan, an outfielder from Bishop McNamara in Maryland.
With the emergence of Entsminger, the return from a season away by Hamel and the numerous players able to play more than one position, there should be ample competition for playing time.
Finding four weekend pitchers for the conference doubleheaders against North Division teams – Fairmont, West Liberty, Notre Dame, Wheeling Jesuit and Urbana – will be a priority.
Scheduled to play their first nine games on the road in more temperate climes, the Rams are actually slated to open Feb. 2. There are 13 home dates at cozy Fairfax Field.
Pansch’s 10 wins won’t be replaced, and the careers of Sarty and Carney make both of them eventual candidates for the Athletic Hall of Fame. But the Rams shouldn’t falter against the schools in the Mountain East Conference.