Rams see more double-figure scoring
Three consecutive Shepherd home runs in an 11-4 win in the opener of a doubleheader sweep of Wheeling Jesuit and a pair of five-run innings in the 10-2 second-game victory were two highlights from Saturday’s conference clean-up against the troubled Cardinals.
Over two afternoons, the Rams tallied 43 runs in four all-winning games versus the conference-rival Cards. Wheeling Jesuit departed Fairfax Field with a 4-24 overall mark and a 3-17 league record.
After Wheeling chased Shepherd starter Adam Miller with a four-run third inning, Shepherd responded with a three-run third of its own and then used Brian McCourt’s solo homer and never-slowed base running to score another four in its next turn.
Wheeling was blunted by relief pitcher Mitchell Johnson’s four innings of one-hit pitching, and consecutive home runs from Christian Hamel, Justin Smith and Eddie Nottingham, to ease away to a seven-run win in the opener.
Any time the Rams needed to kindle an offensive burst, they stole bases at will and ran freely against the arms of all three Wheeling outfielders. Brenton Doyle scored three of Shepherd’s 11 runs and was the main thief in Shepherd’s stolen base parade. Hamel drove in five runs.
In the second game, the Shepherd offense was kept off-balance and off the scoreboard through four innings by the side-arm offerings of Nick Luciano. Luciano’s curveball had limited the Rams to two hits when they batted in the fifth, trailing only 2-0 because their left-hander Logan Manz had limited the Cardinals’ offensive damage.
After one out in the Ram fifth, Luciano walked two batters before fanning Nick Atkinson at the top of the Shepherd order. Doyle blasted a three-run home run into the thicket of shrubs, brambles and small trees in left center to suddenly have the Rams in front, 3-2. Three more hits in the same inning had the Rams up, 5-2, going to the sixth.
Manz was replaced by six-game winner Ryan Potts to begin the Wheeling sixth. Potts had lasted 39 pitches and only into the second inning on Tuesday in a muddled 12-11 loss at non-conference Shippensburg. Before that, Potts had gone 10 shutout innings with 14 strikeouts as the Rams lost a 2-0 verdict in 11 innings to Urbana.
Potts appeared to be hale and hardy as he blew through the Cardinals with his fastball and breaking pitches. He faced seven batters and fanned five of them in actually earning a save since he came on, with the Rams holding only a three-run lead.
Now 16-4 in the league, Shepherd travels to second-place West Liberty for consecutive doubleheaders this weekend. The Hilltoppers are 12-8 in conference play and four games behind Shepherd in the standings.
Wheeling Jesuit is gone. Shepherd will likely see fiercer offenses from now on than the Cards presented, getting a combined 21 hits as a team in four losses to Shepherd.