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Shepherd easily clinches North Division title

By Staff | May 4, 2018

Another Mountain East Conference baseball season.

Another North Division title for Shepherd as the Rams far outdistanced the likes of West Liberty, Fairmont State, Notre Dame, Urbana and Wheeling Jesuit in moving to a 23-5 league record and a 29-13 overall mark.

Even with six conference games remaining going into last Sunday’s doubleheader at Notre Dame, the Rams had a seven-game lead over West Liberty, Fairmont State and Notre Dame.

When the Rams swept Sunday’s doubleheader from Notre Dame-winning by scores of 6-1 and 6-5- they enjoyed an eight-game lead over both West Liberty and Fairmont State (15-13 in conference games) with only four games remaining.

In the conference’s South Division, Charleston has a 20-8 conference record with Concord in second with a 16-12 mark and West Virginia State in third at 15-13.

Shepherd’s 23-5 record is three games better than Charleston’s 20-8 record in the chase for the league’s best overall record.

This past weekend, Shepherd held off Notre Dame, 13-12, to win the first game played on Saturday. Nick Atkinson and Christian Hamel hit first-inning homers and Justin Smith also connected, for a first-game home run. Hamel was 3-for-5 with four RBIs. Chase Hoffman had two hits and four RBIs, Brenton Doyle landed two hits and Trenton Burgreen had two runs batted in. After scoring three times in the third, Shepherd had a 13-0 lead, but then Notre Dame scored the game’s last 12 runs.

Ryan Potts stayed around long enough to win his eighth game against one loss. Potts yielded 11 hits and six earned runs in 5.1 innings. Wes Martin had six unearned runs scored off him, as the Rams had Hoffman commit two errors and Burgreen and Atkinson one each.

Mitchell Johnson got the last out for a save.

Notre Dame won the nightcap by a 6-5 count when Austin Barnhart singled home Bret Davis with the game-ending run in the bottom of the seventh.

Eddie Nottingham had two hits for the Rams, as did Atkinson. Logan Manz started for Shepherd and went five innings, while allowing 10 hits and five earned runs. Johnson came back again, but in his 1.2 innings yielded two hits and the walk-off run to get the loss.

On Sunday, Smith got his seventh win against two losses with a complete game in a 6-1 Shepherd victory in the first game.

Notre Dame led 1-0 until the fourth, when Shepherd RBI singles from Brian McCourt and Burgreen gave the Rams a 2-1 lead. In the fifth, RBI hits from Nottingham and McCourt helped boost the lead to 5-1. Hamel doubled and later scored Shepherd’s last run.

Smith spaced five hits and the only run off him was unearned. Atkinson went 3-for-4, as did Nottingham.

In Sunday’s nightcap, Shepherd trailed 5-0 until the fifth, rallying for six runs as Atkinson hit a key three-run homer and McCourt added a two-run double. Doyle was 2-for-3.

Colin Benner had his most effective outing of the entire season when he relieved starter Adam Miller and pitched the last four innings of what ended in a 6-5 Shepherd victory. Benner allowed two runs and only one hit in his four innings, while fanning three and not yielding any walks.

The Rams close out the home portion of the 2018 season with a doubleheader this afternoon at Fairfax Field against conference rival Fairmont State. The twinbill is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. Fairmont is embroiled in a tight race for the final two spots from the North Division for the Mountain East Conference tournament. The Fighting Falcons, along with West Liberty and Notre Dame, are in a close race for two of the North Division’s three spots in the tournament. Shepherd has the other berth.