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Shepherd could wrap up baseball title

By Staff | May 5, 2014

Shepherd long ago clinched a berth in the first-ever Mountain East Conference baseball tournament.

Only six teams qualify from the 12 schools in the league.

After winning three of four games in three series against Notre Dame (Ohio), West Liberty and Urbana (Ohio), the Rams have only a four-game series this weekend against Fairmont remaining in the regular season.

With a robust 31-7 conference-leading record, the Rams have managed to keep second-place Concord at arm’s length for about a month. The Mountain Lions have a 29-11 conference record and are guaranteed no worse than a second-place finish from their regular season.

Shepherd and Concord split the four games they played this season.

With the Mountain East completing the regular season this weekend, final preparations are being made for the six-team conference tournament to be staged at Epling Stadium in Beckley beginning on May 8 and continuing through Sunday, May 11.

The Rams have a three-game lead over Concord with each team having only four more games to play.

While Shepherd is in Fairmont for doubleheaders on both Saturday and Sunday, Concord will be at home in Athens for doubleheaders against Virginia-Wise.

Currently, West Virginia State occupies third place with its 23-13 league record. Urbana (18-12) is in fourth place followed by Notre Dame (20-15) and West Liberty (20-17) in fifth and sixth.

The original Mountain East schedule had all 12 teams playing a 44-game schedule. Urbana has already had 10 games cancelled by the snow-plagued weather. Only Concord has any chance to play all 44 conference games. Shepherd had a doubleheader against Wheeling Jesuit weathered out and will play 42 league games if it gets in both doubleheaders versus Fairmont this weekend.

Epling Stadium in Beckley is an artificial turf facility that can be made ready for play very quickly after any rain stops falling.

Shepherd’s overall record of 33-10 has commanded enough national attention to give the Rams a national ranking of 26th in a poll kept by the Collegiate Baseball weekly publication.

With its overall team success, Shepherd will have a long list of its individual players receiving postseason recognition for what they have achieved.

Paul Hvozdovic, a senior left-handed pitcher, will probably be the conference Pitcher of the Year. His record going to the Fairmont series is 9-0 and his earned run average is 1.47. Because Hvozdovic is well-known even on the national level because he owns the Shepherd career record for wins, he will also be named to All-America teams — possibly even as a first-team selection.

Michael Lott, a senior center fielder, leads the Mountain East in batting average and is among the league’s individual leaders in hits, runs scored, doubles and stolen bases. Because he was an All-America selection last season, his notoriety will no doubt bring him additional national honors this year.

Other Shepherd players sure to receive conference honors are catcher Spencer Wolfe, infielder Jacob Carney, outfielder Matt Wilson, pitcher Ryan Pansch, pitcher Jamie Driver and pitcher Austin Hale.

Carney could be the league’s Freshman of the Year if he continues with his lofty batting average through the season-ending Fairmont series.

Should the Rams win often enough this weekend, they would earn the tournament’s No. 1 seed and face the No. 6 seed (either West Liberty or Notre Dame) in Thursday’s first round. The tournament has a double-elimination format.

The most important of the ratings, rankings and statistics surrounding Shepherd baseball is that the Rams are rated No. 1 in the NCAA Division II’s Atlantic Region. The Atlantic Region tournament will bring teams together from the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference, the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) and the Mountain State Conference for a double-elimination tournament whose winner qualifies for the Division II College World Series.

Shepherd was last in the Atlantic Region tournament in 2012 when it won the WVIAC tournament. West Chester of the PSAC won the Atlantic Region and went on to win the national championship that season.

The Rams own a three-game lead over Concord with four games to play. They’ll see a Falcons’ team that is 12-22 in the conference and 14-27 overall.

Hvozdovic, Lott, Wolfe, Wilson, Carney, Pansch, Driver, Hale and company have to keep winning to remain impressive in the eyes of the NCAA national committee.

And then comes the conference tournament beginning on Thursday, May 8.