Early series could decide Shepherd’s baseball fate
It seems implausible, but the fate of Shepherd’s baseball team could be decided by the end of the first weekend in March.
March? A baseball team’s conference health decided that early in the season?
It’s very possible this season because the defending regular season champion Rams have a four-game series at Concord on February 27 and 28 and then return to the southern part of the state to see West Virginia State in Institute for consecutive doubleheaders on March 7 and 8.
Since Shepherd, Concord and West Virginia State have the best teams in the Mountain East Conference (ahead of the likes of Charleston and Notre Dame) unless the winter weather causes a number of cancellations then the Rams could be either winging away from their sternest competition or already buried deep in the standings.
Shepherd swept four games from West Virginia State last year at Fairfax Field. The Rams split four winter-weather games against Concord in Shepherdstown.
All 12 teams in the conference are scheduled to play 44 Mountain East games. None of the 12 got in all 44 games in 2014.
A gaudy regular season record got the Rams a regular season championship a year ago, but it was West Virginia State in Coach Cal Bailey’s last season that won the conference tournament.
The Mountain East Conference was in its first year of existence in 2014 and did not have an automatic NCAA tournament berth for any of its teams. West Virginia State did not have a record deemed worthy enough of receiving a tournament bid . . . but Shepherd, which finished with an overall mark of 39-14, was . . . and landed in the Mid-Atlantic Regional of the NCAA Division II playoffs.
The Rams did not win the six-team Regional, either.
Third-year coach Matt McCarty has some quality hitters and a question-mark pitching staff this season.
Spencer Wolfe is a bona fide All-America candidate. Wolfe is able to catch, play shortstop and play third base. He hit .388 last season.
Outfielder Matt Wilson is another bona fide All-America candidate. Like Wolfe, he batted .388. But unlike Wolfe he didn’t stay healthy, breaking a bone in his hand — but still staying in the lineup.
Returning starters include second baseman Jacob Carney and infielder Bryce Shemer. Carney gained post-season honors as a freshman because of his batting average.
McCarty has recruited junior shortstop Tre Porter from Potomac State junior college and has a possible high-average hitter in infielder/outfielder Daniel Heleine, now a redshirt freshman after transferring from West Virginia. Heliene was Hedgesville High’s best hitter when the Eagles won the Class AAA state championship in 2013.
First-year outfielders Dom Wyshinski and Jonathan Sarty are transfers that have to produce if the Rams are to finish ahead of Concord and West Virginia State this season. Sarty comes from William & Mary and Wyshinski from Young Harris, a Division II school in Georgia.
Slick-fielding first baseman Austin Guy is a holdover from last season, but he had fewer than 30 at-bats.
There are several other first-year players, one or more who could be factors in scoring runs, and they are infielder Vinnie Sorrentino, infielder Mike Brown, outfielder Matt Meinhoffer, utility player Chase Hoffman, pitcher/outfielder Sam Crater and pitcher/first baseman Tyler Thomas.
The question-laden pitching staff does return Jamie Driver and Ryan Pansch, McCarty’s No. 2 and No. 3 starters from 2014. Bryan DiRosario pitched last summer for the Charles Town Cannons of the Valley Baseball League.
Both Austin Hale and Crater were used extensively as starters. But Crater injured his knee and couldn’t pitch during the last weeks of the season. Both had earned run averages well above 5.00 runs per nine innings.
Thomas was used some during the final stages of the season.
McCarty had listed 13 players he had recruited for the 2015 team, and that group included pitchers Josh Mason, Chris Colletti, Bryan McHale and Chris Buckner. But none of them is on this team. Two other pitching recruits, Michael Carpenter and William Reed, are listed as redshirts for this season.
Shepherd opens the mid-winter portion of its schedule with games against Shippensburg on February 20 and 21 at wind-swept Fairfax Field. And then come the crucial back-to-back series on the road against Concord and West Virginia State.
McCarty needs four trusted starters for his weekend doubleheaders against all 11 of the conference teams. He has Driver and Pansch to get him wins. He needs to locate at least two others before the robins, catbirds, wrens and other songbirds return from the South along with some fleeting baseball weather.