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Shepherd baseball just a week away

By Staff | Feb 1, 2016

What can Shepherd baseball do to better last year’s 39-12 record? It can be invited to the NCAA Division II East Regional tournament, that’s what it can do.

The Rams have been the Mountain East Conference regular season champions in both seasons since the league was formed before the 2014 season. But they have not won the conference tournament in either of the past two seasons, and the NCAA only selected them for the national tournament in 2014.

Being left behind with a 39-12 record wasn’t understood by many (if any) in the Shepherd camp, especially after the Rams reached the finals of the conference tournament.

This is the third year in existence for the Mountain East and the tournament champion will finally receive an automatic bid to the East Regional.

A reliable group of 2015 seniors will be missed, but another reliable group of last year’s players is back on the scene this time around.

Missing from the 2015 regular season champions will be outfielder Matt Wilson, first baseman Dom Wyshinski, catcher Spencer Wolfe, infielder Bryce Shemer and nine-game winning pitcher Bryan DiRosario.

Returning to chase another title will be outfielder J.J. Sarty, infielder Jacob Carney, shortstop Tre Porter, infielder Zane Bard, utility player Daniel Heleine, utility player Austin Guy and winning pitchers Sam Crater, Jamie Driver and John Bentley, Crater won 11 games a year ago while Driver was a nine-game winner and late-season bloomer Bentley had a 5-2 record.

Sarty and Carney both batted well over .400 in 2015. Porter finished his first season with the Rams with a .315 average. Heleine slumped badly at the end of the season but still hit .298 before being replaced as the designated hitter by Crater. Bard had a .289 batting average as the regular second baseman.

Coach Matt McCarty has gaping holes to fill at catcher, right field and first base.

On the team’s pre-season roster are plenty of new candidates to try and replace Wilson, Wyshinski and Wolfe.

Outfielder Ron Farley comes from Delaware State where he hit .282, going 35-for-124, with 29 RBIs and seven home runs. Pitcher Tyler Mister (from Dundalk CC) was in 11 games last season with a 4-6 record in 49.2 innings and a 3.08 ERA. Brandon Hovel pitched at Dundalk where he had a 2-5 record in 53 innings while finishing with a 3.54 ERA.

Righthander Tyler Thomas missed all of last season, but is back again after arm problems sidelined him. Thomas is also listed as a catcher where Wolfe was a two-year all-conference player before.

Guy has been used sparingly at both first base and on the mound, but is also an outfield candidate this season. He is lefthanded and throws strikes while also displaying a fine glove at first.

This year’s large freshmen class has outfielders Kyle Maxson and Tyler Crounse, infielders Brian McCourt and Eric Sloper, catchers Christian Hamel and Owen Smith and pitchers Colin Benner, Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Simpson, A.J. Stead and Ryan Potts.

College transfers include infielder Brandon Kirk and pitchers Brian Cibula and Dan Galati. Galati had a 12.50 ERA at Delaware State in only 18 innings of work and Cibula pitched only 5.2 innings at Harford CC.

There are a number of players who saw limited playing time a year ago for the Rams and they are outfielder Darius Jones, infielders Vinnie Sorrentino, Mike Brown and Chase Hoffman (who could start at third base) and catcher Chase Smallwood.

McCarty should have a potent top of the batting order with Sarty and Carney and a core of winning pitchers for his weekend games against conference teams in Crater, Driver and Bentley.

The Mountain East has pared its conference schedules from 44 games to 32 games with some rivals being played four times and others only twice.

West Virginia State was the conference tournament winner in 2015 and was selected by the NCAA to play in the East Regional. Concord lost its long-time coach to Charleston and Notre Dame is still coached by former major league pitcher Len Barker.

Shepherd’s season is scheduled to begin on Feb. 7 at national power Mt. Olive (North Carolina).

Early May finds the Rams finishing the regular season just in front of the conference tournament.

Strong starting pitcher could fortify the Rams in the conference race. If McCarty chooses to use a closer like he did last year when the Rams saw leads lost in the final innings of twin losses to West Virginia State in the league tournament, his selection will be a critical one to any lasting success.

Shepherd is better than at least eight of its conference brethren, but the high plain of success the recent teams have consistently brought to Fairfax Field would make any third or fourth place finish one of disappointment.