Answers found in Shepherd sweep of Pitt-Johnstown
Shepherd hadn’t played a game in two weeks.
Its doubleheader against Pitt-Johnstown last Tuesday was the last rehersal/fact-finding afternoon before beginning conference play on March 19 and March 20 at Glenville and at West Virginia Wesleyan.
Last year’s conference pitcher of the year Sam Crater had thrown only one inning as the Rams scraped out a 4-4 record playing on the road in warmer climes than mid-February Shepherdstown has ever provided.
Crater is necessary to the Rams even approximating last season’s 39-12 record and Mountain East regular season championship.
Against the Mountain Cats, Crater showed some rustiness but most importantly went two innings and faced 10 batters without incident. He received credit for Shepherd’s electrifying 8-7 comeback win that gave it a sweep of the non-conference doubleheader.
If Crater comes out of the two-inning stint with no lingering problems, Shepherd’s most important question of the early season will have been answered and he can join their starting rotation again.
Another important question concerning the replacements for 2015 hit-happy seniors was could anybody come close to doing what Matt Wilson, Spencer Wolfe and Dom Wyshinski did while the Rams were winning 39 times?
Freshman catcher Christian Hamel came into the two games with a .433 batting average. In his first at-bat at cozy Fairfax Field, Hamel clubbed a grand slam homer to give the Rams a jump-start in their 11-4 win over the Mountain Cats. Hamel blended in with many more Rams’ hitters through the baseball-beautiful day as Shepherd had 12 hits in the opening rout and another 14 hits in the nightcap.
If Crater, who started both games at first base and went 2-for-5 while reaching base four times, couldn’t pitch, where was a reliable arm going to be found?
Freshman left-hander AJ Stead might have provided an exclamation point to that answer with his four innings of stylish work where he permitted only two hits and two walks while fanning seven.
With a healthy Crater to join Jamie Driver, John Bentley and Stead, the Rams could have four starters of enough quality to again challenge for the crown in the adjusted league with its first-seen divisional alignment.
The other first-year regulars that were in both games’ starting lineup gave indication they could help the Rams score runs and win games. Infielder Brandon Kirk was flawless at third base and made three defensive plays that were out of the ordinary while going 3-for-8 and getting one of the six homers the Rams had in the sweep.
With the Rams trailing 7-4 in the bottom of the sixth in the scheduled seven-inning game, Kirk drilled a two-run home run that brought the deficit back to one run.
Outfielder Ron Farley had 4-for-8 day while batting third in both games.
Returning outfielder JJ Sarty had five hits, including a 3-for-3 second game. His two-out single in the seventh inning of the nightcap scored the game-winning run and brought on his mobbing as the Rams celebrated the unlikely comeback victory.
Jacob Carney, an all-conference player a year ago, was on base six times and returning shortstop Tre Porter reached base five times.
Other Shepherd home runs were delivered by Daniel Heleine, pinch-hitter Chase Hoffman, Crater and Sarty.
Hoffman’s lead-off blast in the seventh inning of the second game made it 7-7 . . . and then Sarty produced his fifth hit of the combined two games.
Crater’s and Stead’s pitching and the quality displays of Hamel, Farley and Kirk were more important than the wins . . . for the future holds the entire 32-game conference schedule . . . and the Rams appeared to have some well-honed weapons with which to possibly replace Wolfe, Wilson and Wyshinski.Answers found in Shepherd sweep of Pitt-Johnstown