Shepherd’s room for error gets smaller and smaller
Monday’s oft-rescheduled doubleheader with conference rival Concord seemed to confirm several alarming trends about Shepherd’s baseball team.
The Rams posted a 10-1 win in the opener against the Mountain Lions … but then they couldn’t do damage against strike-throwing Nate Werner in the nightcap, falling 3-1 to a pitcher whose pitches looked juicy enough but kept the Rams off-balance throughout the light rain of the second game at Fairfax Field.
The bottom of the Rams’ batting order again produced too little in the games. Zane Bard continued his flirtation with the so-called Mendoza Line – a baseball figure of speech for a .200 batting average. Chase Hoffman went 0-for-7 and struck out three times in the second game. Concord closer Jordan Towler fanned Hoffman with the tying runs on base in the last of the ninth. Bard was 0-for-2 against Werner before giving way to pinch-hitter Mike Brown, whose double was wasted in the eighth. In the first game, Bard had two singles, including a bunt hit, and struck out twice.
At the top of the Shepherd batting order, left-handed hitting Jacob Carney was 0-for-8 on the day against a pair of Concord left-handers.
As the season moves to the Rams seeing only fellow Northern Division teams in the Mountain East Conference, Shepherd takes a 9-3 league record into this weekend’s Fairfax Field doubleheaders against Urbana. Concord, the last of the Southern Division teams on the Shepherd schedule, is 7-5 in league games.
Werner, who walked only one of the 33 batters he saw in his 8.2 innings of success, struck out eight and yielded only eight hits.
Werner was only slightly more effective than Shepherd’s Jamie Driver. Driver went seven innings, allowing three runs and six hits but issuing no walks in his longest stretch of innings this season.
A pair of clutch, two-out singles (by Trevor Wiersman and Jordan Clark) staked Werner to a 3-0 lead. In four separate Innings, the Rams had a runner or runners in scoring position with two outs and could never get an important hit.
The same foursome of Shepherd hitters – Tre Porter, JJ Sarty, Ron Farley and Christian Hamel – that have carried so much of the offensive load this season were joined by Daniel Heleine and Brandon Kirk as the almost exclusive run producers.
Porter was 3-for-4 in the opener, but was stopped in the nightcap by Werner. Sarty went 4-for-8 and homered. Farley was 4-for-8 and Hamel was 3-for-6. Heleine contributed three hits including a three-run homer. Kirk had three hits, but had a chance to change the downhill direction of the second game when he batted with no outs and the bases loaded in the seventh.
Kirk grounded into a double play with the second out recorded at the plate … and the Rams couldn’t score when Heleine struck out.
John Bentley threw his strikes in the opener and could wade through the 10 hits Concord solved him for in getting a complete-game win in the opener. Bentley fanned six in his seven innings and walked only one man.
Making him harder to fathom was his penchant for throwing well-placed curveballs on 3-2 counts, getting three called third strikes with runners perched in scoring position behind him.
The Rams have 20 conference games remaining against Northern Division rivals.
Will there be any significant contributions coming from the bottom of their current lineup? Can they survive with only the arms of Bentley and Driver … or will Sam Crater and AJ Stead get enough outs to earn wins? Colin Benner, Ryan Simpson, Dan Galati, and Brandon Hovel are going to pitch, but can any of them keep their earned run average below four runs a game?