Solid lineup, pitchers Bentley, Stead, Pansch give Rams look of contender
If the ground hogs appear in early February can Shepherd baseball be far behind? Not this year.
French Creek Freddie, Punxsutawney Phil and General George all attempt to predict the weather on Feb. 2 . . . and Shepherd is scheduled to open its season the next day on Feb. 3 at North Carolina-Pembroke, a team that had a 27-22 record last season.
The Rams have a very ambitious schedule this season. Very ambitious.
After three games at Pembroke come three games at USC-Aiken, a team that was 40-18 last season. In quick order after that six-game opening are games at a neutral site with East Stroudsburg, West Chester and St. Thomas Aquinas.
There will be 10 games before the first Fairfax Field date (March 4) appears on the schedule and that’s against the team ranked No. 1 in the nation when the 2016 regular season closed — Millersville.
Shepherd has only 10 home-field dates in all with the first conference games coming on March 25 against Glenville.
The Rams will be defending their 2016 Mountain East Conference regular season and tournament championships with an everyday lineup that features seven starters from that conference-dominating team.
Ryan Pansch, an all-conference pitcher in the past who missed almost all of the 2016 season with an injury, will join effective starters John Bentley and A.J. Stead to give the Rams an elite threesome at the top of their pitching staff.
The only regulars missing from this year’s lineup are shortstop Tre Poter and catcher Christian Hamel. Hamel is being redshirted in 2017. Effective pitchers Sam Crater and Jamie Driver were also seniors a year ago.
J.J. Sarty, Ron Farley and Jacob Carney were the most productive of the seven returnees and Daniel Heleine, Mike Brown, Chase Hoffman and Brandon Kirk all provided either home runs, a high on-base percentage, RBIs or a .300-plus batting average to the 2016 offense.
Coach Matt McCarty led the Rams at a 39-15 overall record and a 25-8 conference mark. In the Mountain East Conference tournament Shepherd went 4-0 by beating Concord, Glenville and twice winning over West Virginia State.
In the Atlantic Regional held in West Lawn, Pa., the Rams opened with a loss to Seton Hill, stayed alive with wins over West Chester and East Stroudsburg and were finally eliminated by Mercyhurst.
This year’s pitching prospects include utility player Tyler Thomas, Dan Galati, Tyler Mister, Colin Benner and first-year players Joe Rindone (a transfer from Towson), Noah Auman (freshman from Shippensburg, Pa.) and Wes Whitlock (transfer from Delaware Tech).
With Hamel being redshirted, the catching duties will fall to Dalton Haymaker (from Frederick Community College), Joe Burack (freshman from North Caroline, Md.) or Thomas.
Outfielders Brenton Doyle and Riley Lazich are new to the team as is infielder Tyler Piccolo, a senior transfer from Dowling. Max Maxson is an outfielder redshirted in 2016.
If Pansch remains healthy all year, the Rams appear to have the talent to defend all their conference laurels won last season.
Sarty, Farley, Carney, Brown, Stead, Bentley and Pansch are all proven talents and should be in line for all-conference honors as well as possible Regional and national recognition.
The schedule is more than formidable, but the hitting core and strike-throwing pitchers are an able group that can win against the conference competition.