Rain aside, sun shines brightly on Shepherd four-game sweep
Despite the immobile showers that have invaded and stayed in the Eastern Panhandle, the sun shines brightly on ancient Fairfax Field at Shepherd University.
The newly-mowed grass is ready for this weekend’s four-game series with Notre Dame of Ohio. The once-lackluster season now seems more lively since the Rams steamrolled conference rival West Liberty on two sun-filled afternoons last week.
The opponents were tied with 16-4 conference records when the bubbly and confident Hilltoppers rolled into Shepherdstown.
But West Liberty was without injured pitcher Greg Stagani and their lineup of NCAA Division II batters was going to be tested by Shepherd’s starting pitchers.
On Friday, April 21, a day where only lazy white clouds drifted through from the west, Shepherd had unbeaten right-hander Ryan Pansch ready for the important first game of a doubleheader.
Pansch moved his record to 7-0 as he disregarded two unearned runs and was given ample run support in Shepherd’s 9-5 win in the series opener.
It was a six-run second inning that put the wind in Shepherd’s sails. Consecutive extra-base hits from Daniel Heleine, Brenton Doyle, Brandon Kirk and Dalton Haymaker were the means by which the Rams glided in front, 6-0.
A swinging bunt hit and a bloop pop fly just over the infield preceded Mike Adams’ three-run home that saw the Hilltoppers halve the lead.
Doyle scored on a passed ball before two unearned West Liberty runs made it a 7-5 game.
Doyle was at it again when he drove in Shepherd’s next run with a double. And then in the sixth, Ron Farley doubled home another insurance run.
Pansch faced only 10 batters in his last three innings of complete-game pitching. His final pitching line showed him allowing only five hits while walking only one and fanning six in staying unbeaten and helping the Rams get off on the right foot in the series to determine first place in the North Division of the Mountain East Conference.
The outcome of Friday’s second game was in doubt until the last pitch . . . a bases loaded pitch from Rams’ reliever Dan Galati that had West Liberty’s Vince Haddox bounce it on one hop to third baseman Chase Hoffman, who stepped on third and threw in time to first to take all of the air out of a Hilltopper ninth-inning rally.
Shepherd won, 6-5, to complete a sweep of the afternoon.
John Bentley and Ryan Potts had kept Shepherd either ahead or tied from the fourth inning on.
But despite its numerous strikeouts (12 in the first eight innings), West Liberty would not go away.
Bentley departed in favor of Potts after six . . . and the game was even at 4-4. Potts fanned three in his two innings and appeared ready for more.
He was given solo homers by Jacob Carney and JJ Sarty in the seventh, with Shepherd taking a 6-4 into the ninth.
Potts did not come back for a third inning. Galati replaced him.
Galati surrendered three consecutive singles to begin the inning. And then he hit Coby Eckstein, who had already struck out three times, with a pitch to force in a run.
A shallow fly to right couldn’t score another run.
Then the left-handed batting Haddox punched a grounder to Hoffman . . . and the potential game-altering inning was no more . . . and the Rams had a 6-5 win, and a quickly-opened two-game on the stunned Hilltoppers.
West Liberty had stranded 11 base runners. And stranded its division-winning hopes at the same time.