Rams host West Lib in important season series
Even losing a doubleheader to tail-ender Wheeling Jesuit didn’t remove Shepherd from first place in the North Division of the Mountain East Conference. That’s because the Rams turned around and tamed the Cardinals twice the next afternoon when Ryan Pansch and John Bentley both managed all shutout innings to keep Shepherd afloat in the league standings.
Before last week’s split of four games against Wheeling Jesuit, Shepherd had a one-game lead over West Liberty in the North Division. When the Hilltoppers took three of four games against Urbana, the Rams and West Liberty had identical 16-4 records in the North Division. Fairmont was in third place with a 13-7 record.
Shepherd and West Liberty meet in consecutive doubleheaders at Fairfax Field this weekend, with games starting at 1 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday.
Wheeling Jesuit came into its four-game series with Shepherd with only a 2-24 overall record, but has lost an inordinate number of 2-1, 3-2, 1-0 and 3-1 games. Its pitchers had been worthy, but it didn’t have any .300 hitters at all.
Michael Finch evened his record at 4-4 when he posted a complete game, 4-0, shutout over the Rams in the Friday, April 14, opener. Finch allowed only five hits while walking only one and fanning four. Jacob Carney had two of Shepherd’s few hits. Joe Rindone (4-3 record) was the losing pitcher, going all six innings and fanning seven in defeat.
The light-hitting Cardinals jumped on Shepherd starter AJ Stead for four runs and held a 4-0 lead after just two innings.
Shepherd came back and trailed 4-2 after four and then 4-3 after it batted in the top of the seventh. The Cards scored in the bottom of the seventh and were able to withstand Daniel Heleine’s solo homer in the ninth to post a 5-4 win.
After doubling its number of season wins on Friday, the Cardinals had no more hitting luck against Shepherd’s other weekend starters.
Ryan Pansch remained unbeaten with six innings of work in the Rams’ 8-0 win in Saturday’s opener.
Pansch allowed six hits while walking only one and hitting a batter in moving his record along to 6-0.
Shepherd had 12 hits with JJ Sarty going 3-for-4, scoring two runs and driving in two. Carney was also 3-for-4 and scored three runs. Chase Hoffman was 2-for-3 with three RBIs. Ron Farley was 2-for-4.
Sarty, Hoffman and Brandon Kirk all had home runs.
Shepherd powered its way to a 20-0 lead after eight innings in the nightcap. Even when pitcher Ryan Simpson yielded six runs in the ninth, the Rams had a satisfying 20-6 win.
Bentley had pitched six shutout innings and allowed four hits while fanning six.
The Rams had a six-run inning, a five-run frame, a four-run ninth inning and a three-run inning.
Carney was 4-for-4, scoring twice and driving in two runs. Brenton Doyle had two hits and catcher Joe Burack scored four runs and drove in three while delivering a home run.
Carney also had a home run. Two players who didn’t start the game but contributed much offensively were Tyler Piccolo and Riley Lazich. Piccolo went 1-for-1, drove in four runs and scored two times while Lazich was 3-for-4 with four RBIs and a run scored.
The Rams have continued to tinker with their starting lineup, recently inserting freshman Trenton Burgreen at shortstop and using multiple players at second base. Burack and Dalton Haymaker (who has more than 20 passed balls this season) have split the catching duties of late.
Burgreen has gone 7-for-22 (.318 average) as a starter but was inserted to help the often shaky Shepherd inner defense. Brian McCourt, Brandon Kirk, Piccolo and Carney have been tried at second base.
In a mid-week, non-conference doubleheader on the road, the Rams split a twinbill with Virginia State, a team with a 14-19 overall record.
Shepherd got a home run from Farley in the opener against the Spartans but still lost, 6-3. In the nightcap, Sarty, Hoffman and Kirk all had home runs as the Rams won, 11-4.
The Rams didn’t use any of their four weekend starters in either game against Virginia State.
cWith only 12 conference games left, the Shepherd vs. West Liberty series of four games could decide the winner of the North Division . . . and should be an intense and no-love-lost-between-the-two-teams series considering the current and past circumstances.