Pansch returns with shutout innings, Rams enter MEC tourney
Subdued celebrations were held at venerable Fairfax Field last Sunday. There was a Senior Day list of introductions. The Rams were on the cusp of winning a conference division title, needing one victory in the season-closing doubleheader against Fairmont State.
A win in either game would give Shepherd the No.1 seed in this week’s six-team conference tournament in Beckley.
In spite of the wind and unfriendly temperatures, the largest crowd of the season formed a backdrop for the two games. Standing room only was the order for the last hurrah of the regular season.
However, the quietest, yet by far the most important happening of the chilly afternoon, came when junior pitcher Ryan Pansch, who was removed from his last start with some arm discomfort after three shutout innings, was penciled in as the starter in the seven-inning opener.
Pansch would improve his unbeaten record to 8-0 and record four scoreless innings as Shepherd used all sorts of Fighting Falcon mistakes and a four-run opening inning to get a 7-1 win in the pressure-easing first game.
Fairmont State managed a lone hit off Pansch, who struck out six Fighting Falcons and at least one in every inning in facing just 15 batters. Outfielder Reid Entsminger — in getting another late-season start — made two nice catches in left field that most likely wouldn’t have been made before Enstminger took over as a starter.
With the Rams scheduled to begin play in the tournament yesterday, having Pansch available significantly advances their chances of winning that double-elimination event played on the all-weather turf at Eplinger Field.
Fairmont State was two games behind Shepherd before Sunday’s games and had already qualified as one of the three North Division teams in the tournament.
But the Fighting Falcons couldn’t hide all their defensive liabilities in the opener, having errors committed by their shortstop, pitcher, right fielder and second baseman as well as commonplace plays that could not be made elsewhere.
Fairmont State committed six errors in losing its tenuous grip on its pennant-chase chances.
With nine names on its roster coming from Eastern Panhandle high schools, Fairmont State had a large contingency of fans seated in the metal bleachers and standing four-deep along the fence near first base. With Pansch severely limiting their team’s offense and their fielders making wild throws and missing ground balls, those followers of Fighting Falcon baseball found very little to applaud.
Shepherd had produced enough offense after the first inning where Brandon Kirk, Ron Farley, JJ Sarty and Brenton Doyle all had hits. Kirk’s second double drove in two more runs in the third . . . and Pansch already had a 7-0 lead.
Pansch lowered his ERA to 2.58, and gave the Rams a viable option in the Mountain East Conference tournament.
It may have been Senior Day for 10 of the Rams. And Shepherd had a division title after taking the opener. But the most important reason to do any celebrating was the return of Pansch, after his removal because of an arm problem only eight days before.