WSSU baseball, softball teams primed for CIAA tournaments

WSSU baseball, softball teams primed for CIAA tournaments
April 30
00:00 2015
(Above: Photo by Craig T. Greenlee- WSSU’s Katrina Bartlett (6) awaits the umpire’s call after tagging Jasmine Rios of St. Augustine’s during CIAA softball action last Friday.)

The regular season is a done deal for Winston-Salem State University’s baseball and softball teams.

Now comes the time of year that both squads have been waiting for. The CIAA championships in both sports begin today (Thursday, April 30) at their respective sites. The three-day tournaments are scheduled to end on Saturday (May 2).

The top-seeded Rams (32-13) are considered prohibitive favorites to win the conference baseball championships being played at the USA Baseball Complex in Cary. Entering the final week of the season, WSSU was ranked 25th in Collegiate Baseball’s national polls for Division II.

In softball, the Lady Rams didn’t post a winning record overall, but they did finish 13-3 in the conference. The ladies are confident that their strong non-conference schedule has prepared them well for the conference tournament being played at the Walnut Creek Softball Complex in Raleigh.

Rams’ redemption

The Rams, who were 12-1 in league play, went into nosedive mode in late March/early April and lost six games straight. As things turned out, the losing streak proved to be a blip on the radar screen. Coach Kevin Ritsche’s squad recovered nicely and closed with a 10-1 mark over the final weeks of the regular season.

WSSU has no problems pushing runs across the plate. Connor Andrus, who has a .378 batting average, leads the league with 39 RBIs. Three of his teammates (Dylan Dombrowskas, Des Roberts and Alex Grubb) rank among the CIAA’s Top 10 in that category.

Rams pitching has delivered in spades. Aaron Hatch, Sam Burton, Jordan Carlton, Eric Corlette, Jordan Cummings and Devin McLemore have a combined won-loss record of 29-13. As a pitching staff, WSSU leads the league in strikeouts (8.38 per game) and has the CIAA’s lowest ERA at 4.02.

If the regular season is any indication, the Rams should be in good position to win their fourth tournament championship in as many years. The only blemish on their conference record is a 5-3 loss to Chowan in mid-March. Over the course of the CIAA season, the Rams haven’t been pushed to the limit very often. Out of 13 league games, they’ve only been involved in one-run games twice.

The closest challenger appears to be Virginia State, a team that the Rams handled easily in a 13-0 victory last Saturday. Burton went the distance and held the Trojans to two hits for the day.

Nathan Steger led Winston-Salem State’s 18-hit barrage with five RBIs. Jacob Barber batted in three runs and Dombrowskas had two RBIs. Roberts, Andrus and Taylor Idol drove in one run apiece.

Ladies coming on strong

With a little under two weeks remaining in the regular season, it didn’t seem possible that Winston-Salem State’s softball team could come close to breaking even for the season. When the Lady Rams lost a doubleheader to Barton on April 17, their record dropped to 11-19.

Since then, the ladies regrouped, went on a rampage and won nine of their last 10 games to finish up the regular season at 20-20. The late-season surge should give WSSU a huge boost in confidence entering the conference championships.

All-purpose utility player Chyna Riley delivered clutch performances for the Lady Rams over the final weeks. Over that 10-game stretch, Riley hit .562 (18-of-32) and had 5 RBIs. Riley also turned in solid stints as a pitcher, winning four games in five appearances.

Mercedes Hargett, the CIAA’s top strike-out pitcher (119), put on power hitting display in Winston-Salem State’s season-ending doubleheader victory (14-1, 19-5) against Shaw University last Sunday. Hargett, who inflicted considerable damage in her four trips to the plate, blasted two home runs (which included a grand slam) and had nine runs batted in.

Aside from Riley and Hargett, Kat Zimmer (.362 batting average, 26 RBIs) has emerged as an offensive threat. Katrina Bartlett leads the team in hitting (.439) and anchors the infield defense.

“Hopefully, we’ve arrived at our turning point,” said Coach LaTaya Hilliard-Gray. “At this time of year, we don’t have a record. The conference tournament is about to begin and we’re 0-0. The opportunity is there for us play up to our potential.”

Such was the case in the Lady Rams’ lone loss during the late-season win streak. In a 7-2 defeat to St. Augustine’s on April 24, a slew of fielding errors and base-running mistakes set the tone for Winston-Salem State’s downfall. Gray is keenly aware that her team must avoid mental lapses in order advance in postseason play.

“The key for us is to play with a high level of consistency at the plate and in the field. During the season, there have been instances where we’ve have one bad inning and that bad inning changes the entire complexion of the game. But I’m encouraged by how well we’ve played lately,” Gray said.

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Craig Greenlee

Craig Greenlee

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