Pitchers need support to propel Rams in postseason

Pitchers need support  to propel Rams in  postseason
May 14
00:00 2015
(Above: Photo by Craig T. Greenlee- Hayden O’Neal has filled a variety of roles as a starter and relief pitcher.)

Winston-Salem State University has more than enough power and punch in its lineup to make a strong run in the NCAA Atlantic Regional Baseball Championships, which begins today (Thursday, May 14) in Erie, Pennsylvania.

Scoring runs, however, is just one part of the equation. Stand-out pitching is a much-needed requisite to survive and advance. Still, even the best pitching staffs need stellar defensive support.

In postseason play, the combination of timely hitting, stellar mound work and solid defensive support, can’t be overemphasized. If any one of those three elements is missing from the mix, an early exit is the most likely. That’s what happened to Winston-Salem State a year ago.

The Rams went home early after losing 4-3 to Shepherd (W.Va.) and 1-0 to Kutztown (Pa.) at the regionals. Against Shepherd, WSSU committed four errors, which led to three unearned runs.

In the Kutztown game, the Rams surrendered the game’s only run on a sacrifice fly in the top of the ninth inning. In the bottom half of the ninth, WSSU had a runner on third, but was unable to score a run that would’ve tied the game.

“Pitching-wise we’re not as deep as some teams, but we do have more depth now,” said Rams Coach Ken Ritsche. “Our guys pitched well at last year’s regionals, but we didn’t hit the ball particularly well. Plus, we didn’t come through defensively like we needed to. It’s important to make the big plays; it’s important to make the routine plays.”

Ritsche is counting on Aaron Hatcher, Sam Burton and Tyler Scearce to handle most of the starting pitching duties next week. In the regional six-team field, four wins are needed to reach the College World Series scheduled for May 23-30 at the USA Baseball Complex in Cary, which is the same site as this year’s CIAA Tournament. At this juncture, it’s not clear who might get the call to pitch the fourth game if the Rams should make it to that point. The likely choice would be between submarine specialist Hayden O’Neal and one of the three starters.

Righthanders Hatcher (8-1, 4.61 ERA) and Burton (5-1, 2.44 ERA) are proven commodities as starters. Scearce, a freshman lefty, who served mostly in a relief capacity earlier this season, has worked his way into the starting rotation. He replaces lefthander Jordan Carlton (4-4, 4.13 ERA), who’s scheduled to have surgery next week to remove a blood clot in his throwing arm.

Scearce (4-0, 2.04 ERA) showed his mettle as the starter and winning pitcher in last week’s 8-3 win over Virginia State in the conference tournament final. In six innings, Scearce, an All-Rookie pick, allowed two runs on five hits with four strikeouts and no walks.

“In order for us to stay in contention, we have to get a lot of strong innings from our starters,” said Ritsche. “If they can each give us 100 to 110 pitches, that should be good for six or seven innings. Then, we can turn to our bullpen to take over from there.”

The bullpen has been reliable with Eric Corlette (6-2, 5.75 ERA), Jordan Cummings (6-3, 4.17 ERA, three saves) and Devin McLemore (5-2, 3.43 ERA, three saves) turning in solid performance in closing games out in the late innings. Aside from those three, Dylan Forbes and Austin Cole have responded well when called on to pitch in a variety of game situations.

“Pitching is our strong point,” said Ritsche. “Our pitchers have worked so hard all year long to help us get to where we are today. They deserve to get the defensive backing that will help us win in the postseason. We’re looking to ride our pitching all the way through the regionals and hopefully to the College World Series.”

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Craig Greenlee

Craig Greenlee

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