WRITTEN BY: GRIFFIN ASELTINE | STAFF WRITER
After nearly three months and forty games of hard-played baseball, the men’s team is now in an interesting position.
With an overall record of 24-16, a conference record of 13-13, and only eight matches left on the schedule –all in PacWest- qualifying for the NCAA West Regional may be a long-shot, but not impossible.
Last season, the Sea Lions managed to grab the final seed in the tournament with a 33-18 overall record and a 19-13 record in the PacWest. In order to match that in 2016, winning at least six or seven of the last eight is crucial, and in the game of baseball, where anything can happen, that’s certainly a tall task.
Fortunately, if there’s one reason why such a stretch is possible, it’s the fact that the last eight matches will be played at home, where the team has thrived with a 14-5 record. Learning to “own” your ballpark is critical within the sport, and this team has done phenomenally well in that aspect thus far.
In addition, the first four matches will be played against Holy Names—a team that has struggled all season with a 10-32 record, and only three wins on the road. If the Sea Lions can win at least three out of four, they will have one last opportunity against a tougher opponent in Fresno Pacific University (FPU) (20- 21, 15-12 within the conference).
While FPU may not be a favorable matchup in terms of PacWest play, they do have their struggles on the road at 7-15. So if PLNU can continue to own their ballpark and embrace home field advantage, a continuation of the season in the NCAA West Regional may be a possibility.
In terms of how the Sea Lions’ offense has flourished, the key aspect is consistency. While no player on the roster currently maintains a batting average above .350 -Fresno Pacific has three players in this category-there are seven players who are batting above .300 and nine of which are batting at least .288. Thirteen players have started at least five games, and all thirteen of them have managed an average of at least .200. Ryan Garcia currently leads the team with an average of .349, .605 in slugging, and 12 home runs, while Devin Carter trails closely behind with an average of .340, .576 in slugging, and seven home runs.
If the team can keep its offense in rhythm, odds are at least a handful of key players will step up and make an impact on the scoreboard.
On the pitching side, Kellen Sheppard (6-4, 2.59 ERA [earned run average]) and Kevin Lillicrop (6-2, 2.87 ERA) have each started ten games and have both proven to be reliable in the long-term. Trevor Abshire (3-3, 3.74 ERA) has not quite been on the same level from a statistical perspective -starting ten games and only lasting a maximum of six innings in a game- but has had a fair share of quality outings.
For relief pitchers, John Shurance leads the team with an ERA of 1.04 and has recorded two saves. Nathan Bennett started out the season hot with 23 innings without a single earned run, but a recent four-game slump has shot his ERA up to 2.58. Coleman Huntley III (0-2, 4.08 ERA) proved to be an efficient closer towards the beginning of the season with five saves, but a poor outing against Concordia on March 25 led to his second loss of the season.
Since then, he has served as a regular relief pitcher, and it has proven to be a successful move, with 7.2 scoreless innings under his belt since the change.
If Bennett ends his slump and Sheppard, Lillicrop, and Abshire continue their consistency as starters, the pitching staff will be ready for the final stretch.
A 7-1 run can be tough, but with this team, it’s not impossible. An 11-game winning streak in February proves that it can be done. It’s simply a matter of if the consistency progresses its way into the end of the season.
All eight games will be played in doubleheaders. The four-game series with Holy Names will be played on April 29 and April 30, while the series against Fresno Pacific will be on May 9 and May 10.
photo by plnusealions.com