By Brian Eller - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Each game, the Shenandoah University offense has the same goal. No matter the opponent, the objective is simple.
"Our goal is we try to get the lead, then go up by two, then five, then 10," shortstop Jesse Henry said. "That's our goal every game and that's what we did today."
Behind an offensive explosion in which five players scored multiple runs, the Hornets won their baseball season home opener, pounding Immaculata, 18-3.
"We're very comfortable with our lineup 1-9," Hornets coach Kevin Anderson said. "But that top six we have, we expect to score a lot of runs. Our game-plan was really to go in and hit and run and apply pressure, and fortunately we were able to do that and force the tempo of the game."
Making his first career start for the Hornets, pitcher Vince Claudio was impressive, particularly early on. The right-hander tossed just 55 pitches through the first five innings and took a no-hitter into the sixth.
His performance paved the way for the Shenandoah offense, which got on the board in the second inning. After an opening walk to first baseman Cory Nelson, Adam Delauter singled three batters later, scoring Nelson and beginning a four-run inning to give the home team a four-run cushion.
With a no-hitter through five innings, Claudio pushed on into the sixth. While it was Claudio's first start with the Hornets, trying to beat him was an Immaculata team that is in its inaugural season, having played just three games before Friday. Following a walk and a strikeout, however, Claudio's chance at the record books ended as shortstop Rick Gehman singled for the Mighty Macs' first hit of the game. Perhaps a little discouraged from the hit, Claudio suddenly became vulnerable on the mound. Immaculata first baseman Matthew Hardy doubled to left field, sending home Gehman and another runner, cutting Shenandoah's lead to 6-2. After another run from Immaculata, Claudio's day was finished, but as he walked off the mound, he was still in position to earn his first win of the year.
"Well, that was his first career start and he has a chance to be a good one as he develops and gets better command," Anderson said. "But I thought he set the tone for the day. He established his fastball, came out and took charge."
After watching the Mighty Macs creep closer after the three-run inning, the Hornets came right back in the bottom half of the sixth. Shenandoah scored five runs as each batter had a plate appearance in the inning. Singles by second baseman Jon Holcomb and designated hitter Greg Van Sickler increased the Hornets' lead to five runs, with another single by Nelson scoring two runs to give Shenandoah an 11-3 lead heading into the seventh inning.
From there, reliever Matt Griffin took over for the Hornets, allowing just one hit over the final three innings. Meanwhile, Shenandoah's offense continued to dominate, scoring two runs in the seventh inning and five more in the eighth. Leading the charge for the Hornets was Henry. The shortstop scored runs in his final four trips to the plate and capped things off with a booming three-run home run over the right-field wall in the eighth inning, putting the final stamp on Claudio's first win as a Hornet and Shenandoah's first home victory of the season.
"We were just looking to drive the ball at whatever our strength is," Henry said. "I think we did a good job of being patient at the plate, not being too over-anxious and staying back and driving the ball. [My home run] was a curveball. I was looking fastball, but I kept my hands back, trusted my hands and swung through."
With the win, Shenandoah is now 5-3 and is on a two-game winning streak heading into today's contest against Greensboro.