Fauber: Hornets baseball to get workout

At this point, Shenandoah University’s baseball team would probably happily travel as far as Florida if it meant the Hornets could play a real baseball game on a real baseball field. That is how severely the string of bad weather that has hit the area this winter is affecting the start of SU’s 2014 season.

The Hornets have practiced just about everywhere up to this point, except on an actual baseball field. They have manufactured makeshift baseball diamonds on the football field turf at Shentel Stadium. They have taken batting practice inside Shingleton Gymnasium. They have even held practices in the parking lot outside Bridgeforth Field.

The heavy snowstorm that struck the area last week wiped out Shenandoah’s first three games last weekend — including what was supposed to be a season-opening doubleheader against Misericordia at home last Saturday. Much of this week has been spent preparing for SU’s second attempt at its season opener, but what was supposed to be a home doubleheader against Muhlenberg College today has been replaced by the doubleheader with Misericordia. Only now it’s being played at the Virginia Baseball Academy complex in Hampton, according to the Hornets’ athletics website.

On Sunday, Shenandoah will play a doubleheader against Susquehanna — also in Hampton — to complete what will be four nine-inning games in a two-day span, and what is sure to be a loaded spring (if you want to call it that) schedule will officially be in full swing for SU.

Doubleheaders aren’t something entirely new to the Hornets, who saw plenty of them last season in their first year in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference. But it’s not exactly something Shenandoah is entirely used to, either.

Up until last season SU competed for years as a member of the USA South Conference, which rarely used doubleheaders and instead used the weekends as an opportunity for two-game sets between conference foes that were held on Saturdays and Sundays.

But the ODAC is different. Conference teams still play each other twice on weekends — and also hold the occasional weekday meeting — but instead of a two-day affair, the games are combined into an 18-inning marathon each Saturday. That leaves Sundays open for most teams, and Shenandoah typically uses that extra day for a game against a non-conference opponent.

Baseball is a sport that can be played every day, but 27 innings of the sport over a two-day period can really take a toll on players as the season goes on. Hornets junior second baseman J.J. McDaniel admitted as much last week, as he said players were often noticeably tired by the end of the weekend as a result of the consistent doubleheaders last season.

Hornets head coach Kevin Anderson changed things up a little bit this fall as a result, and SU spent much of fall practice replicating the grind of consistently playing doubleheaders.

“In the USA South we never played doubleheaders, and the ODAC is all about doubleheaders. That was a big adjustment for us, probably even more so than what we had anticipated,” Anderson said last week. “It made us change our structure in the fall. We played doubleheaders every day in the fall, rather than doing our traditional practices. It was long days, but we did that with the mindset to get our guys ready for doubleheaders this spring.”

Shenandoah figures to be more prepared for the season-long grind this season, and McDaniel said he thinks the Hornets could play three games a day with the way they have been conditioned since the fall.

The Hornets will need every bit of that energy for this season, as they are currently scheduled to play 10 doubleheaders this year — one each weekend until early April and then one more in the season finale at Washington and Lee on April 15. All but this weekend’s pair of double dips are ODAC contests, and Shenandoah’s success in the conference this season will depend largely on the Hornets’ ability to remain competitive through the grind.

“One of the toughest things to do in baseball is sweep somebody in a doubleheader. It’s hard,” Anderson said. “In order to be successful, though, that’s what it’s going to take.”

Add the fact that Shenandoah’s season has been further condensed because of the weather, and the Hornets can expect to get quite a workout this season.

Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or bfauber@nvdaily.com. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD