By Brad Fauber
WINCHESTER -- Shenandoah University's baseball team is just a few days from the start of its 2014 season, but there is one small problem. The Hornets haven't stepped foot on a baseball diamond in over a month.
"We haven't been on a baseball field in four weeks, and we're getting ready to play a baseball game. That's pretty hard to do," Hornets coach Kevin Anderson said. "That's like going out on a basketball court and doing all of your basketball stuff without a basketball or baskets, but then you've got to go play a game."
Shenandoah, which is currently scheduled to open its season with a doubleheader against Misericordia on Sunday, has been forced to find other venues for practice due to the poor weather conditions that have plagued the area this winter.
The Hornets have spent time sharing the turf football field at Shentel Stadium with both the softball team and the women's lacrosse team, and Shenandoah has even held practice in the parking lot at Bridgeforth Field. That has placed extreme limitations on what the Hornets have been able to accomplish in practice.
Shenandoah junior centerfielder Corbin Lucas said the Hornets' position players were able to take at-bats against members of Shenandoah's pitching staff twice over the last week, but there is still no denying the challenge that awaits the Hornets this weekend if the weather doesn't postpone Sunday's games.
"Misericordia is 18th in the country. They were 39-11 last year, a couple games away from the World Series," Anderson said. "What a challenge coming out of the gate."
The doubleheader with the Cougars, which was originally scheduled to be played at Bridgeforth Field, will be moved to Atlantic Shores Christian School in Chesapeake if the recent snowstorm permits travel.
Despite the fact that Shenandoah has had minimal opportunities to prepare for the upcoming season, the Hornets can still find some solace in the fact that they return a wealth of experience from last year's 27-12 team.
Junior second baseman J.J. McDaniel said Shenandoah is also entering the 2014 season eager to erase the memory of last season, which ended in two straight defeats in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference. The Hornets had maintained a presence in the D3baseball.com top 25 poll for nearly the entire season before stumbling in the conference tournament.
"It's 100-percent motivation, especially just seeing all the teams before our years and everything going and striving for a national championship. Hitting the conference tournament, going 0-2, it just tore us up," said McDaniel, who hit .331 with a team-high six home runs and 33 RBIs last season. "But we're even stronger now and we have a great team."
Shenandoah returns nearly its entire lineup from last season, with graduate Nick Beall (.261, 3 home runs, 20 RBIs in 2013) being one of the lone losses.
Anderson said sophomore shortstop John Wilt, who emerged as one of the ODAC's best freshmen last season before separating his shoulder near the end of the season, will hit leadoff for the Hornets this season, with sophomores Lew Johnson and Billy Arens batting second depending on the opposing pitcher.
Corbin, who led the Hornets in RBIs (35), runs scored (41) and hits (60) last season to go along with a .370 batting average, will bat third. McDaniel and senior Andrew Creamer, a first baseman-turned-outfielder, will see time in the cleanup spot, with senior first baseman Dan Powers (.341, 5 home runs, 23 RBIs) and junior third baseman Michael Paul ( .324, 32 RBIs, 17 doubles) to follow in the order.
Junior Daniel Freshley will start at catcher, while backup catchers Joe Bittner and Jason Hager will likely compete for the designated hitter spot along with freshman Jacob Loew.
"I really like our team, it's a good combination of speed, guys that can hit for average, and we have some guys with gap power," said Anderson, who is 11 wins from 300 career victories at Shenandoah and 14 shy of 500 wins as a college coach. "I don't think we're going to have any one guy that stands out as far as big-time long-ball threat. I think you're going to see a number of guys in our lineup hit four to seven homeruns. I think we'll be very consistent throughout the lineup ... and we're going to be able to do some left-right situations and bring some guys off the bench, whether it be defensive substitutions or situational hitting, or pinch runners. We're going to be very deep offensively."
Senior Vince Claudio will lead the Hornets' pitching staff this season, with Sherando graduate and sophomore Darrell Thompson (5.32 ERA, 26 strikeouts in 45.2 innings pitched last season) set to serve as Shenandoah's No. 2 starter. Phillip Morse (3-3, 4.84 ERA), Arens (5-1, 4.43 ERA) and Eric Liskey, all of which are sophomores, will round out the Hornets' starting rotation.
The status of last year's closer, Cam Lundmark, remains uncertain due to several health factors, but Shenandoah still has a reliable bullpen arm in sophomore lefty Michael Scimanico, who went 5-1 with a 3.98 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 13 relief appearances in 2013. Sophomore Zach Carney, another Sherando grad, will be a lefty specialist for Shenandoah this season, and Anderson said recent Strasburg graduate Tyler Hott -- who will pitch, play shortstop and centerfield this season -- could have an impact role in his freshman season.
Shenandoah was selected to finish second in the ODAC in the preseason conference poll, tallying 88 points and one first-place vote. Bridgewater is the early conference favorite, as the Eagles gathered 98 points and eight first-place votes.
"I fully expect us, if we play up to our potential, to be at the top of the ODAC," Lucas said. "I don't want to say anything bad about the other teams, because there are good teams in the ODAC, but if we play how we're supposed to play and our pitchers pitch how they're supposed to pitch -- that's a lot of ifs, but if everything goes the way it should, we should be a good team this year. I don't see anybody that can stop us."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Twitter @BradFauberNVD