Fauber: Hornets’ pitchers starting strong

Shenandoah University’s baseball season hasn’t had much fluidity so far thanks to the weather, but it hasn’t taken long for the Hornets’ pitching staff to find a rhythm on the mound.

SU opened the season on a five-game winning streak before falling 6-0 at home to Gallaudet last Sunday, and one look at the scores of the Hornets’ first five contests shows a good balance of production both at the plate and on the mound.

The Hornets’ offensive output so far has been solid — a .383 team batting average, .469 on-base percentage and .537 slugging percent to go along with 58 runs scored in just six games. But the pitching performances for SU so far this season have been sensational.

It’s important to note that Shenandoah has played the fewest games of any other team in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference so far, and two of its biggest wins of the season came against a 1-6 Roanoke team that ranks near the bottom of the ODAC in every major offensive category (SU beat the Maroons twice by a combined score of 32-3 in a doubleheader on March 1). But the Hornets are beating teams they should beat, and in impressive fashion, which should help put to rest any concerns head coach Kevin Anderson had about how the Hornets’ lack of on-field practice time would affect their productivity early in the season.

Shenandoah currently leads the ODAC in team ERA (0.72), opponent batting average (.140) and strikeouts per nine innings (11.34). Hornets’ pitchers have also allowed just 24 total hits, with just three doubles accounting for all of the extra-base hits SU has given up this season.

SU has allowed just four earned runs in its first six games, three of which came off sophomore starter Billy Arens in the loss to Gallaudet.

Senior right-hander Vince Claudio set the tone for the Hornets’ pitching staff in game one of the season-opening doubleheader against Susquehanna one Feb. 24. Claudio, who missed all of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, tossed a complete game in SU’s 3-0, 7-inning victory. He allowed just one hit and a walk while striking out 12 batters.

Sophomore lefty Darrell Thompson — a former Sherando standout — followed in the nightcap with a solid start of his own, as he went six innings while allowing an unearned run on three hits and a walk. He also struck out five.

The duo combined for two more impressive starts against Roanoke. Claudio — who was named the ODAC pitcher of the week on Monday — is currently 2-0 and has allowed just three hits while striking out 18 in 13 2/3 innings pitched. Thompson is also 2-0 and has struck out 12 batters to just four hits allowed in 13 innings pitched. Neither has allowed an earned run.

Sophomore Phillip Morse also tossed five innings of shutout baseball in a 16-0 win over Mount Aloysius on Feb. 25. Morse struck out six in the victory.

Shenandoah’s early dominance on the mound hasn’t just been confined to its starting pitching, either. The Hornets’ bullpen has allowed just one earned run in 13 1/3 innings pitched.

Sophomore right-hander Michael Scimanico, the only bullpen arm to allow an earned run for the Hornets, has combined to throw four innings in two appearances and has struck out a whopping 10 batters in that span.

Six games is a small sample size, and no team can keep up the pace that the Hornets have pitched at to start the season. But a start like the one that SU has had on the mound is encouraging, and the Hornets will need to keep up the solid starting pitching to help minimize the burden placed on the bullpen once they get into the heart of ODAC play, which is loaded with doubleheaders.

Shenandoah will have had a full week off between games when it hosts Guilford in a conference doubleheader on Sunday, and I’m sure the Hornets are hoping the layoff due to the recent snowstorm hasn’t done enough to cool off their hot start.

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