Fauber: Hornets impressive in ODAC title run

Shenandoah University’s baseball team captured its first Old Dominion Athletic Conference championship when the Hornets beat visiting Bridgewater to claim the regular-season crown on Thursday evening.

The Hornets beat Bridgewater in dominating fashion by getting an outstanding starting pitching performance from Sherando grad and sophomore Darrell Thompson, who was backed by plenty of run support in the 9-0 win.

Thompson hurled a complete game — his third straight — to pick up his eighth win of the season while striking out 12 batters. Offensively, Shenandoah tallied nine hits, including four for extra bases.

SU’s impressive win over the Eagles was the perfect ending to equally impressive run through the ODAC regular season. The Hornets will head into next week’s ODAC tournament as the conference’s top seed with a 17-3 record in league play (28-7 overall). Shenandoah — which has maintained a foothold in the national rankings for much of the season — is currently ranked 12th in the D3baseball.com Top 25 and 18th in the American Baseball Coaches Association poll.

Throughout the season, the Hornets have done exactly what they did on Thursday — pitch well on the mound and score a lot of runs.

Of those two facets — pitching and hitting — the Hornets’ offense has been the most impressive. Shenandoah led the ODAC in nearly every major statistical category on offense heading into Thursday’s game, including team batting average (.362), slugging percentage (.514), on-base percentage (.438), runs scored (338), hits (454), RBIs (288), doubles (87) and home runs (27). And that’s not counting Thursday’s numbers, which included three more doubles and a home run.

The Hornets are also in or around the top five in all of NCAA Division III baseball in those categories. SU has scored 10 or more runs in 18 of its 35 games this season.

Three players are batting at least .400 for the Hornets — junior third baseman Michael Paul (.450), sophomore infielder Billy Arens (.413) and senior catcher Joe Bittner (.411) — and eight players have at least 20 RBIs this spring.

Paul has been by far the biggest bat in Shenandoah’s potent lineup and has put together one of the finest individual batting performances in Division III this spring. The junior from Red Hill, Pa., has hit eight home runs and leads the ODAC with 56 RBIs. He is also slugging .743 and has hit 15 doubles and scored 48 runs. Paul has 63 hits in 140 at-bats.

On the mound, the Hornets have surrendered large chunks of runs at times, but they still rank third in the ODAC with a 3.90 ERA. Shenandoah was also second in the conference in opponent batting average (.262) prior to Thursday, and the Hornets’ 7.68 strikeouts per nine innings leads the ODAC.

Thompson (8-1) has led the Hornets’ pitching staff this season, as the left-hander has pitched to a 2.38 ERA in 68 innings that span nine starts. Thompson was leading the ODAC with 64 strikeouts following Thursday’s victory, and he has issued just 11 walks.

Shenandoah has also gotten a quality effort at the top of its rotation from senior Vince Claudio, who is 6-1 in eight starts and has a 3.78 ERA in 47 2/3 innings pitched. The right-hander also has 46 strikeouts.

The Hornets entered the 2014 season with high hopes of making it back to the NCAA tournament after failing to do so last year, and SU appears poised to make a deep playoff run this season with its strong balance of hitting and pitching. But first and foremost, I’m sure the Hornets have their eyes on that conference tournament trophy after a disappointing showing in their inaugural ODAC campaign in 2013.

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