By Brad Fauber
Shenandoah University's baseball team made its mark during the Old Dominion Athletic Conference regular season, and now the Hornets are prepared to continue their success in conference tournament.
The Hornets, who earned the ODAC tournament's top seed by winning the conference's regular season title, will play No. 6 Hampden-Sydney today in the first game at City Stadium in Lynchburg. Game time is 11 a.m.
"I think we're going into the tournament clicking on all cylinders," Hornets coach Kevin Anderson said Wednesday. "One of the goals that the guys set forth was to win the regular season ... and now we've basically got to put together a four-game season and put it together in all three phases."
The Hornets (28-7, 17-3 ODAC) and Hampden-Sydney (27-13, 10-10) will kick off the double-elimination tournament, which consists of the conference's top six teams. Second-seeded Randolph-Macon -- last year's conference champion -- and No. 5 Lynchburg will play at 2:30 p.m. in game two, followed by No. 3 Bridgewater and fourth-seeded Washington and Lee at 6 p.m.
SU is 7-3 against the tournament field this season and has played all five teams twice.
Shenandoah, which is ranked 14th in one national poll and 18th in another, played Hampden-Sydney twice during the regular season in a doubleheader on March 15. The Hornets won both road games, beating the Tigers 15-12 in game one and 12-5 in the second game, which was also Anderson's 300th win at SU.
Despite being the final seed in the tournament, Hampden-Sydney held a spot in the national top 25 at various points this season.
"I don't know how many six seeds are 27-13. Going 27-13 will win a lot of conferences," Anderson said.
Hampden-Sydney enters today batting .331 as a team -- a mark good for fourth in the ODAC -- and leads the conference in hits (472) and doubles (92). Anderson noted the Tigers' ability to generate baserunners out of the top of their lineup and strong defense in the outfield as overall strengths for Hampden-Sydney.
Anderson also held high praise for Tigers senior pitcher/third baseman Hunter Lewis, who leads Hampden-Sydney with a .383 batting average to go along with 28 RBIs and 27 runs scored. On the mound, Lewis is 8-2 with a 4.30 earned run average and 63 strikeouts in 67 innings pitched.
"They've got one of the best players in the conference in Hunter Lewis. I expect he's going to pitch [today]," Anderson said.
Shenandoah will counter with lefty ace Darrell Thompson, a Sherando grad, who co-leads the ODAC with 8 wins this season. Thompson -- who pitched game two of the regular-season doubleheader against Hampden-Sydney -- has a 2.38 ERA, 64 strikeouts and 11 walks in 68 innings pitched. The sophomore has also thrown three straight complete games for the Hornets.
"They way he's throwing, I think the confidence that the guys have in him -- he's throwing the best of all our guys right now," Anderson said.
Anderson said senior right-hander Vince Claudio (6-1, 3.78 ERA) will get the start in game two on Friday, and either lefty Michael Scimanico (3-0, 6.07 ERA) or right-hander Phillip Morse (3-3, 4.91 ERA) will pitch in game three this weekend if SU advances that far. That rotation could shuffle depending on the outcome of today's game.
"That's the fun part of playing and coaching in the tournament. Every team comes in with a plan and after day one, three of those teams have to go with plan B," Anderson said.
Offensively, the Hornets will bring the ODAC's most potent lineup to the plate against Hampden-Sydney. SU leads the conference in most major offensive categories, including batting average (.360), home runs (28), RBIs (295) and runs scored (347).
Junior third baseman Michael Paul leads Shenandoah with a .450 batting average, eight home runs, 56 RBIs and 48 runs scored. Every regular starter in the Hornets' lineup is batting over .320, including three players over the .400 mark.
"One through nine we have some guys that can hurt you," Anderson said. "Coach [Bruce] Cameron has done a good job preparing them both mentally and physically."
Shenandoah, which is seeking its first conference tournament title since winning the USA South tournament in 2010, is hoping for a better outcome this season than the two-and-out showing the Hornets suffered last season in its ODAC debut.
"It's got to be in the back of our minds," Anderson said of last year's early exit in the ODAC tournament. "We came in as the three seed [last season], and it wasn't that we played bad, the other teams just played better.
"It was not what we set out to do, so we do have a sour taste in our mouths."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD