Experienced Hornets eager to take field

Shenandoah University’s baseball team figures to step on a diamond at some point during the 2015 Division III college baseball season. At least that’s the hope.

The Hornets’ season was scheduled to be a week and a half old by now, but Shenandoah has been waiting for more than a month to simply get in any kind of work on an actual baseball field. Not only has the area’s recent bout with poor weather played havoc with SU’s practice schedule – the Hornets have been left scrambling all over campus to find places to practice – but the first two weeks of games this season have been essentially wiped out.

Snow and ice forced the cancellation of SU’s home doubleheaders against top 25 foes Misericordia and Case Western Reserve the past two weekends, and this week’s slate of games has already experienced a major overhaul. Shenandoah’s three previously scheduled games this week were postponed, and the Hornets will now (hopefully) open the 2015 season with noon doubleheaders against Farmingdale State and Mount Aloysius Saturday and Sunday, respectively, at Averett University in Danville.

“It’s been very frustrating,” Hornets coach Kevin Anderson said late last week. “We’ve only been on a field two days and that was to work on it. One day the mound and the plate we’re OK to throw and hit but other than that, we’ve worked on the field but … the weather just hasn’t cooperated. So we’re a little bit behind the 8-ball as far as the execution and things of that nature, but the guys have been working hard.”

If there’s any consolation to be felt by the Hornets, it’s that SU experienced the same weather-related misgivings early last season, and Shenandoah went on to win 33 games and earned the top seed in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference tournament and the NCAA South Regional.

Most of Shenandoah’s major pieces return from last year’s team, which saw its season come to an end in the regional round of the NCAA Division III tournament. The Hornets, the preseason ODAC favorite and the 17th-ranked team in the preseason D3baseball.com top 25 poll, return seven players who recorded at least 100 at-bats last year and 32 of its 44 starts by its pitching staff.

“It’s the most experienced club that I’ve coached,” Anderson said.

Led by 2014 ODAC Player of the Year and second-team All-American selection Mikey Paul (.444, 9 home runs, 62 RBIs), Shenandoah featured one of the best offenses in all of Division III last season. The Hornets finished 2014 in the top 10 nationally in batting average (.353), hits (570), home runs (30), runs (398), doubles (107), slugging percentage (.492) and on-base percentage (.423).

Paul, a preseason All-American selection by D3baseball.com, returns for his senior season and will help anchor an infield that has undergone some position shuffling this season in order to put players back at their natural positions. Paul will move from third to first base in 2015, junior Billy Arens (.404, 32 RBIs) will move from shortstop to second base, senior J.J. McDaniel will shift from second to third and sophomore John Wilt – who redshirted last season due to injury – will man shortstop.

“On the infield we’re new at all four positions, but at the same time we are veterans,” said Anderson, last season’s ODAC Coach of the Year. “Hopefully moving these guys back to their natural positions will be an easy transition.”

Senior Daniel Freshley will retain his role at catcher for SU in 2015, and veteran Corbin Lucas will patrol center field while juniors Lew Johnson and Ricky Pardo man the corner outfield spots. Senior Nolan Overby (five home runs, 37 RBIs) will serve as the Hornets’ designated hitter again this season.

Shenandoah’s pitching staff also features plenty of experience. Sherando grad Darrell Thompson, last year’s ODAC Pitcher of the Year, returns as the Hornets’ ace after going 10-2 with a 2.40 ERA and 75 strikeouts in 86.1 innings pitched during his sophomore season, and fellow left-hander Michael Scimanico will fill the void left by the graduation of Vince Claudio as SU’s No. 2 pitcher.

Anderson said sophomore right-hander Tyler Hott, a Strasburg grad, freshman Colin Morse and junior Eric Liskey are competing for the third and fourth spots in SU’s pitching rotation.

Anderson added that junior right-hander Phillip Morse will move to the bullpen this season and serve in middle relief and as a closer.

“We’ll be able to do some left-right matchups out of the bullpen in the late innings with some left-handers and right-handers,” Anderson said. “We like our staff. We’ll pitch by committee early in the season because we’re just not ready to go past 65 or 70 pitches right now.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com