Hornets a mix of experience and unknowns heading into 2016

Shenandoah University's Darrell Thompson returns as part of an experienced pitching staff hoping to lead the Hornets to another ODAC championship in 2016. Photo courtesy of Shenandoah University

Last season, Shenandoah University’s baseball team won the program’s first Old Dominion Athletic Conference tournament championship since joining the league in 2013.

The Hornets reached the NCAA Division III tournament’s regional round for the seventh time in the last eight seasons under head coach Kevin Anderson, and they were a steady presence in the D3baseball.com/NCBWA top 25 poll for the entire season.

That success in 2014 has SU sitting at No. 16 in the preseason top 25 and the preseason ODAC favorite for the third straight year heading into today’s season-opening doubleheader at home against Case Western Reserve, but the Hornets will hardly resemble the squad that went 28-10-1 last season.

“We’re a completely different ball club,” Anderson said Friday afternoon. “We’re replacing seven position players. We do have the bulk of our pitching staff back that was, I think, seventh or eighth in the country in ERA. We were fortunate enough to attract a talented group of freshmen and three junior college players. And this is where the junior varsity program that we run pays huge dividends. So some of the guys that don’t have a lot of varsity experience have played several college games.”

With a lineup full of unknowns as the Hornets vault into the regular season after having just two practices on an actual baseball field due to weather, Shenandoah will likely need to lean heavily on a veteran pitching staff, especially early on.

Last season SU was seventh in the nation in team ERA (2.80) and the Hornets returned 36 of the team’s 39 pitching starts from a year ago.

Senior left-hander Darrell Thompson, a Sherando High School graduate, returns for his senior season after going 7-1 with a 2.26 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 63.2 innings over nine starts last season. Thompson was the 2015 ODAC tournament MVP and a second-team all-conference selection, and was voted the conference’s pitcher of the year as a sophomore in 2014.

“Darrell Thompson has just been a gem to coach since day one and each year he’s gotten better and better,” Anderson said.

Thompson is one of four returning Hornets who pitched at least 43 innings with an ERA below 2.50. Fellow lefty senior Mike Scimanico (6-1, 2.44 ERA in 2015) should again work right alongside Thompson at the top of SU’s rotation, while sophomore right-hander Colin Morse (5-0, 2.30 ERA) has “taken his game to the next level,” Anderson said.

The head coach added that senior Ryan Mossman, an all-ODAC utility player last spring, will serve as a swing man on the mound capable of starting and pitching in relief while also playing some first base. Mossman was 3-1 with a 2.25 ERA and four saves in 56 innings over 11 appearances, including five starts.

“Pitching, we look very good on paper,” Anderson said. “The guys have been working hard. You never know, when you’re basically pitching in the bullpen and now we’ve gotta go out and get hitters out – I can look pretty good in the bullpen right now but I couldn’t get anybody out. So that’s a concern but fortunately the majority of our staff are veterans and they’ve been through this before.”

Anderson also spoke highly of freshmen lefties Zach Teeple and Ryan Klinchock, and said senior right-hander Phil Morse (0.50 ERA, 24 strikeouts in 18 innings in 2015) will be the Hornets’ closer this spring.

“He’s getting a lot of professional attention,” Anderson said of Phil Morse.

Shenandoah is far less stable in its lineup, however, as the Hornets return just four position players – including Mossman (.370, 13 RBIs, 11 doubles) – who played in at least 25 games last season. Senior Joe Coleman (.308, 7 RBIs) returns to man centerfield, while junior shortstop John Wilt (.280, four home runs, 32 RBIs) brings a veteran presence to the infield. Lew Johnson also returns after serving as a part-time starter in the outfield in 2015.

“Besides that we’re gonna be brand new at all the other positions,” Anderson said. “We’ll probably do some mixing and matching early on and try to get the guys in the right spots. One thing that we try to do is get guys to play to their strengths instead of asking them to do something they can’t do.”

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