SU baseball set for eighth NCAA regional appearance in 9 seasons

Shenandoah University's Abel Arocho tries to outrun a throw from the catcher during a game earlier this season. The Hornets start play in the NCAA DIvision III baseball tournament Thursday in York, Pa. Rich Cooley/Daily

WINCHESTER – Shenandoah University’s baseball team has made itself a mainstay in the NCAA Division III baseball tournament in recent years, and the Hornets will continue that tradition this spring.

The Hornets, who spent six weeks ranked atop at least one of the two major Division III national polls during the regular season, were awarded the second seed in the Mid-Atlantic Regional in York, Pennsylvania, as a Pool C (at-large) selection and will open play at 7:45 p.m. Thursday against No. 7 SUNY Maritime College.

This season marks the eighth time Shenandoah has earned a spot in the NCAA tournament in the last nine years.

“It really starts with coaching and the guys who played before us. That’s just the expectation, you know,” Hornets senior designated hitter Jake Loew said Tuesday morning. “I’ve been fortunate enough to go three years and to be able to go a fourth is great, but we’re not just trying to go. We’re trying to go and advance and really just compete. We don’t want this to be our last couple games of the year. We wanna finish our season in Appleton (Wisconsin, the site of the NCAA Division III World Series).”

SU (38-6), ranked 10th in both the ABCA and D3baseball.com polls, hasn’t advanced to the World Series since making back-to-back trips in 2009 and 2010 and will need to get through an eight-team York Regional – which includes No. 1 Johns Hopkins, No. 3 Wheaton (Massachusetts), No. 4 Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), No. 5 Alvernia, No. 6 Elizabethtown and No. 8 Lesley – in order to do so this season.

Of SU’s seven regional opponents, the Hornets have only played Elizabethtown this season, a matchup on March 1 that ended in Shenandoah’s 9-4 win. Outside of three playoff games against Johns Hopkins in 2009 and 2010, the Hornets have never played a baseball game against the rest of the regional field.

“I know as soon as we got the call of where we’re going, (assistant coach Jacob Mays) was up ’til 4 a.m. studying our opponents,” Loew said. “We have scouting reports on every team. We have a couple common opponents, which helps, but when it comes down to it if we play the way we’re capable of playing and come out with the right mindset, we should win some games.”

Victories haven’t been coming as regularly for the Hornets of late. After starting the season 31-3, Shenandoah has gone 5-5 over its last 10 games, including a 2-2 showing in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference tournament two weekends ago that knocked the top-seeded Hornets out of contention for the title.

Head coach Kevin Anderson said Tuesday that SU’s recent inconsistencies have been the result of a combination of the level of competition the team has played and poor execution on the Hornets’ part, adding that the team has spent time over the last couple weeks analyzing data and making the necessary adjustments.

Anderson said he wants to see the Hornets’ lineup return to being aggressive early in games and the pitchers to focus on getting ahead early in counts.

“A lot of people don’t really talk about momentum in baseball but it’s a huge factor. And it is in every sport,” Anderson said. “Momentum does play a huge role and we’re not a catch-up-type team consistently, and we like to dictate the pace of the game. In order to do that, playing with a lead is important, getting ahead of hitters and really dictating the pace of play.”

Shenandoah will get its first shot at regaining that momentum on Thursday against Maritime (26-11), which earned a spot in the NCAA tournament by winning the Skyline Conference tournament championship with a 14-3 win over Mount St. Mary.

The Privateers – led offensively by the trio of Brian McLaughlin (.455 batting average, nine homers, 51 RBIs), Chris Deddo (.409, seven homers, 38 RBIs) and Stephen Semler (.402, six homers, 43 RBIs) – are batting .333 as a team.

On the mound, freshman right-hander Travis Bruinsma leads Maritime with nine starts and has compiled an 8-2 record with a 3.70 ERA. Fellow righty Anthony D’Ancona is 5-1 with a 4.15 ERA over seven starts (11 appearances).

“We’re gonna see one of two right-handers,” Anderson said of Thursday’s matchup. “One is slow, deliberate, works the outer part of the plate, throws three pitches. The other guy’s a little bit quicker. I’m not sure who we’re gonna see. They’ve been playing well. They won their conference tournament and we’ll need to be up to the challenge.”

Anderson said the Hornets will turn to junior right-hander Colin Morse, the ODAC Pitcher of the Year, against the Privateers. Morse is 9-0 this season with a 2.60 ERA and 81 strikeouts over 79 2/3 innings pitched.

Shenandoah’s lineup, which has a collective .324 batting average and features seven regular starters hitting at least .335, should receive a boost in the regional round from the return of first baseman Luke Nussman, who has missed the last 12 games with mononucleosis.

Nussman, one of three Hornets to earn first team All-ODAC honors this season alongside Morse and Loew (.367 average, 10 home runs, 54 RBIs), is batting .469 this spring. He currently holds a 15-game hitting streak, during which he is batting .532 (33-for-62).

The winner of Thursday’s matchup will play the Wheaton/Elizabethtown winner at 7:45 p.m. Friday. The losers from each of those games will meet in an elimination game at 1:15 p.m. Friday.

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