SU baseball notebook: Hornets prepped for daunting end to regular season

Shenandoah University second baseman Tristan Baker throws to first for an out during the Hornets' game against Elizabethtown earlier this year. SU, the top-ranked team in Division III baseball, begins a challenging eight-game stretch to end the regular season this weekend at 11th-ranked Randolph-Macon. Rich Cooley/Daily

WINCHESTER – Shenandoah University’s baseball team has held the nation’s top ranking in the D3baseball.com/NCBWA Top 25 for five straight weeks, but don’t expect the Hornets to coast into the Old Dominion Athletic Conference tournament that’s just two weeks away. They can hardly afford to.

SU, now 29-3 overall (12-3 ODAC) after erupting for 17 runs and 21 hits in a win over Eastern Mennonite University on Wednesday evening, has eight regular season games remaining and, of those eight, five come against ODAC teams residing among the top four spots in the conference standings.

The Hornets, sitting in second place in the ODAC, begin their daunting final stretch Saturday with a doubleheader at Randolph-Macon, last season’s conference tournament champ and the 2017 preseason ODAC favorite. The Yellow Jackets (24-8) enter the matchup ranked 11th in the country and are just a half-game behind SU in the ODAC race.

Shenandoah then returns home Tuesday to take on conference leader Washington and Lee (22-10, 13-2), which beat the Hornets 3-1 on April 5, before closing out its conference slate with a home doubleheader against Virginia Wesleyan – the ODAC’s fourth-place team – on April 29.

The Hornets also play a non-conference game at home against 16th-ranked Salisbury on April 30.

SU head coach Kevin Anderson called his team’s final eight games “salty” after Wednesday’s win, but that’s precisely the flavor the Hornets want as they prepare to make a run in the conference tournament and beyond.

“I think it’s the most fun part,” Hornets senior catcher Dan Cameron said. “I think up until this point we’ve played a lot of good teams and we have more good teams to come. If that don’t get you going, I don’t know what does, especially with the season we’re having. I mean you should play every game like it’s the championship. I think that’s what’s important. If we compete like that we have a good chance.”

Befitting the nation’s top-ranked Division III program, Shenandoah has supplied some of the best pitching and offensive production in the ODAC this spring.

Powered by the arms of junior Colin Morse – who leads the conference in wins (seven) and strikeouts (56) – and freshman Gerard DePhillips – the ODAC leader in ERA (1.74) – at the top of the starting rotation, the Hornets have the lowest team ERA (3.59) in the conference and have allowed 56 fewer hits than any other team in the ODAC.

Offensively the Hornets have five qualified players batting .350 or better and lead the conference in batting average (.342) while ranking second in runs scored.

Anderson, who breaks down each regular season into four groups of 10 games, said the focus will continue to be on offensive and defensive execution as the season nears its climax.

“We pride ourselves on playing good baseball and we all feel that when you start to advance, whether it be in the conference tournament or regionals or the national tournament, it’s pretty good baseball and you don’t get do-overs or second chances,” Anderson said. “Our expectations are high, the players’ expectations are high and with that comes high demands.”

IN THE ZONE: Nussman continued his recent hot streak at the plate against EMU, as he went 3-for-4 with a double, an RBI and two walks against the Royals to extend his hitting streak to 15 games.

During his streak the sophomore first baseman is batting .532 (33-for-62) with six doubles, a triple and 13 RBIs. Nussman has 12 multi-hit games during that span, including five with three or more hits.

The Kingsport, Tennessee, native leads the ODAC in batting average (.469) and on-base percentage (.523) and has a homer, 10 doubles and 24 RBIs this season.

“I’m just trying to stay relaxed, really. It’s so easy to hit when you have guys like Tristan (Baker), Abel (Arocho), Dan (Cameron), Jake (Loew), Nick (Goode) and all those guys hitting in front of you,” said Nussman, referencing a quintet of Hornets with a combined batting average of .371 and a .464 on-base percentage. “The guy can’t pitch around you, he has to come to you because there are guys always on base. It’s a lot easier to hit when it’s like that.”

Nussman’s hitting streak is now the longest for Shenandoah this season. Cameron, who is batting .406 and trails only Nussman for the team lead, had a hit in 14 straight games earlier this spring.

LIVING UP TO THE HYPE: Loew, a preseason All-America designated hitter, continues to deliver on those expectations at the plate.

The senior has a .393/.493/.738 slash line, and entering Thursday he led the conference in slugging percentage and RBIs (46) while sharing the ODAC lead in home runs (nine) with Randolph-Macon’s Cole Migliorini.

Through the games played on April 17, Loew’s nine homers tied him for ninth in all of Division III and he was tied for eighth nationally in RBIs.

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