Hornets ‘extremely disappointed’ following NCAA playoff elimination

Kevin Anderson

Shenandoah University’s baseball season came to an end after three games in the NCAA Division III playoffs over the weekend. How the end came to be may be a bit unsettling for the Hornets.

After opening the Mid-East Regional in Adrian, Michigan, with a 3-2 victory over fifth-seeded Marietta (Ohio) College last Thursday – a game in which Hornets head coach Kevin Anderson said starting pitcher Colin Morse was “dominant” in a complete-game effort – Shenandoah twice blew leads in a pair of losses over the next two days that brought its 2018 season to a close.

SU led top-seeded Wooster (Ohio) 4-1 after three innings on Friday before falling 13-5. In an elimination game on Saturday against Ithaca (New York) College, the Hornets led 5-1 in the seventh before eventually losing, 7-5.

“It was one of those situations that we’re extremely disappointed right now and we will be for quite a while,” Anderson said by phone on Monday morning, “but in 10 years we’ll look back that these guys may have overachieved a little bit.”

This weekend’s losses halted a season in which the Hornets (35-12 overall) made an impressive run through the Old Dominion Athletic Conference tournament to claim the league’s automatic NCAA playoff berth.

Anderson said SU went into Friday’s contest against Wooster with a game plan against Scots starter Nanak Saran, and the Hornets chased Saran from the game after putting up a pair of runs each in the second and third innings.

A missed opportunity for more runs, and some lack of execution in the field, Anderson said, came back to sting the Hornets. Wooster scored eight run between the fourth and seventh innings to pull away.

“We had the bases loaded (leading 4-1) with, quite frankly, a chance to knock them in the gut pretty good and unfortunately we hit into a double play,” Anderson said.

“They got hot offensively and we made a couple mistakes defensively. We shot ourselves in the foot with some walks and wild pitches. The score doesn’t indicate how close that game really was. Things for them, they had an overthrow at first base and threw out our player at the plate. It just snowballed on us there after having a 4-1 lead.”

On Saturday Shenandoah seemed on the verge of staving off elimination against Ithaca, only to see the Bombers strike for six runs over the final three innings to hand the Hornets a 7-5 loss.

Anderson said starting pitcher Gerard DePhillips – who tossed 6 1/3 innings while limiting Ithaca to three runs (one earned) on seven hits and three strikeouts – was “cruising” before the game hit the first of two rain delays in the sixth inning.

“I mean, he was giving us his best game of the year,” Anderson said of DePhillips. “The score was 5-1 and with a little execution like we’d done all year it should’ve been eight, nine, 10-1. We had a rain delay. Gerard came back out, didn’t think he was as sharp as he was prior to the rain delay.”

The Bombers tagged SU reliever Michael Bugonowicz for four more runs over his 2 1/3 innings pitched, including a pair of runs in the top of the seventh that broke a 5-5 tie.

“We couldn’t stop (Ithaca’s offense) and we didn’t do anything against their left-handed reliever, (Tom) Consentino. We went from a 5-1 lead in the seventh to getting beat 7-5, looking around like ‘what just happened.'”

Though the trip to the NCAA regional round fell short of a World Series appearance, it was Shenandoah’s ninth DIII playoff appearance in the last 10 seasons.

The Hornets opened the year 10-6 before hitting a hot streak midseason and rattling off 16 wins in a row. Shenandoah went on to win 25 of its final 31 games.

“Very proud of them,” said Anderson, who noted that the Hornets have been in the ranked in the nation’s DIII top 25 for over 100 consecutive weeks. “And again, we’ll look back in 10 years as what a year – 35-12, ODAC tournament champions, another trip to regionals, ninth in the last 10 years, most successful program in the state of Virginia over the last five and 10 years. And we’re not satisfied. That’s just how high the bar is. That’s where we are. We’re down but in 10 years hopefully these guys, coaches will look back that it was a really good year.”