SU Baseball Notebook: Hornets need to relocate consistency for a deep playoff run

Shenandoah University’s baseball team enjoyed a midseason surge that included a 16-game winning streak and an impressive display of run production. The Hornets have since cooled down over the last quarter of the regular season.

Since going on that three-week scoring binge – which included 12 games in which the Hornets scored 11 or more runs – SU has lost four of its last six games while averaging 4.5 runs per contest.

The fourth-seeded Hornets host No. 5 Hampden Sydney in a best-of-3 series in the first round of the Old Dominion Athletic Conference tournament starting on Saturday afternoon. While SU head coach Kevin Anderson praised his players’ work ethic and attitude as his team prepares for postseason play, he worries that the Hornets need to relocate the team-wide consistency that powered the team’s midseason eruption.

“We’ve been a little bit inconsistent in our performances in all three phases,” Anderson said on Wednesday. “If we can put it all together, then that’ll give us a good chance to come out on top.”

As it stands, Shenandoah needs to return to that midseason form if it hopes to return to the NCAA Division III playoffs for the fifth straight season, as anything short of an ODAC tournament title likely means the end of the line for the Hornets.

Getting to that conference tournament title game will require Shenandoah to first go through Hampden-Sydney – a team the Hornets beat by a combined score of 37-7 in a doubleheader on April 14 – before reaching next weekend’s four-team, double-elimination round at Lynchburg’s City Stadium that will decide the ODAC champ.

Shenandoah is just 1-5 against the top three teams in the ODAC tournament – top-seeded Randolph-Macon, No. 2 Virginia Wesleyan and No. 3 Roanoke – and the Hornets’ lone win came against Virginia Wesleyan in their final regular season conference game last Saturday.

Anderson, who has led SU to the NCAA playoffs in eight of the last nine seasons, said the Hornets aren’t paying any attention to the daunting task that could await them should they get past the Tigers this weekend.

“I haven’t even looked that far yet, I assure you,” he said. “All of our focus has been on us, quite frankly. We haven’t talked about Hampden-Sydney. We won’t talk about Hampden-Sydney until Friday. We’re trying to get our individual performances on point, our small group and team execution where it needs to be, and then Friday after practice we’ll look at Hampden-Sydney. We haven’t even looked ahead to the next weekend.”

INJURY REPORT: Shenandoah will be without a key piece of its bullpen as it heads into the playoffs, as junior closer Tyler Ritenour suffered what Anderson called a “freak accident” that resulted in a hand injury.

Anderson said Ritenour got his hand caught in one of the gates to the bullpen and suffered a gash that required over 70 stitches. Anderson added that Ritenour was fortunate he didn’t suffer multiple fractures in his hand.

“It was a very scary situation,” Anderson said, “but that’s thrown a wrench in our pitching plans, not having Tyler.”

Ritenour, a 2015 Skyline High School grad, worked his way into the Hornets’ closer role midway through the season. The right-hander has three saves in 11 appearances while striking out seven over 10 2/3 innings.

SENIOR DAY: Regardless of this weekend’s outcome, Shenandoah will play at least one more contest on Monday night at home against Penn State-Harrisburg. The game, a non-conference contest that will mark the official end of the regular season for the Hornets, is scheduled for a 6 p.m. start.

Anderson said the contest, which falls between the two weekends of the retooled ODAC tournament, will showcase the program’s seniors.

“A guy that’s given you two, three, four years, that young man needs to play,” Anderson said.

“Our guys want our seniors to play, and as a coach, I want our seniors to play on senior night.”