WINCHESTER – Shenandoah University baseball coach Kevin Anderson said on Tuesday that his coaching staff would wait until Thursday to present its team with an in-depth look at Johns Hopkins, the Hornets’ opponent in this weekend’s NCAA Division III tournament super regional round. But it didn’t take an intricate scouting report for Anderson to realize the challenge that awaits SU.
One of 16 teams left standing that will compete in Division III’s first-ever super regional, Shenandoah (35-13) hits the road for a best-of-three series against the Blue Jays (33-11) starting with an 11 a.m. game today at Babb Field at Stromberg Stadium on the Johns Hopkins campus in Baltimore.
If it hopes to advance to the College World Series in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Shenandoah must win two games against an opponent that is 23-3 this season on its home field and boasts one of the most powerful offenses in D3.
“If you’re going through and checking who has the advantage, Johns Hopkins has the advantage playing at home, on turf, small yard. They’ve got some power guys,” Anderson said on Tuesday. “But our guys have been very resilient all year. They’re grinders, they’re competitors and we’ll be ready.”
Shenandoah has thrived in the underdog role all postseason.
The Hornets needed to win the Old Dominion Athletic Conference tournament as the third seed to make their sixth straight NCAA playoff appearance. They then needed to win four straight games to survive an early loss in last weekend’s Union (New Jersey) Regional at Kean University.
SU did both to get to this point.
“It definitely takes multiple people to get there,” Hornets senior shortstop Robbie Marcelle said. “You can’t just rely on one guy to perform well. It takes all three of the phases. When we put all three of them together and people get huge, you get big defensive plays or somebody comes up in the clutch in an offensive spot and gets the job done … (and) that just translates over to pitching with confidence. … Everything kind of corresponds to each other, but it’s just all about people stepping up to the plate.”
Shenandoah brings a four-game winning streak into the super regional and has won 14 of its last 16 games. Johns Hopkins, which was ranked No. 22 in the final D3baseball.com/NCBWA poll at the end of the regular season, has won six straight, including perfect 3-0 jaunts through the Centennial Conference and NCAA regional tournaments.
Johns Hopkins brings plenty of pop into this weekend’s series and leads the nation with 79 home runs in 44 games while averaging 9.3 runs per game, the fifth-best mark in Division III. Three Blue Jays – Nate Davis (.333, 16 home runs, 44 RBIs), Chris Festa (13 homers, 39 RBIs) and Chris DeGiacomo (.341, 12 home runs, 45 RBIs) – have hit at least 12 homers this season.
Shenandoah enters the matchup batting .302 as a team – .298 in 11 postseason games – and is led by five starters who are hitting at least .320 in the playoffs. Senior second baseman Tristan Baker, who is four hits and two runs shy of matching school records in both categories, is batting .457 since the start of the ODAC tournament.
Outfielder Grant Thompson has hit a pair of homers and leads the Hornets with 12 RBIs in the postseason, and Keegan Woolford has hit three playoff homers to bring his season total to 14, one shy of tying the program’s single-season record.
“I think it’s gonna be a fun series,” said Woolford, who has 56 RBIs this spring. “It’s definitely gonna be a challenging series. Johns Hopkins, they’re a really good team but just keep doing what we’ve been doing, put all three phases together, have everybody’s backs, pick everybody up if something goes wrong is gonna be important. … Put it all together, just keep doing what we’re doing, have quality at-bats and just play as a team, and I think we’ll be fine.”
Shenandoah will combat Johns Hopkins’ powerful offense with a pitching staff that has gotten major contributions from various players throughout the postseason.
Anderson said senior left-hander Robert Klinchock (7-5, 4.13 ERA) would start today’s Game 1, with junior right-hander Reeves Lowry (4-4, 4.21 ERA) slated to start Game 2 at noon on Saturday. Freshman righty Carson Kulina (6-0, 3.78 ERA) would be the Hornets’ starter in the if-necessary Game 3 on Saturday afternoon, though his role could change depending on the outcome of Game 1, Anderson said.
Johns Hopkins figures to counter with some combination of right-handed pitchers Jack Bunting, Josh Hejka and Sean McCracken. Longtime Blue Jays coach Bob Babb started Bunting, McCracken and Hejka in that order in the Centennial Conference tournament, followed by the rotation of Hejka, Bunting and McCracken in last weekend’s NCAA regional.
Bunting is 12-0 with a 2.26 ERA this season, while Hejka (6-2, 2.97 ERA), who made 20 relief appearances during the regular season, has tossed back-to-back complete games in two postseason starts.
“At this point, you expect to see the best of the best,” Woolford said. “I think there’s 16 teams left, so you’re gonna see good arms day in and day out. That’s kind of what you prepare for and it’s what you expect. It’s what you want at this point in the season.”
Shenandoah and Johns Hopkins last met on the baseball diamond in the York (Pennsylvania) Regional in 2017, a game the Hornets won 4-2. The Blue Jays also ousted SU from the College World Series in 2010. Neither team has been back to the CWS since.
“That’s really what it’s gonna be all about, is just competing,” Marcelle said. “Best-of-three series, for us 11 guys, the seniors, we know that this could potentially be it, and we sat and talked this past weekend, we were like ‘guys, we don’t want it to be over. We all love each other and want to keep playing with each other for as long as we can.’”
Anderson said he’s hoping to see similar fan support this weekend to what the Hornets got in the Union Regional, which he said felt like it was played at Shenandoah’s Bridgeforth Field because of the pro-Hornet crowd that made the trip.
“We’re gonna need that this weekend,” Anderson said. “It’s a two-hour ride to Johns Hopkins. We hope a lot of people come over and support us. We’re gonna need everything that we can, because if you look at it: advantage Johns Hopkins, advantage Johns Hopkins, advantage Johns Hopkins. But the Hornets will show up.”