WINCHESTER – Perhaps nothing sums up Shenandoah University pitching this season better than the Hornets’ situation at the back end of their bullpen.

It’s there that junior right-hander Gerard DePhillips has thrived this spring as SU’s closer, going 7-for-7 in save chances over the last 16 games. Funny thing is, DePhillips wasn’t supposed to be in that late-inning relief role.

DePhillips was a midweek starter – and an effective one – in his first two seasons at Shenandoah, making 18 starts on the mound in 2017 and 2018 and winning 13 games. Days before the start of the 2019 season, head coach Kevin Anderson proclaimed DePhillips the No. 2 weekend starter behind senior Robert Klinchock, and DePhillips got the ball in Game 2 of a season-opening doubleheader against Misericordia, a game in which the junior allowed five runs in 3 ⅓ innings of a 16-4 loss.

That’s the only start DePhillips has made this season. His services were needed elsewhere after injuries and other circumstances depleted Shenandoah’s bullpen.

“It’s funny, you plan things at the beginning of the year and sometimes you gotta switch gears,” Anderson said after Thursday’s 4-0 win over Mount Aloysius. “We’ve done that with our pitching staff and it’s meant that we’ve had to throw a lot of young guys out in the fire.”

As it stands at the midway point of the season, Klinchock (3-2, 5.80 ERA) and junior Reeves Lowry (1-3, 4.45 ERA) are the only upperclassmen in Shenandoah’s five-man rotation. Freshmen have combined to make the other eight starts for the Hornets.

Right-handers Mike Verzaleno, Matt Barnes, Calvin Pastel and Carson Kulina have combined to go 4-0 with a 3.09 ERA in those eight midweek starts, and Pastel is the only one in that group to have an ERA north of 4.00.

Verzaleno lowered his ERA to 2.13 in 12 ⅔ innings with his stellar outing against Mount Aloysius, when he limited the Mounties to four hits and three walks while striking out four over 6 ⅓ shutout innings before giving way to sophomore lefty Cade Templeton. The Mounties entered the game averaging 7.9 runs per game.

“Mike Verzaleno got huge today,” Anderson said after the win. “He did not have a good start in his last one. He worked hard with coach (Mike) Scimanico, he worked hard watching video and he pitched extremely well. Just got a little tired there in the seventh and then Cade Templeton came in and, whew, I thought he was lights out.”

Templeton nailed down his second save of the season while holding Mount Aloysius hitless over the final 2 ⅔ innings.

DePhillips had pitched consecutive days on Tuesday and Wednesday, picking up saves in an 11-8 win over York College (Pennsylvania) and an 8-6 victory over Washington and Lee. His seven saves lead the ODAC.

“We just had several injuries and some misfortune,” Anderson said of SU’s pitching situation. “Quite frankly five guys – five – that we were counting on at the back end of the bullpen, it’s an assortment of things, aren’t pitching. So we went from plan A to plan B to plan C. Fortunately for us we’ve got a pretty darn good one that we can bring in at the end.”

DIP IN PRODUCTION: Shenandoah’s lineup was poised to do more great things this season after returning many key pieces from last season’s team that ranked among the most productive in the ODAC in 2018. So far, the Hornets haven’t produced the way they’ve been accustomed to.

Through 20 games, Shenandoah is averaging 6.2 runs per game and is batting .289 as a team, numbers that are down from last spring, when they averaged 8.8 runs per contest and hit .329 as a team.

The Hornets’ power is also down: they’ve hit nine home runs through 20 games after blasting 29 in 47 contests last year, and their team slugging percentage has dropped from .465 to .406. SU scored at least 10 runs in 16 games last season and have just four such games this spring.

“It’s just sticking to the approach,” senior first baseman Luke Nussman said of how SU can improve at the plate, “not getting outside of what we can actually do, sticking to who we are, each person to themselves. There at a point, I think everyone was just trying to hit the 600-foot home run just to get everyone going and it really wasn’t working. So just sticking to yourself and sticking to your approach and just getting it done, just competing in the box.”

Shenandoah’s bats have come to life a bit this week. The Hornets had 10 hits, including a pair of home runs, in their win over York and had nine hits and another homer against Washington and Lee.

SU has nine extra-base hits in its last three games.

“When we think too much, we get ourselves out and (we’re) just jumping at the ball,” said shortstop Robbie Marcelle, who had two doubles on Thursday. “When we stay back, stay through the zone, think middle-away, we’re pretty good.”

FUTURE “GEMS”: Shenandoah landed a trio of former Sherando High School standouts in last year’s recruiting class, and Anderson spoke highly on Thursday of corner infielder Pearce Bucher, shortstop Frankie Ritter and pitcher Tad Dean.

Bucher has seen the most action of the three freshmen and has six hits in 18 at-bats and three RBIs. Ritter is 3-for-9 with three walks, and though Dean has made just one appearance for the Hornets, Anderson said the lefty has been throwing for SU’s developmental squad.

“We’ve got three guys from Sherando that are gems,” Anderson said. “They’re splitting time between our developmental and varsity. Their starts, for example, have been in ODAC play. They’re gonna be good ones.”

– Contact Brad Fauber at bfauber@nvdaily.com