Less than a month ago, Shenandoah University baseball coach Kevin Anderson was discussing his team’s offense and the lack of productivity at the plate that the Hornets have become accustomed to. A new, more familiar version of SU’s 2019 offense has emerged since then.
In 16 April games, Shenandoah is batting .320 as a team and has belted 20 home runs, quite the contrast from the Hornets’ first 17 games of the season, during which they batted .292 as a squad and hit just six homers.
The Hornets (22-11, 11-9 in Old Dominion Athletic Conference play) are averaging 9.3 runs per game this month – they’ve scored 10 or more runs in eight April games – and tallied at least 10 hits in 12 of the last 16 contests.
“I give a lot of credit to coach (Bruce) Cameron, our hitting instructor, for trying to find what works for each guy,” Anderson, whose team is 12-4 this month and hosts Guilford in its final two Old Dominion Athletic Conference games of the regular season this weekend, said on Friday. “I think a lot of programs make mistakes and force guys to hit one way. He is outstanding at his craft. The kids buy in. We’ve done a better job in our two-strike hitting approach. I think guys are going the other way, opposite field, more. It’s a credit to our hitters and coach Cameron. We were struggling there a little bit but hitting is contagious good or bad, and hopefully the good is gonna rub off on other guys.”
A handful of Hornets are carrying extended hot streaks into SU’s final four games of the regular season.
Over the last 10 games, senior second baseman Tristan Baker is batting .476 (20-for-42) with 12 runs scored and 14 RBIs – including nine in the last three games – and senior shortstop Robbie Marcelle is hitting .410 (16-for-39). In the last six contests, outfielder Grant Thompson is batting .444 (12-for-27).
But none have packed more punch than junior outfielder Keegan Woolford, who is batting .488 (20-for-41) with eight home runs and 24 RBIs over the last 10 games. Woolford, who hit 10 home runs and drove in 66 runs en route to earning D3baseball.com All-America honorable mention last season, has emerged from a first-half power dip in 2019 to lead the ODAC in homers (10) and RBIs (44) this season.
“He has as much power as anybody in Division III baseball and what he has done, he’s made some adjustments by standing taller at the plate, letting the ball travel rather than jump down after it,” Anderson said of Woolford, a preseason All-American.
“The key to hitting, no matter what style you are, is to keep your head still, back before forward and to make sure that your bat is increasing at contact point and flattens out as you’re going through the ball. Early on in the year, I think a lot of our hitters were really anxious; they were jumping at the ball and, quite frankly, getting themselves out instead of trusting their hands, staying behind the baseball and staying through the ball.”
A lineup tweak has also contributed to Shenandoah’s surge in run production. Freshman shortstop Frankie Ritter, a former Sherando High School standout who was sparsely used during the first half of the season, has started 11 of the Hornets’ last 12 games and has injected some needed life to the top of SU’s batting order.
In his last 11 starts, Ritter is batting .388 (19-for-49) as the Hornets’ leadoff man, scoring 20 runs in that span. Billed by Anderson as the Hornets’ shortstop of the future, Ritter has moved to third base this month.
“He’s on base a lot. He’s provided a huge spark for us, and he has played an outstanding third base,” Anderson said.
“We were struggling a little bit and we’ve got some juice there in the middle of the lineup but we weren’t getting on base consistently. And we feel Tristan Baker is a prototypical number two hitter that can really handle the bat, whether it be the short game with drag bunting or hitting the ball the other way, and he’s got gap-to-gap power. Frankie’s got a real good eye at the plate. He’s a contact-type guy. He can also put the ball on the ground with the drag bunt. He’s a good baserunner. That combination with Frankie first and Tristan second has worked extremely well together.”
HUNTING A HOME SERIES: Shenandoah’s recent power surge hasn’t been enough to lift the Hornets back into contention for an ODAC regular season crown, but SU’s last two conference games against Guilford on Saturday and Sunday loom large.
Shenandoah enters the weekend in fifth place in the conference, a half-game back of fourth-place Hampden-Sydney and sharing identical 11-9 ODAC records with Ferrum and Lynchburg. Depending on how the weekend shakes out across the ODAC, Shenandoah could finish anywhere from third to seventh place in the conference.
Eight teams make the ODAC tournament, with the top four seeds hosting a best-of-three series in the tournament’s opening round, which begins Friday. In the second weekend of the tournament, a double-elimination round between the four teams left standing from the first weekend, the higher seeds play as the home team at Salem Memorial Ballpark.
Guilford (15-22), a team Anderson said is “fighting for their lives” to get into the ODAC tournament, enters this weekend’s games in 10th place in the 12-team ODAC at 8-12 in the conference.
“I think anybody would rather play at home, and that’s more important maybe than the opponent that you’re playing,” Anderson said of chasing a home series in the first round of the conference tournament.
Anderson added that Shenandoah will recognize the program’s 2009 team, which reached the NCAA Division III College World Series, at Saturday’s game.
CLOSING IN ON A RECORD: Starting pitcher-turned-closer Gerard DePhillips has 10 saves this season, one shy of tying the school record set by Tyler Hott in 2017. DePhillips, who has a 3.93 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 18 ⅓ innings this spring, last recorded a save on April 13 against Ferrum but still has five more than any other pitcher in the ODAC.