WINCHESTER — Being the ace of a pitching staff means getting the ball in the biggest of games. As the contests have grown in importance for Shenandoah University’s baseball team, senior left-hander Robert Klinchock has upped his game.
In each of his last two starts — one a must-win if the Hornets hoped to secure a first-round home series in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference tournament, the second the opener of such a series against Hampden-Sydney on Saturday — Klinchock has gone the distance in a pair of victories.
“Bob has just worked his daggone butt off for four years and his last two starts he’s reaped the benefits of all the hard work,” Hornets head coach Kevin Anderson said Wednesday. “We just hope that he can continue to locate the fastball on both sides of the plate, throw the changeup, get the slider backdoor and back foot, keep hitters off-balance.”
Klinchock, unsurprisingly, will get the call once again today in No. 3 Shenandoah’s first game of the ODAC tournament’s second round against No. 2 Roanoke at Kiwanis Field in Salem.
He’ll do so coming off arguably his best start of the season, when he scattered seven hits and three walks while striking out four over nine shutout innings in a 5-0 win over H-SC, a game that also featured what Anderson called some of the best defense he’s been a part of as a coach.
Klinchock preceded that win with a complete game eight-hitter against Guilford on April 27, during which he allowed one earned run in the 3-2 victory.
“Coach says every day, ‘strike one, strike two, get ahead, work fast,’ and that’s all I’ve been doing, really. He’s been calling pitches and I’ve been making them. He calls a great game every single time out on the mound, so I just gotta go out there and trust my stuff, trust what he says,” said Klinchock, who is 6-4 with a 4.43 ERA this season.
“Once you get your first good start under your belt, then you start to kind of build off of it a little bit and I’ve been fortunate to have some good guys behind me making big-time plays for me.”
Klinchock, who made 13 starts in 2018 in a complementary role to former SU ace Colin Morse, who is now pitching in the Washington Nationals’ organization, said he waited three years for the chance to take the mound as the Hornets’ go-to arm in big games.
He’ll make Thursday’s start on four days’ rest, the shortest recovery time between appearances that he’s had this season. It’ll be his second start against Roanoke, which he beat in a 3-2 win after tossing 7⅓ innings back in March.
“I know if I can get six or seven innings, keep my team in the game, we’re gonna come out on top,” Klinchock said. “I know our offense is gonna put (hits) together, put balls in play, drive guys in. I have faith in (closer Gerard DePhillips), Seth Comer, all those guys in the bullpen to get it done once I’m out of the game.”
Tristan Baker said at the start of April, as he was experiencing an uncharacteristic lull at the plate, that he felt confident his bat would come around by the time of postseason play. Baker seems to know what he’s talking about.
Since the second game of a doubleheader at Randolph-Macon on March 30, the Hornets’ second baseman is batting .441, pushing his season-long average up to .364, which would be a career-best for the senior.
He takes a 17-game hitting streak into Thursday’s game against Roanoke, during which he’s batting .452 with 21 RBIs and 20 runs scored. Over Shenandoah’s last 10 games, Baker is batting .513.
“The biggest thing was I just tried not to stress myself out. I tried not to get in my head too much,” Baker said of his turnaround. “Our coaches have done a great job with me, getting my swing back. I feel like my timing’s come around. I’m not getting myself out. I’m making the pitcher make good pitches to get me out.”
Baker’s three-hit performance in Monday’s win over Hampden-Sydney moved him into third place all-time on Shenandoah’s career hits list (254). He’s two hits shy of matching Kevin Brashears for second place on that list, and 20 hits behind Greg Van Sickler’s school record (274).
“It’s an incredible feeling. There’s been some freak athletes to play here in the past and just having my name up there with them, it means the world to me. There’s been All-Americans that have played here, Greg Van Sickler, Kevin Brashears. I actually talked to (Brashears) at senior night, he was trying to get me to cool down a little bit so I wasn’t coming after his record,” Baker said with a laugh. “But it’s a great feeling, it really is.”
SHUTTING IT DOWN
Hornets junior closer Gerard DePhillips made a bit of history of his own on Monday afternoon when he locked down his 11th save of the season, a mark that matched the Shenandoah and ODAC records set by former Hornet Tyler Hott in 2017.
Funny enough, DePhillips wasn’t supposed to be the Hornets’ closer this spring. He began the year as SU’s No. 2 starter.
“I had my first start and then I had an arm injury, came back and we needed a closer and I volunteered for it,” said DePhillips, who added that he’s battled some arm soreness throughout the season. “Kind of got my first tryout at Emory & Henry (on March 10) and did well, ever since then it’s kind of continued. I’m starting to like it a lot, too. It’s fun. I did it in high school a little bit, so this isn’t really uncharted waters, but it’s still something I like to do.”
DePhillips had to work to get the record-tying save on Monday. He induced an inning-ending double play in the eighth inning, and in the ninth picked off a runner at second base before striking out back-to-back batters to strand the tying run at second.
It was his first save since April 13.
“In the past, we needed guys out of the bullpen to throw strikes and compete, and I definitely throw strikes and I love competing,” DePhillips said. “I’m one of six (siblings), so competing is like a thing of mine with me and my brothers all the time. That’s just something I was comfortable in.”