WINCHESTER – By now many of the names on Shenandoah University’s baseball team should be pretty familiar.
Second baseman Tristan Baker is a four-year starter. Luke Nussman is entering his third season as a regular starter, and the same can basically be said for shortstop Robbie Marcelle, who emerged as a lineup mainstay during the latter half of his sophomore season in 2017.
Outfielder Keegan Woolford put up monster numbers as a designated hitter last season – his first with the Hornets – and earned an honorable mention on D3baseball.com’s All-America team, and right fielder Grant Thompson earned a spot alongside his position-mate on the first team All-Old Dominion Athletic Conference squad in 2018.
On the mound, lefty Robert Klinchock enters his fourth season with SU and served as the Hornets’ No. 2 starter a year ago, and right-hander Gerard DePhillips has started 18 games — and won 13 — since his freshman season in 2017.
“On paper we’re very veteran-oriented offensively and defensively,” Hornets longtime head coach Kevin Anderson said on Thursday evening as his team, ranked 25th by D3baseball.com, prepared to open its 2019 season with a home doubleheader against No. 11 Misericordia on Friday. “We’re extremely young on the mound. It’s gonna be interesting to see how it plays out. You don’t play the game on paper. You play it on the field. Really, like the ball club. We have a great group of seniors that are leading it. They make good decisions on and off the field, and they’re good leaders of young men.”
Initial perception from inside the ODAC suggests Shenandoah is primed to contend once again for the conference title a year after going 35-12, winning the ODAC tournament as the fourth seed and securing its ninth NCAA Division III regional playoff appearance in the last 10 seasons. SU was picked second in the ODAC preseason poll behind defending regular-season champ Randolph-Macon, and the Hornets lead the league with five returning all-conference honorees.
Most of the thump is back from an SU lineup that led the ODAC in team batting average and on-base percentage and was second in slugging and runs scored. The Hornets return players who accounted for 25 of their 29 home runs in 2018 and 79 percent of their RBI production from a season ago.
Woolford, who has moved from DH to left field this season and is a preseason D3baseball.com All-America honorable mention, will once again anchor the heart of the order after hitting 10 home runs and leading the conference with 66 RBIs in 2018. He was one of six Hornets to post at least a .320 batting average with at least 150 at-bats last season – Marcelle (.367, 36 RBIs, 21 stolen bases), Thompson (.353, 3 home runs, 37 RBIs), Baker (.351, 34 RBIs), Nussman (.342, 6 homers, 46 RBIs) and center fielder Henry Delavergne (.320, 4 homers, 29 RBIs) are the others – and all are back.
Third baseman Jamie Naill (.313, 2 home runs, 23 RBIs in 96 at-bats in 2018) rounds out an all-senior infield, and Anderson said sophomore catcher Matt Moon, who played in 19 games as the backup to Chase Smallwood last season, is one of three backstops (along with juniors Jacob Peters and Peter Mulholland) who figure to see action for SU this season.
“The question is, the guys that are coming back, can they put up the same numbers or can they improve on them? Time will tell. Definitely think they can,” Anderson said.
“We’ll mix and match according to who’s swinging a hot bat and who we’re facing. We’ve got some guys that are very versatile,” he added. “We try to complement our hitters with who’s in front of them, who’s behind them and who we’re facing, so … I don’t think you’ll see just a set lineup. You try to put guys that are hot to come up in a position to drive in runs.”
Much like last season, Shenandoah’s pitching staff is the team’s biggest unknown heading into 2019, though the Hornets do know who they’ve got at the top of their starting rotation in Klinchock and DePhillips.
DePhillips, a junior, went 6-1 with a 5.71 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 41 innings last season. Klinchock was the Hornets’ No. 2 weekend starter last season and posted a 6-4 record, a 5.82 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 65 innings. The latter steps into the void at the top of the rotation left by the departure of former staff ace Colin Morse, who was drafted by the Washington Nationals after his senior season last year.
“It’s his time to step up and be the guy,” Anderson said of Klinchock, who lowered his ERA from 7.06 to 5.82 between his sophomore and junior seasons. “He was voted one of the team captains along with Tristan Baker and Luke Nussman, and we’re counting on Rob to be that No. 1 guy. That means he’s going against everybody else’s number one. He’s ready for the challenge. It’s been outstanding to coach him and to see him progress.”
Anderson added that junior right-hander Reeves Lowry (3-0, 4.70 ERA in five starts in 2018) enters the season as SU’s third starter, and sophomore lefty Michael Prosperi (3-1, 1.80 ERA in 40 innings) should join the rotation mix when he returns in April after a battle with Hodgkin disease.
Shenandoah’s bullpen has undergone another shakeup after losing three of its top relievers from last season.
“We have some very talented young guys. How they transition to college baseball, time will tell,” Anderson said, adding that SU enters the season without a defined closer. “If we have to close by committee, we’ll do so. I don’t think you’ll see a lot of complete games from the staff, but you’ll see three to five (different) guys probably pitching every game.”
Shenandoah is one of two ODAC schools in the D3baseball.com Top 25 to start the season, joining No. 5 Randolph-Macon, which came a win shy of reaching the final best-of-3 championship series at the Division III College World Series last season.
Anderson said a fifth of SU’s 40-game schedule is played against teams that made it to the regional round of the playoffs in 2018, and the Hornets were one of three ODAC teams to reach the NCAA playoffs last spring.
“Randolph-Macon, Virginia Wesleyan and Roanoke are loaded,” Anderson said of the fellow ODAC schools. “They’re Top 20 teams, possibly Top 10. Each team has gotten so much better. Their universities have put money into their facilities, they’re attracting top-level guys. Each year the ODAC just gets better and better and better.”