Baseball struggles continue
Through forty-one games, the Mountaineer baseball team has experienced a season up high highs and low lows. The traditional wording sounds something like, “an up and down season”, but those words do not explain the roller coaster ride the season has been. Wins are rarely convincing in the past month, and the losses are extremely are extremely brutal. Unfortunately, there are several areas of the game where this team needs to improve, and they are running out of games. For several weeks, it was obvious any postseason play would hinge solely on the conference tournament. The conference as a whole is weaker than last year, and it appears only one team will play baseball into June.
The most glaring of weaknesses is the lack on consistent pitching throughout an entire weekend series. You can’t ask for much more from Jamie Nunn on Friday nights. Nunn is 8-3 on the season, leading the conference in wins, and is fourth in total ERA. Nunn leads all SoCon pitchers in innings pitched. If there is a team MVP for the season award, Nunn is certainly worthy of that billing.
The real issues regarding the pitching staff, is the uncertainty in what kind of starts you are going to get from the Sam Agnew-Wieland and Jeffrey Srpings. Agnew-Wieland recorded back to back complete game shutouts over a month ago, but has been struggling since then. It was seemed to good to be be true, and Sam has currently returned back to earth. Springs has been a mess as well. With your third starter, you would like to think you can get more than four innings a game. Springs has started nine games this season, and appeared in relief on three occasions, and has only recorded 43.2 innings pitched. Springs and Agnew-Wieland have given up the exact same number of runs, unearned, yet Springs has pitched 22 fewer innings.
Another glaring sore spot with the pitching is that first year head coach Billy Jones has had a real difficulty in deciding when to pull a pitcher from a game. Jones has a tendency to allow a pitcher to work through the troubles that he created, or the defense creates for him. From a fan perspective, Jones is slow to make the change, where Chris Pollard, the previous head coach, was well known for a very quick decision to replace a pitcher. To experience one extreme to another has been frustrating for all parties involved.
Finally, a result of short appearances from your starters, a first year head coach, and an inexperienced bullpen is the number of runs surrendered, and how often those runs are scored. Your opponents are going to score, but limiting those opportunities is what decided the difference between a win and a loss. On too many occasions this season, most recently against East Tennessee State on Wednesday, Appalachian has given up five runs in a single inning to their opponent. It has happened eight times, and Appalachian’s record in those games is 0-7. The Mountaineers are 24-17 on the season, and if they could only manage to limit those five run innings, their record could would be much better. Imagine how different we would feel about this team if they could add a couple more wins, and take some of those losses away. Imagine being 27-14. That is not a lot to ask for.
This season is certainly not finished. There are ten games remaining, and getting to 30 wins will not be easy. That would require six wins against the top two teams in the conference in Elon and Western Carolina, a three games series against West Coast conference leader Gonzaga, and a single game against North Carolina, who has the best record in college baseball at 41-4. Despite an extra challenging end of the season, it might be what the Mountaineers need. They have been a team this season that has played up, or down, to its competition, and perhaps the tough schedule at the end of the regular season can propel this team to a deep run in the SoCon tournament.