As the Stetson baseball team enters the final home weekend of the 2013 season the Hatters don’t quite have their fate in their own hands in terms of the regular season Atlantic Sun Conference title, but they certainly have a chance to have a say over who does, or doesn’t win the crown.
The Hatters will host A-Sun newcomer Northern Kentucky (8-40, 3-18) for a three game series this weekend starting tonight at Melching Field. The first pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.
Stetson (23-26, 12-9) has won each of its last five A-Sun series and enters the weekend just three games behind league co-leaders North Florida and Mercer. In fact, the four teams in front of Stetson in the league standings all play each other this weekend, with UNF hosting Florida Gulf Coast and Mercer hosting ETSU.
The Hatters are not quite ready to play the “what if” game yet, but if things were to fall just right this weekend, Stetson could go into its series next week with a chance to earn at least a share of the league crown.
Most importantly for Stetson this weekend, however, is securing a berth in the A-Sun Tournament, which will be played at Melching Field beginning on Wednesday, May 22. The tournament championship game, which will determine the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, will be played on Sunday,May 26.
“We are still a work in progress,” Stetson coach Pete Dunn said after Wednesday night’s loss to No. 7 Florida State. “We are a young team with a lot of new faces. It is obvious that we are not where we have to be or where we want to be, but the important part of the season is still in front of us and we have a legitimate shot.”
The Norse came into the 2013 season knowing they would not be eligible for the A-Sun Tournament in their first year in Division I. The season has been tough for NKU in terms of overall record, but the team has lost 13 one-run games during the year. That streak included six such losses in their last nine games, all losses.
“I expect they will be much improved team from the first of the year,” Dunn said of the Norse. “They have played a lot of very close games. Our guys certainly won’t take them lightly because they understand that we have to be a blue-collar team and work for everything we get. I certainly don’t think Northern Kentucky is going to be quaking in their spikes coming to play us either.”
Friday’s series opener will pit Stetson sophomore right-hander Josh Powers (1-6, 3.11) against NKU senior left-hander Tim Clark (1-0, 3.12). Powers continues to look for his first win since mid-March. He has pitched well, including 7 2/3 innings last week against UNF in a no decision.
Saturday night’s game, which is also scheduled for a 6:30 p.m. start following afternoon graduation ceremonies, will be Senior Day. The Hatters five senior players – pitchers Joe Dye, Kurt Schluter and Chad Rood and outfielders James Rasmussen and Mitchel Brennan – will be honored prior to the game. All five players will have received their degrees earlier in the day.
Junior Austin Perez (6-1, 2.64) will take the mound for the Hatters in the evening game against NKU freshman right-hander Aric Harris (1-5, 4.57). Sunday’s regular season finale will pit either Rood (0-3, 6.14) or freshman Adam Schaly (2-3, 5.44) against Norse junior left-hander Matt Jefferson (1-7, 3.86).
Despite the fact that the Hatters have dropped three straight games overall, the team has played better, especially offensively, over the last 10 games. During that stretch Rasmussen, who has a 10-game hit streak, is hitting .486 and sophomore Darby McCormick is hitting .433 while getting his first significant playing time in the outfield.
“The thing about Darby is that he is not only swinging the bat well, but he has also turned himself into a pretty good outfielder,” Dunn said. “When we started putting him out there we thought he was going to be a liability. We were a little concerned, but he has turned himself into a pretty good left fielder and he is only going to get better.”
In addition to that duo, freshmen Patrick Mazeika and Kevin Fagan have continued to hit well at the top of the Stetson batting order. Mazeika has just one hit in his last nine at bats, but is still hitting .395 overall on the year and .382 over the last 10 games. Fagan is hitting .366 over the last 10 games to push his season average close to .300.
In addition, junior infielder K’shawn Smith has started hitting the ball well in the last week.
“We have some guys who are starting to come around, but we still have some guys who are scuffling,” Dunn said.
Following the series against Northern Kentucky, the Hatters will close the regular season with a three-game series on the road at Florida Gulf Coast. The Eagles are currently the hottest team in the A-Sun, entering play today riding a 10-game win streak.