After spending the better part of the month of April on the road, the Stetson baseball team will return home to Melching Field to open the final homestand of the year on Friday night.
The Hatters are scheduled to play the next eight games at home, starting with a three-game set against Atlantic Sun Conference leading North Florida, before closing the regular season at Florida Gulf Coast.
Stetson (21-23, 10-8) has battled its way into fifth place in the A-Sun standings, just four games behind North Florida (33-12, 14-4) entering the weekend series. The Hatters have made their move up the standings by winning four straight league series despite still going winless in series openers.
Friday’s series opener with the Ospreys is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Saturday’s second game is also scheduled for a 6:30 p.m. start with Sunday’s series finale set for a 1 p.m. start. All three games from the weekend series will be available on HatterVision and Asun.tv with Ryan Rouse calling the action.
For the Hatters to break out of their Friday funk, they will have to find a way to score some runs for starting pitcher Josh Powers (1-6, 3.42). The sophomore right-hander is winless in his last six starts and in his six Friday starts he is 1-4 despite posting a 2.70 ERA.
The biggest problem for Powers this year has been a lack of run support. In 10 starts during the 2012 season, Powers got an average of 5.3 runs per game in support. This year, that number has dropped to just 3.3 runs per game. The Hatters are hitting just .248 in games Powers has started this year and he has been hurt by the 14 unearned runs that have scored in his starts.
To break into the win column against the Ospreys, Powers will have to out-pitch UNF senior left-hander Tommy Organ (5-2, 3.22). In his 11 starts this year he has allowed as many as four earned runs just twice, but he has pitched no more than 6.2 innings in any of his starts. In fact, he has failed to get out of the sixth inning in seven starts. This will be his first career appearance against Stetson.
Organ, and the rest of the UNF pitching staff, which has been without three of its top arms for much of the year, has benefitted greatly from the potent Osprey offensive attack. UNF is hitting a robust .325 this year, which ranks second in the nation behind only New Mexico. That number jumps to .358 in A-Sun play.
The Ospreys are in the top 20 offensively in a total of seven offensive categories, including first in total hits (549). By comparison, Stetson ranks 156th in the nation with 390 hits and ranks in the top 100 in just one offensive category – sacrifice bunts (95th).
Individually, the Ospreys’ top 10 hitters are all batting better than .300 this season. That group is led by senior second baseman Joe Wielbruda with a .365 average. Wielbruda was joined on the preseason All-Conference team by senior catcher Corey Bass (.333) and junior outfielder Tyler Marincov (.314), who rank sixth and seventh on the UNF team, respectfully, in hitting.
But the Ospreys do more than hit. UNF also leads the A-Sun in team ERA at 2.97. Like their offensive production, the Ospreys have gotten better in league play, producing a 2.87 ERA against A-Sun competition.
UNF comes into the series at Stetson having won five straight and 11 of 12 games overall. The Ospreys need either one win in the series, or one loss by Lipscomb to Northern Kentucky, to clinch a berth in the A-Sun Tournament for the first time since 2010.
The Hatters will continue to rely on producing runs the hard way, by using small ball to scratch across runs when they can. Stetson continues to be led offensively by freshman first baseman Patrick Mazeika, who picked right back up after his 21-game hit streak was stopped and has hit safely in six straight games.
Mazeika leads the A-Sun, and is 10th in the nation, in hitting with a .408 overall batting average. Against league competition, that number jumps to .478. In fact, the Hatters’ top five hitters in league play are either freshmen or sophomores.
It was sophomore Darby McCormick who stepped up in the series last weekend at Lipscomb, getting five hits in nine at bats in the series while scoring three runs and driving in three more.
On Saturday it will be junior left-hander Austin Perez (6-1, 2.52) who will take the mound for the Hatters looking to continue his run of success in league play. In six A-Sun starts Perez is 4-0 with a 1.88 ERA.
Perez will be opposed by UNF senior right-hander Nick Albritton (4-6, 4.39), who made one relief appearance against the Hatters in 2012 and allowed two runs on three hits in just two-thirds of an inning.
Sunday’s game will see UNF send senior left-hander Michael Renner (8-0, 1.58) to the mound in search of his ninth straight win. Last year Stetson touched him for 11 hits in a 10-2 Hatters victory. Stetson’s starting pitcher for the series finale is to be determined.