|The Stetson University baseball team will close out the longest season-opening homestand in head coach Pete Dunn’s 34 season this weekend when the Hatters host Fairfield in a four-game series.
The Hatters enter the weekend with a winning record (8-7) for the first time this season and will be looking to build on a three-game win streak. The Stags (3-7) visit Melching Field for the first time and are coming off dropping four games this week at a tournament in Winter Haven.
In addition to putting a cap on Stetson’s season-opening 19-game homestand, this weekend will include a pair of special events.
On Saturday, prior to the start of the 1 p.m. game, Stetson Athletics will present Atlantic Sun Conference championship rings to members of the 2007 team. That Stetson team captured the regular season A-Sun title and received an at large bid to the NCAA Tournament, but did not immediately receive rings because departmental rules at the time only provided for championship rings to be awarded to post-season tournament champions.
That rule has since been changed, allowing the Stetson Athletics department to go back and rightfully present rings to members of the 2007 team. That club finished with a 42-21 record, including a 21-6 mark in Atlantic Sun Conference play.
For the Saturday evening game, which is scheduled for a 7 p.m. start, the Hatters will wear special caps with the SU logo in pink in support of Breast Cancer Awareness. All fans who attend the game and wear pink will be able to purchase general admission tickets for just $5.
On the field, the Hatters will be working the extend their modest win streak, but will have to do so without their Friday night starting pitcher for the second straight week. Senior right-hander Kurt Schluter felt some discomfort while warming up for last week’s game against Princeton and was a last-minute scratch.
He will be held out for one more week as a precaution, with the start of Atlantic Sun Conference play just a week away.
In his place, sophomore right-hander Josh Powers (0-2, 2.22) will make his fifth start of the year. The New Smyrna Beach native has been the most impressive of all the Stetson starters so far this year, but has had the misfortune of not getting the offensive support he needs to earn a victory.
He went the distance last Saturday, allowing just two runs in a 2-1 loss to Princeton.
“Josh Powers has been pitching so well for us,” Dunn said. “He has done such a good job. It is a shame that, when you look at his record, he is 0-2 but has been pitching better than anyone else we have. We just haven't been able to score any runs for him.”
One of the reasons that Powers is yet to earn a win is that the Hatters have been waiting until the last innings to score runs. Stetson has four walk-off wins already this season and, including Tuesday’s 7-2 victory over Bethune-Cookman, has scored the winning runs in their final at bat five times.
“We are learning to win a little bit, but tt has been challenging,” Dunn said. “We have lost some games we should have won. We have come back from some deficits lately. With a young team you have to teach them how to win from out front and from behind. Fortunately, we have come from behind in the last few games. We did a good job against Bethune the other night.
“Things are starting to come together. You have to learn how to win in different scenarios and we have certainly learned how to win from behind. I'd like to see us get out front and play from in front a little more.”
One of the players who has had his share of late-inning heroics is freshman Carlos Garmendia. In the Princeton series he drove in the winning run in all three victories. He was also an integral part of the win over Bethune on Tuesday, recording a pair of hits and driving in a run.
Two other freshmen have proven to be offensive forces for the Hatter this year. First baseman Patrick Mazeika is leading the team with a .404 batting average while Kevin Fagan, who has started in both left field and at second base, leads the club with 12 runs batted in.
Dunn said that the focus for Stetson continues to be on improving as a team. They don’t spend a lot of time looking at their opponents.
“We are getting there. I am not ready to say we are there yet, but we are making some progress,” Dunn said.
“We are not a team that is going to dominate anyone. I have told our guys that they can't get fixated on who the opponent is, what they can do or what they can't do, we have to concentrate on us and what we are all about. We have to concentrate on playing the best that we can play and, if we can do that, then I like our chances.”
Fairfield struggled offensively in four games this week. The Stags managed just six combined runs in losses to Illinois State (4-2), Miami, Ohio (12-3), Bucknell (5-1) and Indiana (8-0).
“We don't know a whole lot about them, but we expect them to have a good club,” Dunn said. “They are 3-7 coming out of the gym, and that is always a tough thing for those teams in the Northeast. The weather has been so bad up there. They have played some games and will be ready to play. I am much more concerned about what we are capable of. We can't worry about Fairfield and how good they are or what they are capable of.”
Powers will be opposed in the series opener on Friday night by freshman right-hander Mike Wallace. The New Jersey native has made three relief appearances so far this year and has allowed just one earned run in 8.1 innings of work.
Offensively the Stags are led by senior outfielder Jack Giannini, who has posted a .385 average with a team-leading nine RBI so far this spring. As a team, the Stags are hitting just .242 on the year and are averaging just 3.5 runs per game.
Friday’s first pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Saturday’s day-night double-header is scheduled for a 1 p.m. start in the afternoon and a 7 p.m. evening start. Sunday’s series finale is set for a 1 p.m. start.
The Hatters will go on the road for the first time next week for two games in Tallahassee against nationally-ranked Florida State. The teams will play on Tuesday night at 6 p.m. and again on Wednesday afternoon at 4 p.m. at Dick Howser Stadium
• Stetson enters the weekend needing a sweep to reach 1,900 victories in program history.
• Of the first 15 games of the 2013 season, eight have been decided by one run. The Hatters have posted walk-off victories four times and have scored the winning run in their final at bat five times.
• Fairfield becomes the 87th program to visit to visit Melching Field since the new facility opened for the 1999 season.
• Stetson’s game at Bethune-Cookman, which was postponed on Feb. 26 due to wet field conditions, has been rescheduled for Monday, April 8, at 6 p.m. at Jackie Robinson Park in Daytona Beach.
• Stetson’s game against Mercer on Saturday, March 23, has been moved from a 2 p.m. start time to a 6:30 p.m. start.