The Elizabethtown College baseball team claimed a 5-2 record during its spring training schedule. As they continue play, their goal is to play fundamental baseball and snag a spot in the Commonwealth Conference playoffs.
“We just want to make sure that we go out and compete every day,” Head Coach Cliff Smith said. “We have some very talented players on this team, and if we play up to our potential, we can play with anyone.”
Smith expected his team to compete with this attitude during their spring training trip to Florida, and they did not disappoint. During their southern expedition, the Jays played a seven-game gauntlet against teams of elite caliber. These teams included La Roche College, who battled their way to a 27-15 finish last season. In addition, La Roche garnered seven votes in the DIII baseball top 25 poll this season.
“That first day for me is going to be pretty tough. We are going to have to battle La Roche,” Smith said before the game.
However, Etown was up for the challenge and battled their way to a 4-3 victory over La Roche in game one of a doubleheader. The Jays snagged a 1-0 lead in the second inning when junior first baseman Brian Verdelli grounded to first and brought in junior catcher Dillion Tagle from third.
La Roche responded with a run of their own in the top of the fourth, but Tagle doubled to center and ignited a rally for the Blue Jay batting order. Overall, Tagle was 2-2 with two doubles and a run scored in the game. Verdelli drove in another run on a sacrifice fly to centerfield, which gave Etown a 2-1 advantage. The Jays first baseman finished game one 1 for 3 with three RBIs.
The Jays found themselves deadlocked at 3-3 with La Roche entering the bottom of the eighth. However, senior outfielder Tim Rosser worked a two out walk with the bases loaded and plated the winning run. First-year pitcher Taras Letnaunchyn earned the win in his first collegiate appearance after pitching 1.2 innings out of the bullpen.
La Roche edged out Etown in game two with a 3-2 victory. The Jays trailed 3-0 until the bottom of the sixth. Shortstop Kyle Gable slapped a single to left, allowing Rosser to score from third. Then senior Steve Motika hit a sacrifice fly to center and brought senior catcher Jon Bacher home, slicing the deficit to 3-2, but the Jays could not muster another comeback.
The Blue and Gray tacked on a sweep against Westminster in a doubleheader March 7. Junior Jake Hoffstein tossed a gem in game one, hurling seven shutout innings and only surrendering three hits while striking out four. Letnaunchyn followed suit and delivered seven shutout innings of his own and only gave up one hit with six strikeouts.
The games during the Florida trip helped the Jays sharpen their talons for conference clashes. Now, Smith looks to several core players to lead the team— Gable, Tagle, Motika and junior Rob Cressman.
Gable is a defensive mainstay at shortstop for the Jays. Smith identifies Gable as one of the best all-around players on the team. This spring, Gable has been hitting .263 with eight runs, three doubles and four RBI.
While Gable provides energy at the top of the lineup Tagle and Motika are at its heart. Motika led the team with a .409 batting average and 29 RBIs last season. Tagle has hit .359 with 14 hits, five doubles and 19 total bases. “We know what we are going to get out of Motika and Tagle, they are our two best offensive players,” Smith said.
On the mound, Ruth and Cressman will anchor the Jays rotation this season. In three starts this spring, Ruth has amassed a 4.02 ERA in 15.2 innings. Cresssman has a 1.89 ERA this spring and has earned a 2-1 record. Pitchers such as sophomores Joey Seremula and Vaclav Hasik as well as first-years Letnaunchyn and Kris Davis have also logged innings this spring. Letnaunchyn is having a dazzling first-year campaign thus far.
“We may not have the physical high-end talent that we had in 2009 with Sam Heaps and Adam Hartsell, but I think we are deeper than that staff with the staff that we have, and that is a good luxury to have,” Smith said.
Additionally, the weather has been cooperative this season, allowing the Jays to sharpen their championship form. “We have been able to get out on the field and take batting practice, and that is really important because, from a hitters’ perspective, depth perception makes a big difference,” Smith said.