After splitting a doubleheader with OAC rival Ohio Northern on March 31, the John Carroll University baseball team stood at 12-6 overall and 2-2 OAC. Entering April JCU had many key OAC games in front of them.
However, Mother Nature had other ideas. Because of the wonderful Northeast Ohio weather, baseball across the region has taken on the form of practice, practice and then more practice.
Through the first 16 days of April, JCU has played just three games. “Trying to stay in the groove is next to impossible when you can’t see live pitching or real game scenarios,” junior Adam Sockel said, “but staying focused is absolutely necessary in order to compete at a high level. We practice daily and face our own pitchers to try to keep the rust off.”
A scheduled doubleheader at Wilmington on Good Friday was cancelled after game one because of bad weather. JCU managed to prevail in game one by a score of 5-2. That was the only game the Blue Streaks played in a two-week span.
This past Saturday JCU finally got back on the field, although not in the best of conditions. A cross-town match-up with B-W was played despite a game time temperature of 45 degrees. To JCU’s credit, they managed to put aside the excuse of poor weather and earn a sweep over B-W.
In game one, JCU took advantage of three B-W errors to score the first three runs of the game. After allowing a run in the bottom of the second and another in the bottom of the fifth, JCU held a slim 3-2 lead entering the sixth inning. JCU senior Warren Ciabattoni singled and eventually scored on a sac fly to give JCU a two-run lead and a 4-2 victory.
Junior Brandon Kurtz pitched six innings and registered six strikeouts to earn the victory and improve his record to 5-1 on the season.
Game two started off better for B-W as they scored two runs in the second inning and led 2-0 entering the fourth inning. That’s when the flood gates opened for the JCU offense as they scored six times in the fourth to take a commanding 6-2 lead.
Leading 3-2 with the bases loaded and two outs, Sockel delivered the game’s biggest hit – a bases clearing double.
“Before I came up to bat I knew McKinnon was throwing well and if we could make something happen we could put B-W away right there. He put it over the middle of the plate and I was fortunate enough to get the good part of the bat on it,” added Sockel.
That was more than enough run support for senior ace Matt McKinnon. The lefty pitched five innings allowing just four hits and striking out six to improve to 5-1 on the season.
JCU tacked on two more runs in the seventh to make the final score 8-2.
With the sweep of B-W, JCU improved to 15-6 overall and 5-2 OAC. Their record through 21 games is JCU’s best 21-game start since the 1985 season when the Blue Streaks began the year 17-4. The importance of the sweep was something not lost on McKinnon.
“Sweeping the doubleheader against B-W was huge for us because it puts us in a position to control our own destiny in regards to securing a spot in the conference tournament,” he said. “Also, it was a big confidence boost to be able to play so well after not playing for over a week.”
Head coach Marc Thibeault knows anytime you beat a team twice in the OAC you earned it.
“Anytime you can get a sweep on the road is a huge boost for your team morale no matter who the opponent is. This a challenging league with excellent players and to take two effects your confidence tremendously.”
Because of all the weather delays, JCU is going to have to play many games in a short time period. This week, JCU was scheduled to play eight games in six days. With that much baseball in such a short time, JCU will be tested in many ways.
McKinnon believes that the Blue Streaks are well equipped to survive this unbalanced schedule. “The depth of our pitching staff is definitely going to be tested this week. However, so is everyone else’s staff who we are playing. I think our depth is one of our strengths as a staff so it is in our advantage to play a lot of games in a short time period.”
The Blue Streaks were scheduled to play at Heidelberg on Tuesday but dropped the double header to the Student Princes. Heidelberg caught fire in the first game, rolling JCU 11-5. JCU played better team defense in the nightcap but still fell by a score of 4-2. The pair of losses put JCU’s record at 15-8, 5-4 OAC.
Yesterday JCU hosted Muskingum and Saturday JCU will welcome defending National Champion Marietta to town and follow that up with a Sunday match-up against Case Western. Both games are scheduled to start at 1:00 p.m.
“This will be a challenging week for us. If our players are prepared mentally and we can continue to get better with each outing, things will be fine,” Thibeault said, “this week is one where we can look back and say we separated ourselves from the pack and were able to control our own destiny.”