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Baseball team ready for conference play

March 31st, 2011

It is said that youth springs eternal. No baseball team in the Ohio Athletic Conference wants that statement to hold water more than the John Carroll University Blue Streaks.

With five underclassmen starters, the Blue Streaks have less experience than any other team in the conference. Although they lost two games against conference opponents this weekend, it will not count against them in league play.

Two of those young players, freshman starters Bobby Peltz and Jimmy Spagna, pitched strong games in the Muskingum Invitational on Saturday. Peltz, a Dream Team selection from the state of Michigan in 2010, picked up his second win of the season against Montclair State University in the first contest.

Spearheaded by two homers off the bat of senior shortstop Johnny Hastings, the JCU offense knocked starter Paul Ciccazzo out of the game after an atrocious three innings in which he surrendered six earned runs.

Sophomore designated hitter Aaron Miller and senior left fielder Chris Larry also contributed three hits each, while combining to drive in three runs, in the 12-8 shootout victory over the Red Hawks.

The bats fell silent later in the day as JCU managed only five hits against conference foe Muskingum University.

With six innings pitched and only three earned runs, Spagna was credited with a quality start but was also docked with the loss. Nevertheless, improvement by the younger players is not lost on those who have been on the team for a while.

“I think the guys are starting to get comfortable in their roles,” said Larry. “We are on the verge of putting wins together.”

Despite the inclination toward freshmen and sophomores this season, the brunt of offensive productivity comes from the upperclassmen.

Third baseman Brian Benander led the squad with a .406 batting average last season, but went a pedestrian 2-12 over the weekend.

With a .415 career average, junior first baseman Tom Hickey may be the most dangerous hitter on the squad.

Already with an OAC batting title on his collegiate resume, the junior from Chicago remains a staple in the cleanup hole.

Then there is Hastings, a four-year starter with a .315 batting average who had a 17-game hitting streak snapped just a few games ago. All three are tops on the team in batting average so far this season.

But it was sophomore center fielder Joe Veltri who would step up as the primary offensive workhorse for the Blue Streaks against Otterbein University on Sunday as his two hits brought three runners across home plate.

Despite leading 7-2 through five and a half innings behind a strong outing by senior pitcher Tom Schaberl, the Blue Streaks slipped by allowing eight runs in the final five innings.

The Cardinals Scott Staarman ended the game when he hit a walk-off single in the bottom of the 10th inning as Veltri and sophomore left fielder Conor Marerro collided on a shallow fly ball that would have prohibited the runner on third base from scoring.

The loss dropped John Carroll to 6-8 overall as they head into conference play.

“Guys are starting to settle in but it doesn’t translate into wins which is frustrating considering we have been in position to win games,” said Hastings. “Now we need to turn the corner and get over the hump. I am confident we can do it.”

They can start doing that Saturday when they head back to Westerville, Ohio to open OAC competition with Otterbein.

In the big scheme of things, Sunday’s loss to the Cardinals doesn’t matter a whole lot as it was scheduled so  the Blue Streaks could have another game. Both games Saturday will matter in the conference standings.

JCU will then host their next five games at Schweickert Field, including a doubleheader on Tuesday with Heidelberg University, last year’s national runner-up and currently ranked second in the nation by D3Baseball.com.

JCU also hosts a doubleheader with Baldwin-Wallace College Friday, April 9 before a single game with Case Western Reserve University on April 12.