Baseball Builds Momentum as Tournament Approaches

James Reilly ‘21

Sports Writer

Here’s the Wind Up: Senior Casey Sutherland Pitches against Rhode Island. Sutherland holds the lowest ERA of any ‘Cats pitcher this season. Photo by Emma Brentjens ‘21

Despite an impressive roster and high expectations, the baseball season has not been perfect for the Wildcats. After a strong start, the ‘Cats have struggled through a grueling midseason stretch which saw them suffer a seven-game losing streak and stretched the roster thin. However, it seems the team has gotten to the other side, and the players believe their struggles will make them more prepared as the conference tournament looms. Last weekend’s series win versus Rhode Island was key, as it brought the ‘Cats back above .500 and boosted their conference record to 6-2, leaving them just two games back of Atlantic 10-leading VCU.

Weather has been one of the toughest variables for the team to deal with so far this season. Just two months in, Davidson has already dealt with six cancelled games and numerous weather delays or postponements, including this past weekend when the team was forced to play a Sunday double-header. This is undoubtedly a difficult obstacle for a young coaching staff, including pitching coach Parker Bangs, to navigate, as so many schedule changes can disrupt the team’s rhythm and force the pitching rotation into awkward positions. 

Partially as a result of the unpredictable weather, the pitching staff has struggled in the past month, as the team ERA has risen to 5.20 on the season. Scheduling has not been the friend of the ‘Cats this month, either: last week they followed up a “home-away-home” weekend series with two away games during the middle of the week, one of which was against eighteenth-ranked North Carolina. 

Relief pitcher Luke Burton ‘21 discussed what Bangs has done to avoid the rotation being stretched too thin during the most brutal portion of the schedule: “Coach Bangs is great with keeping our pitchers’ arms healthy,” Burton said. “He has individualized plans for every pitcher so that [the relief pitchers] can stay available every game.” 

Senior starting pitcher Casey Sutherland ‘19 also chimed in that the pitchers “have been incredibly focused on the little details of day-to-day routines since the fall” and cited that detail-oriented mentality as the reason the staff has maintained good health during the tough midseason stretch.

Sutherland will be one of the keys to righting the ship from a pitching perspective. He has been the workhorse of the starting rotation, with a team-leading five starts of six innings or more. Even more impressively, he’s walked just three batters in 40.2 innings pitched. That kind of consistency will prove invaluable for a team looking to get significant innings out of its starting rotation in order to get the bullpen some much-needed rest. Asked what mindset he took to the game on start days, Sutherland responded that “figuring out who you are as an individual pitcher is critically important.” He added that he is “a guy that likes to attack the zone and make the hitters put the ball in play.” This simple approach has worked out on the stat sheet and in the win column, as he’s posted a solid 3.76 ERA and coupled it with a 5-0 record. 

On the offensive side, the Wildcats have relied heavily on power hitting. They lead the Atlantic 10 in home runs and are fourth in slugging percentage, while landing near the bottom in batting average and on-base percentage. The undisputed leader of the home run barrage has been sophomore designated hitter Ruben Fontes ‘21, who is tops in the conference with ten big flies through just 31 games. Fontes commented that he’s been focusing on “trusting his abilities and doing anything [he] can to contribute to the team.” So far, he’s been contributing by hitting bombs. 

Moving forward, the ‘Cats feel confident that the midseason struggles they’ve faced only make them a more dangerous team. “Our biggest challenge will be finding consistency,” Fontes remarked. “Because we know that we can beat anybody in the conference when we’re at our best,” he continued. Burton echoed these sentiments and cited the team’s faith in head coach Rucker Taylor as a main reason he believes the team will be focused and ready when the conference tournament rolls around. Having weathered their toughest regular season tests, the ‘Cats may be poised for a run. 

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