Baseball team has cause for optimism despite losses to Liberty

Facing the weight of high pre-season expectations, the Seton Hall baseball team started off strong on opening weekend by dispatching Illinois and Milwaukee in blowout fashion 10-2 and 17-1, respectively. However, the bats cooled off markedly during the team’s three game series with Liberty in Virginia this past weekend. The Pirates held of a late Liberty charge to win 5-4 in last Friday’s opener, but lost close games on Saturday and Sunday. Seton Hall lost 3-2 on Saturday and the Pirates fell by a final score of 5-3 on Sunday.

While no losses are considered “good” and the players and coach- es of Seton Hall baseball obviously hate to lose any games, the losses to Liberty are far from the end of the world. They are merely a portent, an early season forewarning of what’s to come later on if certain things are not tweaked. No baseball team will finish a season undefeated and even the best college baseball teams have as many as 20 losses in a season. Se- ton Hall’s baseball squad knows this and suffered more than a few bumps in the road in 2018 before rounding into form and reaching the conference title game – an eventual loss to St John’s. Liberty is a bump, any loss is, but they are a quality team, making the NCAA tournament last year and finishing 2019 at 43-21.

Photo via SHU Athletics

For Seton Hall, beating Liberty once is a feather in the team’s cap and losing to them in two close affairs is no reason to become sullen. However, there are things that need to be cleaned up that have plagued the Pirates in the Liberty and Wake Forest losses in 2020. Shoddy defense has soiled solid pitching outings in two of the three losses thus far. In the season opener, the Pirates held a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the fifth until Wake Forest’s Derek Crum reached on a throwing error by Pirate starter Ryan McLinskey which also scored Wake’s first run of the game and put another runner in scoring position. From there, the Demon Deacons added two more runs to pull ahead 3-2 and would go on to win 4-3. McLinskey’s error self-sabotaged an otherwise dominant performance that saw him give up one hit through the first four frames.

Saturday’s 3-2 loss to Liberty was marred by fielding errors from second baseman Connor Hood and third baseman Casey Dana. Hood’s error brought home the game’s first run in the bottom of the third and Dana’s error turned into the Liberty’s third and the game’s eventual deciding run in the fourth. Starting pitch- er and staff ace Noah Thompson gave up only four hits in 6.2 innings and only one earned run without the errors. If the errors had not occurred, the Pirates would have been in a great position to take the series against Liberty.

Additionally, David Festa was tagged for a grand slam in Sunday’s loss and Pirate relivers Nick Payero and Sean Miller nearly ceded the lead to the Flames in Friday’s win. Festa is normally solid on the bump but every pitcher has an occasional bad game. The bullpen is cause for concern though and needs to be improved going forward in 2020, especially after Pirates relievers gave up key leads against St John’s in 2019’s final regular season series and Creighton in the Big East tournament.

The pieces are in place for Seton Hall baseball in 2020. Hood has been a force offensively thus far, Matt Toke and Dana have been consistent at the dish, Tyler Shedler-McAvoy is as good a base thief as any in the conference and Thompson and Festa are a dynamic 1-2 punch on the mound. This year’s edition of Pirate baseball has the potential to live up to high expectations if things like fielding errors and bullpen woes are cleaned up.

Matt Collins can be reached at matthew.collins@student.shu.edu.

Author: Matthew Collins

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