While spring break travel was tempered slightly for many students due to coronavirus concerns, a spring break excursion continued as planned for the Seton Hall baseball team.
The baseball team spent the last two weekends in California, playing weekend series’ against USC and Saint Mary’s and a midweek game against Fresno State. The Pirates came to California looking to rebound from a series lost to a quality Liberty squad but exited the west coast swing with a 2-5 record and a 5-8 record overall. USC and Saint Mary’s both took two of three from the Pirates, and Fresno State narrowly clipped Seton Hall, 5-4, in 11 innings.
The undeniable bright spots of the trip were a 6-3 win over USC on Feb. 28 and a 6-1 victory against Saint Mary’s on March 5. Both wins came in the opening game of each series. Both wins followed the same formula as the three that preceded them, a solid outing by the starting pitcher and timely hitting from the trio of Matt Toke, Casey Dana, and Connor Hood, who have steered the Pirates’ ship throughout the early part of 2020.
The win over USC was fueled by two RBIs from Dana, including a solo homer, and 1-for-3 outings from both Toke and Hood. The takedown of the Trojans also included a solid outing from starter Ryan McLinskey, who went 5 2/3 innings, allowing five hits and two runs while striking out six USC hitters in the process. The Saint Mary’s win included RBI singles from Dana and Hood and two hits by Toke. Starter Nick Payero went seven innings and allowed a mere one run and five hits.
The losses were a complete mixed bag. Errors were not as costly as they were against Liberty and Wake Forest and starting pitching was hit and miss in the five losses out West. The first loss to USC was due to a lack of offensive output; Seton Hall was shutout and held to five hits, spoiling a stellar outing from starter Noah Thompson, who held USC to one earned run. The loss in the rubber match to USC saw David Festa get rocked and Festa, Brennan O’Neill, and Blaise Panzini give up 10 runs in a 10-1 defeat.
The loss to Fresno State was basically conceded due to it being a midweek game; Seton Hall threw six pitchers, most of them young. The March 6 doubleheader against St Mary’s saw the Pirates lose both games to the Gaels 6-2. The first game saw the Pirates head into the 8th inning tied with Saint Mary’s before the Gaels struck for four runs off David Festa. Game two saw the Gaels take an early 3-0 lead and gradually tack on insurance runs to lead 6-1 before the Pirates closed the gap to 6-2 in the ninth.
The season is still early and the goal of winning the Big East title is still very much possible, but, as after the Liberty series, there are many things that need to be ironed out. Toke, Dana, Hood, and Tyler Shedler-McAvoy form a solid core of hitters but when they go cold, as they did in multiple games on the trip, the lineup can’t rebound from the dip in production. Other hitters must emerge as the season goes on. In terms of pitching, Thompson is sold, but the fact that Festa had a horrid start and relief appearance on the trip could prove harmful for the Pirates going forward if his woes continue.
That being said, the pieces are there and as the weather warms up in Jersey hopefully the Pirates bats and pitching will too. An eight game homestand, including the first game at Owen T. Carroll field since 2018 on March 11 against FDU, will hopefully catalyze a winning trend.
Matthew Collins can be reached at email@example.com.