Sports have seen an immense impact on the way the game is played through the influence of the COVID-19 pandemic. From players to coaches to fans, everyone has had to adapt to unfamiliar circumstances.
Seton Hall baseball is no different. After having its campaign cut short last year, the team was unable to carry out its season and play at the newly refurbished Owen T. Carroll Field.
“Any chance you get to play at home, or just play in general right now, is good,” Rob Sheppard, head coach of the baseball team, said. “Previous to this year, we were only able to play one game at the new field so this was simply awesome.”
2018 was the last time the Pirates came out of Big East play with a winning record, and 2021 marks 10 years since their last Big East Championship win, so they came into this season with a chip on their shoulders and the attitude to take back the Big East title.
Seton Hall finished its 2021 non-conference schedule with a 6-12 record, but the Pirates have bounced back in recent weeks, culminating their overall record to 15-15 overall and 8-3 in the Big East. They beat Butler three times in a four-game series, swept Villanova in a three-game series and, most recently, split a four-game series with St. John’s. Winning eight of their past 11 games provided a boost to this experienced team.
“I think the ability to play and the more that we play, the better we get,” Sheppard said. “It’s like getting in rhythm. Guys get consistent at-bats and we produce.”
With the team loading the box score every weekend, it is evident that early-season issues have simmered simply to chemistry and the gap the team had last season. However, these issues with chemistry and meshing as a team can also be attributed to injuries.
“We’re getting healthier. Guys have come off injuries and are able to play more frequently,” Sheppard said. “We’ve had to address certain situations where players go through contact tracing, so it’s been hard. Almost every weekend it seems we deal with this.”
The team’s philosophy is “next guy up,” which has allowed more comfort throughout the rotation and more depth when a problem arises. The team’s 8-3 Big East record and place among the top teams in the conference came after a split series with St. John’s, but the team’s sweep of Villanova marked its turnaround in form.
Villanova stood at 12-2 coming into Big East play, so this series win meant a lot to the team. Seton Hall has taken each of its last three series against each other and worked as extra fuel. The Pirates look to continue their hot streak as Big East baseball progresses.
“We played complete games,” Sheppard said. “There was great pitching, great defense and timely hitting, so continuing to do that will put us in a good spot.”
Seton Hall baseball currently features a lot of seasoned talent, especially with the NCAA’s notion to grant players an extra year of eligibility. In particular, seniors Tyler Shedler-McAvoy and Casey Dana have impressed so far..
Shedler-McAvoy, an outfielder from Allendale, New Jersey, was part of the 2019 All-Big East First Team and the 2020 Preseason All-Big East First Team. He has recorded a career-high in season home runs and accumulated a .265 batting average. Dana, an infielder from Montgomery, New York, was included in the 2019 Preseason All-Big East and is currently batting a whopping .355 through his 93 at-bats.
“The key to what we would like to do offensively is a 9-1 approach: 9 guys vs 1 pitcher,” Sheppard said. “Casey and Ty’s successes are based on team success. Casey is hitting it well while guys are getting on base and Ty’s been giving key hits to get us wins. They’ve truly cashed in. When they come up to hit, they try to get guys in front of them.”
While the older guys have been sought out as the leaders, freshman RHP Zane Probst from Mill Hall, Pennsylvania, has stepped up. His 6-foot-4-inch frame is set to dominate the Big East for years to come. In his 7.1 innings of play, Probst has given up a mere two hits and a zero ERA.
“I think what he continues to do, and what we emphasize to our guys, is that they earn it,” Sheppard said. “If he gets out there and does his job well, he’ll continue to get the ball. His development is because of the other guys, so it’s not all alone. He knows everyone is going to help his success.”
Sheppard added that he wants to “continue to develop and get better,” and cites that “it’s not about how we start, but how we finish.”
Thomas Donnely can be reached at email@example.com.