Lancers looking to take form

Published 9:06 pm Monday, March 13, 2017

Longwood University’s baseball team has struggled at the outset of the 2017 season as it follows up on a historic 2016 campaign. But the promise is there.

The 2017 Lancers (6-11) are grappling with the difficult task this year of writing the sequel to a year in which they went 32-27, winning 30 games for the first time in the school’s Division I era.

The Lancers also earned a program-best No. 3 seed in the 2016 Big South Championship, falling in the semifinals to no less than the eventual Big South and Men’s College World Series champion Coastal Carolina University, a team Longwood defeated during the regular season.

Lancers Head Coach Ryan Mau noted his team has had a slow start in 2017 in large part due to pitching woes.

“The first two weeks, we just didn’t get quality starting pitching and didn’t have a chance to be in any tight games early on,” he said. “Unfortunately, as happens sometimes, offensively or defensively, we’ve gone backwards on occasion and have taken ourselves out of ball games. So, it’s been a difficult start to our season, not what we expected. (We) just haven’t been able to put all three phases of the game together until this past weekend at (UNC) Wilmington.”

The coach said the difference this past weekend started on the mound.

“If you get a poor pitching performance out of the gate, it’s tough, it’s demoralizing; it puts a lot of pressure on your offense to try to do more than perhaps they’re capable of,” Mau said. “For us, getting the starting pitching that we got the past couple days has put us in a much better position to let our offense do what it’s capable of and relax us and play decent defense.”

Senior pitcher Cody Wager (2-2) recorded a career-high 10 strikeouts Saturday during the Lancers’ 5-3 victory over host UNC Wilmington. In the second game of the doubleheader, Longwood lost 11-1, but senior pitcher Tyler Wirsu (0-2) still produced a quality start, throwing six innings of two-run ball, allowing only five hits with five strikeouts and three walks.

The team is operating now in the absence of some key seniors from last year’s team, including a clear No. 1 pitcher, a designation Mau nicknames the “Friday night guy,” referring to the time a team’s top pitcher will often take the mound.

“For me, when you lose Connar Bastaich, who hit in the middle of our lineup and was very solid and consistent offensively, you lose a defender like C.J. Roth and a Friday night guy in Travis Burnette, those were the three big losses for us as far as production that we had to try to fill,” the coach said.

Mau acknowledged the challenges the 2017 Lancers face, but he said, “I think we’ve started to figure them out here in this early going. I like my club. I do feel like when we play all three phases of the game the right way that we can compete with anybody, so I expect us to push for a championship. I think that’s definitely within reach, if we play like we’re capable of playing.”

He said there are some players he and his staff expect a lot from that have gotten off to decent starts.

“Obviously, Mike Osinski, being our everyday shortstop, has done a good job thus far, and we’re going to look to lean on him, offensively and defensively,” Mau said.

The coach also praised junior Justin Mitchell, who transferred in from Grossmont Community College.

“I know we got a really good transfer in Justin Mitchell, a first baseman who is really having a good start to the season and has filled that void that Connar left at first base,” Mau said.

Senior third baseman/designated hitter Alex Lewis also drew praise.

“He got off to a little bit of a slow start but is starting to find his way back and is one of the most feared hitters, in my opinion, in the conference when he’s going good,” Mau said.

When it comes to the mound, the coach said, “We just need more from some guys that are capable of giving more.”

He highlighted senior Devin Gould, noting that “he’s got Friday night stuff, and he can fill that void if we can get him going.”

In terms of up-and-comers, Mau pointed to freshman Antwaun Tucker, whose uncle was Michael Tucker, a well-known Longwood baseball alum.

Antwaun Tucker has “come in and done a great job for us hitting in the two-hole and playing left field every day,” the coach said.

Mau, in this third year as head coach of the Lancers, noted that as of right now, “I think this year’s team has more depth than my first two years here.”

Longwood begins a three-game home series Friday against Charleston Southern University with the first pitch set to be thrown at 5 p.m.