Sometimes it takes time for a team to put all the important pieces together.
So, there wasn't a sense of urgency around Wilmington, N.C., a few weeks ago when the UNC Wilmington Seahawks were sitting at just 6-6 after an early March midweek loss to College of Charleston.
The Seahawks, picked to win the Colonial Athletic Association, were like many teams to begin the season. Despite having high aspirations, head coach Mark Scalf and his squad also knew they had several tough holes to fill.
Accomplishing that goal was precisely the objective the first few weeks of the season, and it led to what many would call a very slow start. Now, though, the Seahawks have since tallied a 15-2 record and now have a 21-8 overall record with Charleston, top-ranked North Carolina and Davidson on the schedule this week.
"I think the biggest thing for this club early on is that we weren't real sure who needed to be where on the field. We were trying to replace a great number of seniors, so we were kind of plugging and chugging, and going from there," UNCW head coach Mark Scalf said. "As we got through the first 10-12 games of the season, I think we got a pretty good idea of who needed to be where, and who needed to be playing."
The Seahawks had the most question marks in the field entering the spring, while the pitching staff entered the season in good shape, particularly when it comes to the weekend rotation.
UNCW left-handed pitcher Mat Batts is having quite the campaign. (UNCW photo)
UNC Wilmington continues to be led on the mound by a trio of talented starting pitchers in junior left-handers Mat Batts, Christian MacDonald and heralded sophomore right-handed pitcher Jordan Ramsey.
Ramsey is highest profile arm of the three and is having the most impressive campaign thus far. The talented right-handed hurler really made some serious strides at the Cape Cod League last summer, where he was ranked the league's No. 82 prospect. Ramsey added a changeup to his repertoire, and as a result, is having quite the campaign. He has a 1.46 ERA in 49 1/3 innings of work, while he also has struck out 41 and walked 13, with teams hitting him at a .234 clip.
Ramsey entered the season anywhere from 88-94 with his fastball. However, that fastball has consistently sat 90-93, touching 94, the past couple of weeks. He has a good slider, giving him a solid three-pitch mix.
"Jordan does a really nice job of pitching to contact and throwing first pitch strikes," Scalf said. "He has been able to throw that slider well this season, and that has been a huge difference for him. His delivery is much more repeatable now, and that changeup has been a solid new addition. He now has some good offerings besides that fastball."
Batts may not profile quite as well as Ramsey to scouts, but he, too, is having a terrific campaign for the Seahawks. Batts has a 2.47 ERA in 47 1/3 innings with 43 strikeouts and 13 walks, and teams are hitting him at just a .223 clip. Unlike Ramsey, Batts doesn't have big-time wipeout velocity, but he's a magician of the strike zone.
Batts has a true three-pitch mix with a good fastball, slider and changeup and does a great job of keeping hitters off balance.
"He'll throw all three pitches well and for strikes. He had a start or two earlier in the year where he left balls up a little bit more than we'd like, but he's been fantastic since," Scalf said. "He's just made the adjustments necessary and really is doing a great job of filling the zone."
MacDonald, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound, junior, rounds out the rotation for the Seahawks and continues to throw well this spring. He has a 3.46 ERA in 39 innings this season, while he also has struck out 15, walked 10 and limited teams to a .243 batting average. MacDonald isn't exactly a high strikeout pitcher, but as with the other starters, he fills the strike zone.
The left-handed hurler has a fastball sitting 84-89, though he typically sits 87-89 with the offering. He also has flashed a plus changeup this spring, along with good command of his slider and breaking pitches.
"Christian's breaking ball is a little better than it has been in the past, but the biggest difference between last season and now is the fact he's much more mature and confidence," Scalf continued. "He, like our other starters, worked extremely hard in the offseason, and are reaping the benefits of that. All three of our starting pitchers not only are competing with other teams, they're also competing with each other to be better."
Scalf would like to increase his quality bullpen depth as the season progresses, but is pleased with the job the bullpen's key arms are doing this spring with Justin Livengood, Kelly Secrest, Ricky Holden and Jack Lane leading the charge.
Livengood leads the way with a 1.84 ERA in 14 2/3 innings of work, while he's followed by Secrest (2.42), Holden (2.65) and Lane (5.14).
"Each of those guys are similar pitchers in the sense that they've progressed well. All of their deliveries have become much more consistent and that has allowed them to locate the baseball a lot better," he said. "From a stuff standpoint, each of them bring something a little different to the table. Livengood, for instance, has a solid three-pitch mix of a fastball, curveball and changeup, and likes throwing in the latter part of the game. All of those guys compete extremely well, too, so that's a plus."
Though it's currently not a huge concern, the Seahawks have had an interesting year from an offensive standpoint. They're hitting .291, down from .302 last season. And while some hitters have risen to the occasion, Wilmington is getting the job done without veteran hitters such as Hunter Ridge (.246/2/28), Tyler Molinaro (.266/5/14) and Corey Dick (.263/4/19) having the greatest of seasons thus far.
All three are expected to turn the corner, sooner rather than later.
"For Ridge, a lot of his issues are just being aggressive and having out of control swings. He's just trying to do too much at times instead of being the same hitter he's been for us the past couple of seasons," he said. "With that said, he's a notoriously slow starter, so I'm betting he creates more balance as the season progresses.
"We've really counted on their swings this season, but thankfully we've had some other guys step up with them struggling a bit," he continued. "They definitely weren't swinging the bat well early this season, but I think they're getting on track."
While the big bats hope to get on track down the stretch, second baseman Michael Bass (.406/4/20), third baseman Ryan LaGrange (.345/3/20) and surprising shortstop Terence Connelly (.296/0/14) are having productive campaigns.
"Bass just shows up each day with the same approach. It doesn't matter who he's playing against, he's just always mentally and physically ready to play," he said. "He handles the bat extremely well and has really cut down on strikeouts. He's really seeing the ball well.
"LaGrange has really started to play well since the third week of the season with the exception of a couple of games," he continued. "A big surprise to us has been the rise of Connelly. He grinds out at bats and he's got great plate discipline. Even in the nine-hole in our lineup, he's really had some great at bats for us this season."
For the most part, the Seahawks have all their pieces together heading toward the final month of the regular season, and an impressive RPI to go with it.
What started as potentially a tumultuous campaign suddenly has a bright outlook.
MID-MAJOR HOT BOARD
Florid Gulf Coast: The basketball program isn't the only team earning plenty of headlines. The baseball team continues to win at a high level, entering a second midweek game against Florida State with a .298 batting average with Brooks Beisner leading the way, hitting .360 with four homers and 20 RBIs. On the mound, Ricky Knapp (0.99) and Brandon Bixler (2.42) have been outstanding starting pitchers, while hard-throwing Harrison Cooney has four saves in 11 appearances.
Missouri State: The Bears are playing at a high level. And though veteran right-handed pitcher Nick Petree leads the charge on the mound with a fabulous 0.86 ERA in 42 innings, fellow weekend starters Jonathan Harris (1.36) and Cody Schumacher (1.23) also continue to do a fantastic job.
Mercer: The Bears just continue to roll along each week. They picked up yet another fantastic midweek win, this time thrashing Georgia Tech 10-1 with Travis Benn recorded a pair of homers. The Bears have an explosive offense with Chesny Young, Nick Backlund and others leading the charge, while the pitching staff is more than serviceable.
Central Arkansas: The Bears appear to be right back on track after that little lull against Oral Roberts a couple of weeks ago. Forrestt Allday continues to have a great year at the plate, hitting .415 with a home run and 25 RBIs, while on the mound, Caleb McClanahan (1.86) and Bryce Biggerstaff (2.24) have been very consistent.
Austin Peay: It's not a surprise at all that coach Gary McClure has his club ready to roll as OVC play continues. McClure is an excellent coach and the Governors have some talent in both important areas. For instance, Cody Hudson (.372/1/23) and Jordan Hankins (.352/4/23) lead the offense, while former Kansas pitcher Lee Ridenhour leads the pitching staff with a 2.72 ERA in 46 1/3 innings.
Belmont: The Bruins are having an excellent campaign and there might not be a more underrated ace pitcher in America than Chase Brookshire. The talented veteran has started seven games this season and has a 1.15 ERA in 47 innings. He also has struck out 47 and walked five, while teams are hitting him at a .193 clip.
Bryant: The Bulldogs received rave reviews from the Oregon State folks when I was up in Corvallis, Ore., a few weeks ago. Bryant has an excellent starting pitcher in Peter Kelich, who has a 1.96 ERA in 36 2/3 innings. He also has struck out 32 and walked 10. If you remember, Bryant was a team we tabbed as a rising Northeastern program before the season.
Delaware: You want to talk about guys who aren't discussed enough when it comes to elite hitters, how about the Blue Hens' Jimmy Yezzo? The preseason All-Conference selection is hitting .455 with 17 doubles, two triples, five homers and 38 RBIs as Delaware is off to a solid 198 start, 6-3 in CAA play.
Florida Atlantic: Now healthy and ready to roll through Sun Belt play, the Owls are playing an impressive brand of baseball. Pitching-wise, the Owls have a pair of excellent starting pitchers in Austin Gomber and Jeremy Strawn. Gomber has a 1.75 ERA in 46 1/3 innings, while Strawn has a 2.72 ERA in 39 2/3 innings of work.
Troy: The Trojans are coming off a huge weekend where they both hit the ball and pitched with consistency. Troy continues to get solid production from Logan Pierce (.411/3/29) and Danny Collins (.402/6/39), while things have steadily improved on the mound with Shane McCain carrying a 3.46 ERA in 39 innings.