Croup’s Corner – Pitching stays strong, but bats keep exploding

Written By Josh Croup, Sports Columnist

Past the midpoint in the 2018 season, the Point Park baseball team’s dominance has been due in large part to consistent outings by its starting pitching staff. 

The Pioneers enter the week 25-2 overall with a 15-0 River States Conference (RSC) record. Point Park pitchers have allowed two or fewer runs in 21 of its 27 games. 

The arms haven’t needed a lot of run support in a vast majority of outings this year, but man have they gotten run support.

Point Park allowed a season-high seven runs Friday at Ohio Christian in the series opener and still won 9-7. The Pioneers then scored a season-high 20 runs in a 20-1 win in game two, and took game three 11-1. 

The Pioneers have scored double digits in 11 games this year, registering double figures in the hit column 14 times, including three performances with at least 20 hits. 

While the pitching staff has posted a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) best 1.67 ERA, the bats have produced a team average of .347, ranking sixth in the country. 

The Pioneers have scored 8.33 runs per game, the 10th-best clip in the country. 

Point Park also ranks in the top 25 in the NAIA in doubles per game (fourth), RBIs per game (eighth), hits per game (13th), triples per game (14th), slugging percentage (17th) and total triples (25th).

The lineup has produced from top to bottom, but the coaching staff is still experimenting with different configurations. 

Cole Horew has slid into the leadoff spot nicely after taking the place of Stefan Mrkonja when he missed a few games due to a hamstring injury. Mrkonja hit in the second spot in the order each of the last two series. 

The three and four spots have been held down consistently by Chris Hernandez and Eric Montero throughout the year. 

After that, it’s been a toss-up, depending on the series and the hot bats. 

Seven different batters have spent time in the sixth spot in the order, while eight guys have seen time in the eighth spot. Nobody has played more than half of the games in the five, seven or nine spots. 

Head coach Loren Torres has praised the depth on his 2018 squad and consistently relied on hot bats rather than giving priority to veterans or longtime starters. 

The philosophy of the team is simple: they want to win. It doesn’t matter who is in the lineup. Every guy is fighting for team wins, regardless of their role. 

That’s what you need from a championship caliber team. That’s what Point Park has this year. 

Take Hernandez for example, who has caught nearly all of the starts for the dominating pitching staff and has hit .390 with 23 RBIs this year. He had a career-high five RBIs last week against Asbury. 

When asked about his performance, he literally had no idea he had that good of a game. He knew the team won and he contributed, but that’s all that mattered. 

He gets it. The rest of the team gets it. Individual stats don’t matter, even though everyone is posting quality and consistent individual numbers. 

The team is 25-2 for several reasons. The pitching staff has been lights out, the bats have been hot and the schedule hasn’t exactly been the toughest. 

The biggest reason: The players are prepared for battle with every at-bat and every pitch. They’re playing for each other. It’s a sports cliche, but one that often is said without evidence or truth. That’s not the case with the Pioneers. 

The role players understand their roles, and the starters realize someone else could take their spot if they don’t produce. 

As the Pioneers enter April, expect the road to get tougher. Expect the team mentality to get stronger.