Pitching must improve as Flyers baseball begins conference play

It was a perfect day at Woerner Field, but not for the Flyers, who closed non-conference play with a 10-7 loss to Morehead State on Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Flyer News.

Peter Burtnett
Sports Editor

The Dayton Flyers baseball team has faced their share of challenges this season, and head into A-10 play with a record of 10-19 after losing 10-7 to Morehead State on Tuesday at Woerner Field.

After stumbling out of the gate with a 1-5 start, the Flyers rebounded with a 4-game split against Oakland March 5-7, ending the series with a 7-6 walkoff win. But the next weekend, the Flyers dropped all 4 games to North Dakota State at home to fall to 3-11.

The following weekend, the Flyers dropped 3 of 4 games to Central Michigan to fall to a season-low record of 4-14. 

The Flyers turned the tide with a single win over Eastern Kentucky in a score that looked like a football game (20-13), and took 3 of 4 from Kent State to push their record up to 8-15. Pushing their winning streak to 4 games after wins over Akron and Xavier, the Flyers seemed to be heading in the right direction again.

That was before the most recent weekend, when they proceeded to lose the next three after winning the opener against Xavier to fall to 10-18.

Through the main non-conference slate (the Flyers still have single games at Akron on April 20 and home against Eastern Kentucky on April 28), the Flyers have been led by two upperclassmen. Junior shortstop Benjamin Blackwell is batting .327 with 14 RBIs, and senior third baseman Riley Tirotta has 7 home runs and 26 RBIs to go with a .311 batting average.

Also batting above .300 is junior first baseman Marcos Pujols (.303) and senior second baseman Mariano Ricciardi (.306). Graduate senior outfielder Eddie Pursinger is just behind Tirotta with 6 home runs. 

“I really like what the hitters are doing,” manager Jayson King said. “Scoring a lot of runs, they’re hitting some balls hard, right at people. I really like what they’re doing.”

Hitting hasn’t been a big problem for the Flyers, but with 219 runs (162 earned) scored against them, the Flyers pitching staff has had their ups and downs. In the most recent series against Xavier, the Flyers allowed 38 total runs in the Saturday doubleheader.

“Right now, where we are at is that we have to keep runs off the board,” King said after Tuesday’s loss. “We’re just not doing a good job of that right now. A lot of games where there’s double-digit runs on the board, and you just don’t win a lot of baseball games when it’s like that…. But until the pitching shores up, the fielding shores up, it’s going to be hard to score double-digit runs on a regular basis.”

King said addressing the issue of pitching would take “hours” to say all the things they have tried.

“I think now, we’re to the point where we’re just looking for new people to try to do the job,” King said. “We’re looking for guys to step up instead of continuing to give the ball to some guys that haven’t been successful.”

Having given pitchers an extended period of time to “see what they have,” the Flyers coaching staff now has the numbers to give some starts to pitchers who haven’t started the last few weeks. Of those numbers, the only regular starting pitcher (at least five starts) with an earned run average (ERA) below 6.00 is senior lefty Hunter Wolfe, who has a record of 3-2 with an ERA of 3.16. 

Fellow senior starting pitchers Ben Olsen (7.46) and Cole Pletka (6.35) have a 1-8 combined record, and junior Dylan Keller (8.15) is 0-3 in 5 starts. 

“This is an issue that we’re having as a staff,” King said. “Not performing the way that we’re capable of. The expectations are a lot higher than that, for these guys. I think that if guys do what they’re capable of, runs don’t look like this on a regular basis, which it has for most of the first half (of the season)… If the pitching continues to be like this, it’ll be a struggle.”

The Flyers open play in the Atlantic 10 with a 4-game series against Davidson April 9-11. 

King looks at the second half of the season and beginning of conference play as a chance to press the reset button.

“I think the biggest games and all our goals are right in front of us,” King said. “But like I told the guys, things don’t just change because conference play starts. Things actually start to go your way when you play the game right, when you make plays and execute pitches. I think we’re going to have to do that more to have the second half that we want and that I truly think we are capable of, not it’s not going to happen with the kind of baseball that we’ve played in the first half.

“I think the offense, I really like what those guys are doing. That’s one of the groups where we have them in a good spot, and now we need to focus on getting the pitching and the defense in the same spot.”

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