With just two weekend Atlantic 10 conference series left for the Temple baseball team, the Owls have a 5-9-1 record in the conference.
That record puts them in a distant fourth in their division, three-and-a-half games behind division-leading St. Bonaventure. Only the top two teams in each division make it to the round-robin tournament in Boyertown, Pa., scheduled for May 16.
“We have a young team and some guys that are swinging at some bad pitches or get lost behind the count,” right fielder Joe Lyall said. “It will come with experience and over time, we’re going to do a lot better.”
Unfortunately for the Owls, time is of the essence. Temple will meet St. Joseph’s this weekend and the Owls finish up their A-10 schedule against Rhode Island next weekend.
St. Joseph’s comes into this weekend’s series with a .323 team batting average. Temple has a .286 average and a team earned-run average of 7.03.
That combination may be too tough for the struggling Owls to overcome the St. Joseph’s team, which is hunting UMass for the second spot in the tournament.
The conference finale is against the surging Rhode Island Rams. The Rams took one from UMass this past weekend on the strength of a complete game by Jon Scullin. Scullin leads the team in batting average with a .361 and has a 4.74 ERA off the mound. The versatile Scullin will be a tough match for the Owls.
UMass has the toughest schedule in the division. The Minutemen will meet St. Bonaventure and St. Joe’s. St. Bonaventure, which leads the division with a 9-6 record, will play Fordham and UMass.
“If we win the next six games and the right people win and the right people lose then we might have a shot,” center fielder Bob Filler said. “If not then we’re going to be hurting.”
At the onset of the season it didn’t look like it was going to have to come down to the wire as it has. Temple surged through the first month of the season before pitching brought them back down to Earth.
The problem all season has been the pitching staff for the Owls. For A-10 games the Owls use Jeff Rugg, Greg Powell and a variable pitcher for the third game of the series.
Rugg has been the savior to the pitching staff with a 3.88 ERA in 16 appearances. Powell has had his moments but has a 6.21 ERA in 18 appearances. Matt Powell and Chris Joyce, usually the variable pitchers, both have ERA’s above 8.70. Their instability has been a huge problem for the Owls.
Another problem has been the lack of relief pitching. The only genuine reliever for the Owls has been Brandon Bruno. Bruno looks good some of the time but he has a 6.63 ERA in 10 appearances. This includes this Sunday’s debacle when he couldn’t get through two batters.
“We have good games and we have bad games,” Rugg said. “We get clutch pitching…we don’t get the hits. We get the hits… our pitching lacks a little bit. Everyone has to come together in one game.”
On the hitting end, the Owls have five players with averages over .300. Rob Cucinotta leads the team with a .368. He has seven doubles and seven home runs and has also driven in 37 RBIs, a team high.
Jim Tully, considered by some to be the best player on the team, trails Cucinotta with a .338 with 13 doubles and 26 RBIs.
Freshman Cap Poklemba hits .330, while designated hitter Kyle Sweppenhiser has a .325 batting average. Sweppenhiser has seven doubles, three triples and 29 RBIs.
“We’re hitting better than we did in the beginning of the year,” Filler said. “We’re getting more hits when we need them, but we’re not getting the big hits when we need them.”
The Owls have left 341 runners on base; their opponents have left only 314. In most games the hitting has been called upon to relieve the pitching, but leaving that many runners on base has hurt the team.
“We’re hitting the ball well this year,” left fielder Chris Krusen said. “We have a lot more home runs. I don’t know much of the stats, but I feel we’re hitting the ball pretty well.”
It will be a tough stretch for the Temple Owls. It’s do or die time and time for the pitching to step up to the challenge. If pitchers other than Rugg and Greg Powell can come to play then the Owls have a shot at a trip to Boyertown.
If the Owls’ rotation continues to play the way it has for most of this 15-26-3 overall season, then the only place the Owls can go is home.
“Last year we made the playoffs and it was the best feeling,” Filler said. “But it just doesn’t look like we’re going to be able to do it this year.
“We have to have our pitchers step it up, we have to have our hitters hit. If we don’t win the next six league games then we’re going to be hurting.”
Coach James “Skip” Wilson is skeptical that his Owls, his 41st Temple team, can make it to Boyertown.
“I don’t think we can make it at all,” Wilson said after the Owls lost to Fordham 11-10 last Sunday.
The Owls are still in it, but as Filler said, the right people have to win and the right people have to lose. For starters, the Owls’ pitching must come around and find a way to win — something they haven’t done consistently all season.