The baseball team’s hitting has been strong, but pitching is holding it back.
The Owls’ offense has recorded some big numbers this season, ranking as one of the top offensive squads in Division I baseball during the past three weeks, but coach Rob Valli said having a strong offense isn’t always enough.
“We’re going to live and die by our offense,” Valli said.
Valli referenced the past four games, as Temple lost to St. Joseph’s by a narrow margin of 4-3 and to La Salle this past weekend in a three-game series sweep. In the last four games, the Owls have been out-hit by their opponents, 45-35.
Statistically, the Owls are batting a .360 average, which ranks atop all other NCAA Division I teams. The team’s BA has been declining while Temple started its Atlantic Ten Conference schedule facing Xavier, Dayton, St. Joseph’s and La Salle.
“When we all pretty much went cold at the same time [offensively,] it hurt us,” Valli said. “Even this weekend, our three starters all pitched well enough to win, but our offense didn’t give us a chance.”
On the year, the senior class has produced in bulk for the Owls, as shortstop Adrian Perez, outfielder Byron McKoy and infielder Ryan Ferguson have each tallied over 40 hits. Redshirt-junior infielder Steve Nikorak also has more than 40 hits and is tied for the team’s most runs scored (33) with McKoy.
“We swing the bat real well,” Nikorak said. “But we need to execute better and start winning more games.”
The senior sluggers have helped the team garner some national recognition, while also setting new standards for the program this year. Perez has more than 15 multi-hit games and is ranked fifth in the country in total hits with 49 last week.
Ferguson broke the Owls’ hit-streak record, in the second game with Dayton, stringing 26 games together with at least one hit. The previous record was 25 games, held by Mike Burton in 1989.
In the final game against Dayton, McKoy reached a new milestone by tailing 224 career hits, passing Sean Barksdale (2007-2009), who was fourth all-time in program history.
“That’s pretty good because Barksdale is one of the best players I’ve ever coached,” Valli said. “I guess [McKoy] has a chance to set the record, and I hope he can keep playing well to do that, but it says a lot when you start mentioning the names that are at the top of that list.”
“Some pretty good hitters have played here over the years,” Valli added.
McKoy currently has 228 career hits after adding four more in the La Salle series, tying for third on the all-time list with Tom Whalen (1993-1996) and Rob Cucinotta (1999-2003). He needs six more hits to pass Bob Filler (1998-2001) to become the all-time leader.
With the team BA hovering around .360, Temple is still one of the top offensive teams in the nation, but Valli said the lack of offense as of late has been “devastating.” In addition, the number of injuries to key players has also had a “major impact” on the team, Valli said.
Pitchers junior Dan Moller and senior Brian Sustersic are out for the season, which leaves the pitching staff without two of its best relief pitchers, Valli said. Two other pitchers, redshirt-freshman Ryan Kuehn and junior Jimmy Devine, may not return from injuries until the second half of the season.
One of the team’s best defensive outfielders, sophomore David Hall, is expected to redshirt the remainder of the season, Valli said.
“We’re missing some key players, and that’s hurting us right now,” Valli said.
Despite the Owls’ record (15-14, 2-7 A-10) and last place standing in the A-10, Ferguson remains optimistic with 25 games remaining in the season. Ferguson noted that last season’s record yielded just 14 wins, and the Owls have already surpassed that total.
“There’s no pressure right now,” Ferguson said. “We’re just trying to win games and take it one game at a time.”
“I think situational hitting is a big thing we need to continue to work on,” Ferguson added.
Connor Showalter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.