The team has won five-straight non-conference games.
The baseball team rallied to win its past five games, including its home opener, after having lost five-straight games on the road.
The team struggled at the end of February in its second trip in North Carolina against High Point, losing all three games in the series. The following weekend, on March 5-6, Temple lost two more to West Virginia and Elon, 12-1, and 12-3, respectively.
After the Owls traveled to Delaware State on March 8 and came away with a 10-2 win, the team opened its home schedule the next day at Skip Wilson Field with a win against Maryland Eastern Shore, 14-1. The Cherry and White wrapped last weekend up with victories over Cornell, 9-6, Mount St. Mary’s, 10-9, and Iona, 5-4.
So far the 8-5 Owls have avoided a repeat of last season’s slow non-conference start when they began with a 2-14 non-conference record and then finished 14-37 overall (10-17 A-10). The team is relying more on experience this season, as seven of eight starting position players return from last year.
Before the season began, coach Rob Valli said he expected his squad to have a “great chance to get off to a good start” during the 18 pre-conference games to prepare for Atlantic Ten Conference competition. He said the lineup has significantly improved from last year, as many of the players experienced their first year as regular starters.
Senior outfielder Byron McKoy is leading the Owls in batting a .441 average and 26 hits, as the North Carolina native had the chance to play in his home state for the first eight games of the year. Senior shortstop Adrian Perez has also played a key role for offense with a team-high 20 RBIs, adding 24 hits as well.
Offensively, the squad plans to be competitive this season, said senior pitcher Ryan Ferguson, who led the team in RBIs last season with 40.
“We have a lot of guys back, so I think that’s a plus,” Ferguson said. “We have a lot of experience hitting.”
The pitching staff is led by junior Jimmy Devine (2-1, 1.80 ERA), a Duquesne transfer, who went six innings in the home opener and gave up one hit and an unearned run.
Freshman pitcher Matt Hockenberry (2-1, 5.48 ERA) nearly picked up his third win of the season against Iona, as he pitched seven innings and kept the Owls close, allowing nine hits and two earned runs.
Redshirt-junior pitcher Steve Nikorak (1-1), who pitched the final two innings of the Iona game, earning the win, said the team is looking to “eliminate mental errors.” Last season, the Owls committed 117 errors while their opponents misfielded about 40 fewer in total. But that ratio is in the Owls’ favor in 2011 as opponents have 29 errors compared to the Owls’ 24.
“We’re really just trying to play relaxed and play with some confidence,” Nikorak said. “We didn’t play with much confidence at all last year.”
Temple will face Penn on Wednesday before taking on four more non-conference opponents. On March 25, the Cherry and White open conference play against Xavier, who was selected during the preseason by A-10 coaches to finish second in the conference.
“The biggest challenge in conference is going to be [that] we play on the road the first two weekends with who I believe to be the best two teams in the league this year with Xavier and Dayton,” Valli said.
However, the season goal for the team remains to win the A-10 Championship, the same as it has been for the past four years, Ferguson said.
“That’s our goal since we got here, and we’re going to keep our goal even though we may not have done so well in the past,” Ferguson said. “We’re looking to improve and shoot for that A-10 Championship.”
Connor Showalter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.