Baseball season gets underway

Owls drop two of three in North Carolina.

After having its first series of the season snowed out last weekend, Temple got underway this weekend in Wilson, N.C. It is slated to be the final opening series in program history.

A three game series was scheduled to start Friday with Rider University, but the weather again had something to say and the game was rained out.

Temple knew this prior to going down to North Carolina and it was planned that the Owls would face Rider on Saturday and Sunday as scheduled, but now Temple would take on UMass-Lowell Sunday morning as well.

After losing seven seniors to graduation and six more to transferring after the cuts, the 2014 season will feature plenty of new faces. There are plenty of bumps to be expected a long the way.

Temple got multi-hit games from seven different players, en route to a 15-8 win against Rider on Saturday afternoon. Sunday didn’t go as well, as Temple dropped both games Sunday by a combined score of 21-5 to open the season with a 1-2 record after the first weekend.

In Saturday’s opener, the Owls showed right off the bat how anxious they were to get started.

Temple got RBI hits in the top of the first inning from Amaro, Mason, sophomore catcher Michael D’Accunti and senior outfielder Bobby Heitzman. The Owls had a 5-0 lead before pitcher Matt Hockenberry even took the mound for Temple.

The lead held steady throughout the entire game as Temple had an answer every time Rider tried to get it close.

“You sit around all offseason and think about the first inning of the first ball game,” coach Ryan Wheeler said. “You hope you come out and score five runs which is exactly what we did. The thing that I was pleased with is that we maintained our focus the entire game. We just kept adding on.”

Hockenberry, a senior right-hander, has been thrusted into the role of the team’s ace pitcher after twins Patrick and Eric left the team for North Carolina State University.

Hockenberry was solid in his first outing, earning the win after going five innings, giving up six runs – three earned – and striking out two.

“I thought he did a nice job,” Wheeler said. “Really, with the loss of some of the guys that we had I know I’m asking a lot of guys to step up. We just need them to go out there and do their job.”

When Rider got to within two in the bottom of the sixth, at 12-8, after Hockenberry had exited, sophomore catcher Michael D’Accunti blasted a long solo home run, extending the lead to 13-8. Then in the top of the eighth, seniors Derek Peterson and Robert Amaro added an RBI each and the score was its final, 15-8.

But the quick turnaround for Sunday’s double-header eventually did the Owls in.

After Amaro singled home his fifth RBI of the weekend, it was all downhill from there. UMass-Lowell scored runs in five different innings and pounded the Owls 14-3.

Freshman pitcher Simon Matthews got the start on the mound, the first of his career. Matthews went four innings, giving up 11 hits and seven earned runs. By the time he exited, the score was 7-2 and Temple never recovered.

With not much time between the games, the Owls got right back on the field to finish off their two game series with Rider.

Rider pitcher Zach Mawson kept the Owls at bay for the entirety of his six inning stay. Mawson surrendered just one hit over those six innings while striking out five batters.

“Their pitcher did a really nice job changing speeds and keeping us off balance,” Wheeler said. “You got to give him credit for the job that he did. It was the first left-hander we faced on the season.”

Temple starting pitcher, senior Preston Hill, pitched five scoreless innings before giving up seven earned runs in the sixth inning, allowing Rider to build a 7-0 lead.

“We had a quick turnaround after last night’s game,” Wheeler said of Sunday. “We’re not used to playing games at 10 in the morning. We essentially played three ballgames in about a 24-hour period. That’s a lot of baseball. Mentally we were a little fatigued. I thought physically we held up pretty good, but just the mental concentration broke down a little bit. That will come to more games we play.”

Temple will be in action again on Friday, when they begin a three-game weekend series against Virginia Commonwealth in Richmond, Va.

With new faces vying for playing time all over the field, the Owls are a work in progress.

“It was good to play,” Wheeler said. “For as well as things went Saturday, things didn’t quite go our way today. We got to see a lot of guys on the field, I think we got everybody some playing time at some point. We start to try to answer some questions on how this team is going to be able to win some ball games.”

Jeff Neiburg can be reached at or on Twitter @jeff_neiburg.

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