After losing seven straight games, Temple coach Ryan Wheeler had a message for his team at practice yesterday.
With everything that’s been surrounding the program since it was cut on Dec. 6, Wheeler said he needed to make sure everyone was on the same page.
“I talked to them yesterday and just said that feeling sorry for ourselves and just continuing to lose is just unacceptable,” Wheeler said. “It doesn’t matter what situation we’re in or what’s going on around us off the field. We’ve got to come out and fight and play hard and not give up and just roll over.”
“I told them that they got to figure out how they want to be remembered,” Wheeler added. “It starts tomorrow. I’m going to see what your answer is at 10:45 and just left it with that.”
Their answer was heard loud and clear in the seventh inning.
Niagara chased Temple pitcher Matt Hockenberry off the mound in the bottom of the seventh after Hockenberry threw 6.1 innings, allowing four runs (two earned) on six hits with three strikeouts to go along with a pair of walks.
The Purple Eagles’ fourth run had given them a 4-3 lead, and there was still only one out and runners on first and second base.
Temple sophomore reliever Tim McCarthy took the hill and, after hitting his first batter, struck out two consecutive batters to end the threat.
That’s when the Owls seized an opportunity.
Behind RBIs in the inning from senior Derek Peterson, senior Robert Amaro, senior Andrew Nist, sophomore Frank D’Agostino, senior David Hall and junior Josh Mason, Temple exploded for seven runs on five hits to take a 10-4 lead.
Then, junior Zach Batchelor and freshman Patrick Vanderslice struck out a pair of batters apiece in one inning of work apiece to close out Temple’s second win.
Hockenberry got touched up for three runs over the first two innings but was able to settle down in the middle innings. The 6-foot-3 220-pound righthander held Niagara hitless in innings three through six, punching out three batters. But three hits in the seventh led to him being removed from the game.
“Hock is just a very aggressive type kid,” Wheeler said. “He just needs to settle down emotionally. Sometimes he just tries to overpitch. He just backed off and just started to trust his tough. He locked in and did a great job and got us into the 7th, which was really good for our pitching staff.”
Temple got on the board in the third inning on a Peterson blooper into centerfield that fell between three fielders and drove in a pair of runs.
Peterson picked up his third RBI in the fifth inning, tying the game at three on a double into right field.
Niagara starting pitcher Jordan Schwartz was electric in the first three innings, striking out six batters. But the Owls settled in and got to him in that third inning and then again in the fifth.
Part of Temple’s offensive strategy, Wheeler said, is to get opposing pitcher’s pitch counts up and find the offensive groove in the middle innings.
“I kept telling the guys, it’s a nine inning ball game, if we can keep it three and try to cut into their as we got through the second time in the lineup, then we had a chance,” Wheeler said.
The Owls continue the Big 5 Baseball Bash at St. Joseph’s tomorrow when they take on Villanova at 2:45 p.m. before playing host-team St. Joe’s on Sunday at 2:45 p.m.
Wheeler brought the group together after the game and said, “One’s not enough, you’ve got to come back and do it tomorrow.”
“This is a test of our character right now, we’re going to see tomorrow if we’re going to fight and continue to play well or if we’re just going to roll over and give up,” Wheeler added.