The first games of the season before conference play are the collegiate equivalent of spring training in the Major Leagues. March is a time to tinker with rosters, rotations and lineups. Overall play has not been indicative of what the Owls are capable of.
So far the Owls have carried big bats and are letting them do the talking. Unfortunately the same can’t be said of the pitching staff.
After starting the season 6-7, Temple has won six in a row on the strength of their hitting, which was highlighted this week with a 15-9 victory over Navy and a 19-1 trouncing of Maryland-Eastern Shore on Monday.
“I hate to play games like this. It gets them out of the mode that they’re in,” coach Skip Wilson said on his team playing weaker opponents. “I have to get them back into it to get them ready for the weekend.”
The mode they were in was certainly effective against Maryland-Eastern Shore. Junior outfielder Pete Colon’s second inning leadoff home run to left field marked the first at the new Ambler Field. It was a sign of things to come.
Maryland pitcher Dereck Casper served up a grand slam to Owls’ senior outfielder Al Roach in the fourth inning. Roach would find himself with the bases loaded again in the sixth inning with the same result – a grand slam. No other player during Wilson’s 45-year tenure has hit two grand slams in one game.
“I just got lucky and had some good pitches to hit,” Roach said.
While scoring runs has come with few problems Temple’s pitching has struggled. The Owls have a team ERA of 8.30. Going into this weekend’s Atlantic Ten doubleheader against Xavier, only one Temple starting pitcher holds an ERA of 3.00 or better. Wilson hasn’t found this trend unusual.
“When you’re in Florida, you’re searching to get a pitching rotation and to see who can start, who can pitch in the middle and who can close,” Wilson said. “I think we have that now. If you look at the past four or five games, the ERAs have dropped consistently.”
But non-conference games against Maryland (2-30-2), Navy (7-19) and Towson (8-12) are less than formidable competition. Conference play should be the real test.
“Once we get to the A-10s, more emotions come in. I think once that happens, everybody picks it up,” sophomore pitcher Tim Brown said.
The Owls are looking to find the arms to match their consistency at the plate against conference opponents like Richmond, Fordham and Massachusetts, but to do that Wilson is looking to the junior members of the team for leadership.
“I’m hoping that (Chris) Kurtz, (Justin) Mendek and (Tim) Foulkrod step up for us,” he said. “Josiah Platchek has pitched super coming in. I think he had two saves for us this past weekend. He has been doing well for us.”
Despite their initial woes, things are looking up for the pitching staff.
“We have a couple freshmen that I think are going to come on,” Wilson said. “I have a boy by the name of (Rob) Licata who I’ll use, and Michael Brown and Chris Hamilton who I can pitch in the middle of the week.”
The winning has changed the Owls’ attitude as well.
“I’m happy to get on the mound and get a couple innings and get some work getting ready for the weekend,” Hamilton said. “We had a slow start, but this weekend [against LaSalle] we picked it up a lot. We’re on the right track to improve.”
Lucas Murray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.