These are the games that need to be won.
Fighting for playoff positioning, the baseball team needs every win it can get. More importantly, the Owls need to beat the teams competing for those same spots.
However, due to faulty pitching and some tough breaks, the Owls dropped two of three games to Atlantic Ten Conference foe Xavier last weekend. With the series loss, Temple fell to 16-22 overall and 10-7 in the A-10. They currently stand in third place, a half game ahead of Charlotte and Xavier.
The weekend started off in the right direction, as the Owls held off a late Musketeers rally Friday afternoon to win, 13-9.
The offense set the tone for the game, ultimately getting 12 hits off Xavier junior pitcher Danny Rosenbaum. Leading the way for the Cherry and White was junior third baseman Tony Jusino, who hit his first career grand slam en route to a five RBI night.
Xavier responded with a four-run ninth inning, exposing a weak Temple bullpen, before coming up short.
The bullpen would continue to disappoint throughout the weekend, especially during Saturday’s 14-9 loss.
Senior outfielder Sean Barksdale and senior shortstop Mark Ortega combined to contribute six RBIs to give the Owls an early 8-6 lead.
Then came the bullpen.
Junior pitcher Matt Blackburn, usually one of coach Rob Valli’s more reliable pitchers, gave up seven runs in one and one-third innings of work. Blackburn gave up his second home run of the year, a grand slam, to Xavier sophomore first baseman Ben Thomas in the eighth inning. Blackburn fell to 3-1 on the year.
Valli, clearly frustrated by his bullpen’s failures, is running out of ideas.
“We don’t have many options,” Valli said. “We’re just hoping for the best. Our bullpen has let us down all year.”
One of the afternoon’s highlights was Barksdale’s climb to second place on the all-time RBI list. With 150 career RBIs, Barksdale passed former major leaguer John Marzano. He remains four RBIs behind all-time leader Pete Dempsey.
What makes Barksdale’s climb up the charts impressive is the fact that he’s doing it in three years, Valli said.
“If he had played four years, he’d be the greatest offensive player in the history of Temple baseball,” Valli said. “He would’ve set every single offensive record. To do what he’s doing in three years is simply exciting.”
Heading into Sunday’s mid-afternoon matchup, the Owls had every intention of salvaging a series win. Unfortunately, an early deficit proved too much, as they ultimately fell, 6-5.
Trailing 4-0 after the second inning, the Owls were playing catch-up all day. Thanks to a couple timely hits, the Cherry and White managed to cut the lead to one run on multiple occasions but would end up on the receiving end of bad luck once again.
In the ninth inning, with one out and two Xavier men on base, Musketeer senior right fielder Neil Lindgren singled to left field. With the runner stopping at third base, Owls senior left fielder Jamie Abercrombie could not get a grasp on the ball, leading to an unearned run. Considering the double play that occurred on the next play, the run was extra costly.
After an RBI double in the bottom of the ninth inning by Jusino, senior catcher Kyle Obal grounded out to second base to end the game.
Stranding runners was a common occurrence for the Owls, who, at times, have had trouble finding clutch hits.
“We left 10 guys on base,” Valli said. “Some guys come through in the clutch all the time. Some never do.”
Despite the losses, Valli has managed to maintain an optimistic outlook on the team’s playoff situation.
“We got some help in the standings. We haven’t lost any ground,” Valli said. “Even after this series, we’re still ahead of Xavier.”
Temple resumes conference play this weekend with a three-game road series against Richmond but first faces Villanova this afternoon.
Kyle Gauss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.