The senior infielder and California native leads the 2-13 team in batting average, hits and runs scored early on in this spring season.
Senior Tony Jusino is off to a streaky start for Temple baseball. He owns a 12-game hitting streak entering today’s game against Monmouth. Jusino also leads the team in batting average (.431), hits (28) and runs scored (13).
Jusino said he is focusing on a simple game plan in order to maintain his offensive rhythm.
“Just keep it going, just keep being consistent and just get on base,” he said.
At the moment, however, the team is stuck in an early rut with a 2-13 overall record. So far, the Owls have completed more than a quarter of their season, although they have yet to face an Atlantic Ten Conference opponent.
“I think we’ll be better prepared having played a very difficult non-conference schedule early,” coach Rob Valli said. “We have faced some very good teams and some outstanding starting pitching.”
Some of the early challenges included No. 25 Florida Gulf Coast, UNLV and Duke. Playing teams of that caliber will allow the Owls’ lineup and rotation to improve as the season progresses, Valli said.
One milestone the Owls did reach during the first part of this season came in a 14-6 win against Delaware State on March 10. That win was not only the Owls’ first of the year but was also career win No. 300 for Valli.
“I guess it’s nice,” Valli said. “It’s never easy to win a game. I expect that there’s going to be plenty more, but I’m grateful for having the 300 in the past.”
Even though Temple has had inconsistency from its starting pitchers and has experienced some fielding problems, Jusino has remained reliable at the plate by supplying a hit in 13 of the season’s 15 games.
The ambidextrous switch hitter, who throws with his right hand but bats left-handed, has played a big role offensively throughout almost all of the opening games this season. When the Owls played UNLV (14-8 overall) in late February, Jusino went 12-for-19 at the plate (.632 batting average), scored six runs and knocked in three runs in the four-game series.
“I’m just trying to come out here every day and just contribute any way to get a ‘W,’” said Jusino, who was named the Philadelphia Big 5 Baseball Player of the Week following the UNLV series.
A California native from Rancho Bernardo High School, Jusino has started all 15 games for the Owls this season and has played in 65 consecutive games dating back to the 2009 campaign. In addition, he is on pace to improve upon the 19 errors he committed last season. He has only committed one thus far.
“Our strengths right now are our hitting and defense,” Jusino said. “We just need to get our pitching right on track.”
Jusino and the Owls are staying optimistic that things will turn around in time for the all-important conference games. The season began with 10 road loses, but Temple’s previous four-game homestand in Ambler generated a .500 record (2-2).
“Every aspect right now is getting better and better,” Jusino said. “We just need to get all on the same page by conference. I think we’ll be fine by [the A-10 games].”
Junior left fielder Byron McKoy has been perfect in the field (1.000 fielding percentage) and productive offensively for the Owls as well. He leads the team with four home runs and 14 RBIs.
Perhaps the leadoff hitter’s best game of the season came against Niagara (4-16 overall) last Saturday when the Owls overpowered the Purple Eagles, 12-9. McKoy went 2-for-5 and knocked in four runs on a seventh-inning grand slam that put the game out of reach at 12-3.
“I think we’ll continue to hit,” Valli said. “I think we’ve got some pretty good hitters in that lineup. The thing that we’ve worked hard to figure out is what the recipe is going to be out of the bullpen. We’re still trying to define some of those roles.”
Valli said he hopes that key players like junior pitcher Steve Nikorak and junior shortstop Adrian Perez will be able to play at full strength sometime soon. Meanwhile, the Owls will face their first A-10 opponent Friday in a three-game home series with Rhode Island.
“Our goal is to get to the A-10s and win,” Jusino said. “I think all the hard work that we’re going to put forth is going to get us there.”
Connor Showalter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.