Coach Rob Valli has the baseball team right where it wants to be — atop the Atlantic Ten Conference standings.
Fresh off a three-game sweep of La Salle, the Owls (11-11 overall, 6-0 A-10) find themselves fronting the A-10 two weekends into the conference schedule. With sweeps over both Duquesne and the Explorers, Valli has his jump-start Owls playing the type of ball that wins consistently.
“We’re taking it day by day, especially with pitching,” Valli said. “La Salle put us in some hairy positions, but we got our starting pitching to go deep in the game, which gave our bullpen a needed break.”
The fourth-year coach put heavy praise on his elder pitchers after the top two hurlers, senior Matt Mongiardini and sophomore Steve Nikorak, went down with injuries. Junior pitcher Matt Blackburn has established himself as the team’s closer and is showing opposing batters that he can be Temple’s lights-out guy. Fellow junior pitcher Ryan Thomas is also making conversation as a dependable starter for the Owls. Thomas’ 3-1 record is matched with a 3.45 ERA.
“Thomas had great control over his fastball [and] also has great command over his slider, which he can throw a strike for consistently,” Valli said. “He’s been outstanding so far.”
Thomas alluded to his teammates’ performances, not his own, when talking about the Owls’ success this season in the A-10.
“Dan Moller has done an outstanding job coming over from high school and being a go-to guy for us. [Ben] White is doing a great job, too, along with Jordan Cannon,” he said.
One guy who has stepped up is senior second baseman Carmen Del Mastro. The team captain is putting up big numbers, as he’s batting .444 after 22 games. The Philadelphia native is sharing the workload though, saying the team’s eight seniors are all showing a form of teaching.
“I wear a ‘C,’ but in all honesty, it’s all eight of us who lead this team. We’re all captains,” Del Mastro said.
The jumpstart to the A-10 season has come in multiple forms, like defensive leaders senior shortstop Mark Ortega and senior outfielder Sean Barksdale, who also dons a “C.” Barksdale is swinging a hot bat right now with a .387 average, which nicely follows the one of Del Mastro’s.
“It’s all on who’s swinging the bat well right now. We have to get the bottom part of the order going to turn the lineup over, but with some work, we’ll get there,” Del Mastro said.
After a shaky start down South, the Owls have a full plate ahead of them, including the Liberty Bell Classic, a Phillies-sponsored, citywide tournament. A first-round date with Villanova will certainly test the squad, but it plans on staying focused. Valli has already put the ball in young sophomore pitcher Jordan Cannon’s hands.
“The key will be to stretch out our thin bullpen,” Valli said. “These midweek games are so important, so we’ll have to count pitches, and that’ll give us a chance to win. Question marks still need to be filled, but doing well in A-10 weekends will help.”
In addition to the Liberty Bell Classic, the Owls will have to keep eyes out on upcoming opponents like A-10 powerhouse Charlotte. This series will be a vital key if the Owls want to make a repeat appearance in the A-10 Tournament come May. Charlotte bested Temple two out of three times last season, making the 49ers an enemy to circle on the calendar at Skip Wilson Field.
But first, the Owls travel up to Amherst, Mass., to battle the Minutemen this weekend.
Christian Audesirk can be reached at email@example.com.