AMBLER — For years, the baseball team has been hiding in the Atlantic Ten Conference basement.
Just a year ago, the Owls finished 9-18 against conference opponents and never seriously contended for a title.
Now with a 6-3 conference start and a weekend win over No. 18 Charlotte (23-5, 8-1 A-10), it appears the program may be turning a new page.
The 49ers came into town for a three-game set at Skip Wilson Field brimming with confidence. While Charlotte took two of three, the Owls (14-13 overall) were poised enough to hand them their first conference loss of the season, notching a 5-2 win in the second of the trio of contests.
“We just stayed composed,” said senior pitcher Tom Dolan, who started game two. “We just weren’t giving the game away. We were just very competitive, giving them a challenge. As long as I kept throwing up zeros, we were confident.”
After a 6-2 loss in the opener Friday, the Owls looked to pounce early in the first game of a Saturday doubleheader. However, the 49ers struck quick, giving Dolan trouble in the first. A two-run home run by Brad McElroy spotted Charlotte a 2-0 lead, but it wouldn’t last for long.
In the bottom half of the first, senior Mike Kelch belted a double that brought in a pair of runs while junior Carmen Del Mastro added another RBI single. Kelch is tied for the team lead with 18 RBIs this year.
After the first, Dolan settled down and tossed four solid shutout innings. Freshman reliever Ben White and senior closer Arshwin Asjes then combined to post four more scoreless frames.
While the Owls pitching staff kept the 49ers at bay, freshman Byron McKoy singled to the left side to bring home junior Jamie Abercrombie and freshman Ben Flanery in the fourth inning. The insurance runs were enough to give the Owls the victory.
With the win, Dolan evened his record at 3-3, while Asjes secured his fifth save of the season.
The signature win is just further proof of the team’s notable turnaround.
“It just means that our program is moving in the right direction,” coach Rob Valli said. “We knew we had a lot of work to do coming in. The first season , we played with the players that we had, and last year, we basically had a whole new roster out there. We have more consistency through our lineup this year.”
In the series finale, the Owls were out-muscled by a determined 49ers offense.
The Owls were handicapped by an untimely injury to senior pitcher Mike Mongiardini, who left the game with arm tightness in the second inning.
From there, the bullpen struggled to slow down the 49ers and the Owls defense committed five errors.
When the dust cleared, it was a 9-5 loss for the Owls.
Sophomore Ryan Thomas, who allowed seven hits, was branded with the defeat.
The Owls are now fourth in a tightly packed race in the A-10.
Anthony Stipa can be reached at email@example.com.