The Owls rely on a pair of underclassmen on the mound to carry their pitching staff.
Take a glance at some pitching staffs at the collegiate level and there is usually a starter who anchors the rotation, a seasoned four-year hurler who is undoubtedly regarded as the ace.
If there was one game to win, he’d be the guy toeing the rubber before the leadoff hitter stepped into the batter’s box.
Not for the Owls.
Sophomore Matt Hockenberry and freshman Pat Peterson are Temple’s unfledged one-two punch for a rotation that also includes two seniors.
“We just got to step up,” Hockenberry said. “This isn’t high school baseball anymore. [Peterson’s] a freshman [and] competition is different but you can see statistically that he’s handling it well.”
“The biggest thing we have to do on the mound, it’s not about strikeouts [and] it’s not about no-hitters,” he added. “It’s about leaving our team in a position to win the game.”
After hitting the Garden State Parkway to visit Monmouth, starter and senior Dan Moller began the series with the Hawks in the first of three games Friday, March 30, allowing two runs in five innings in the no-decision. The Owls’ won the game 5-3.
Following a rainout in New Jersey on Saturday, March 31, there was the 6-foot 3-inch Hockenberry on the mound at Skip Wilson Field to close out the series as the rotation rolled back to the young arms for the matchup Sunday, April 1.
Hockenberry allowed a run in six innings in the Owls’ 7-1 win against the Hawks to get his fourth victory on the season, while Peterson made a rare appearance out of the bullpen due to the rainout, tossing three scoreless frames for his first career save.
Coach Ryan Wheeler said he has been more than pleased with the pair of underclassmen starters.
“I think they’ve done outstanding,” Wheeler said. “I knew in the fall that [Peterson] had a chance to be something special, just the way he was throwing the ball and the way he came in here and was doing things. I didn’t think he’d be this outstanding, so I’m very happy with that.”
“I saw [Hockenberry] out of high school and I knew that he had a chance to be very good as well,” Wheeler added. “So, both of them have done a great job and I’m very excited about not only the rest of this season, but the future for us.”
Early on, while Temple [12-15, 0-3 Atlantic Ten Conference] hasn’t exactly gotten off to the best start, Hockenberry and Peterson have kept the Owls in games they have started, as the team has a 7-6 record when either pitcher takes the hill.
In those six losses, four were one-run games.
Hockenberry attributes his success to pitching coach Brian Pugh and the conditioning regimen.
“Pugh has, I wouldn’t say a strict running and conditioning program, but it has gotten us in shape,” Hockenberry said. “I lost a lot of weight coming into the fall and doing all of his conditioning stuff and conditioning without a ball in your hand, when you [do] have the ball in your hand you perform better, you can go longer.”
As for Peterson, the Bear, Del. native, is no stranger to being one of the main men in a rotation.
Last year, at Charter School of Wilmington, he threw a perfect game with 16 strikeouts, finishing the 2011 season with a state-record four walks.
Peterson continues to display command his rookie season, registering a 0.86 walks and hits per innings pitched, while getting more comfortable with each start. Peterson has a 1.71 earned-run average in his last three starts.
“It’s going pretty well right now,” Peterson said. “My numbers are pretty good, which I’m pleased with. Hopefully I can keep that going in conference games.”
Peterson admits being surprised with all the freedom Wheeler has given him in starts as a freshman.
“I was kind of surprised, if [Wheeler] would have me on a short leash sometimes being the freshman and going to the bullpen and going to the older guys, but it’s been going pretty well,” Peterson said.
Also in the rotation, Moller has been acclimating to the role of starter after coming out of the bullpen to start the year.
Despite the duo’s youth, Wheeler hasn’t handled Hockenberry and Peterson with kid gloves.
If the pitch count is reasonable Wheeler said he has no problem letting them go deep into the game.
“I feel very comfortable that they’re in great shape, that they can go deep into ballgames and they’re gonna be ready to bounce back for the next start,” Wheeler said.
“They’ve got tremendous upside and they work extremely hard,” Wheeler added. “With Pugh sort of guiding them [and] leading them, I really expect big things from them down the road.”
Bud Weaver can be reached at email@example.com.