By Daniel Herrick
The men’s baseball team improved their MIAA record to 7-9 last week, after taking three of four games from rival Hope College in a pair of home-and-home doubleheaders last Thursday and Saturday. The Hornets are now ranked fifth in the MIAA just past the halfway point of their conference schedule.
Junior Scott Devine led the Hornets against Hope at home on Saturday. In the first game of the day with a 10-3 Hornet victory, Devine went 2/3 with four RBIs and two runs scored. In the bottom of the sixth inning, Devine came to the plate with two men on and brought both of them home when he took a 3-1 pitch deep beyond the left-field fence for the first ever home run at the new Woodworth Field.
“[Hope pitcher, Matt] Chema started me off with two breaking balls in the dirt, and then two fastballs, one of which was a strike. Three-one count – I was looking for a pitch up over the plate,” said Devine. “He threw me a fastball at the belt middle-in and I really just swung hard at it. It was such a rush and so exhilarating to blow that game open for our team.”
During the second game of the day, Devine showed off another of the tools from his repertoire as he threw out a Hope runner looking to tag and score on a fly ball. From his position in right field, Devine caught the fly with his momentum carrying him toward home plate and threw a laser to catcher Jack Dynes, beating the Hope runner by a good two steps.
While Devine claimed the play of the game, the Dutchmen would go on to claim the second game, 4-1, to avoid a season sweep at the hands of the Hornets. The results from Saturday do well to serve as a mini-model of the Hornets’ MIAA year, thus far.
After scoring ten runs on 13 hits in game one, the Hornets were only able to plate one run in game number two. The inconsistent scoring between the two games has been a tale of the Hornets’ MIAA season. Since March 30, Kalamazoo has lost just twice when they score three or more runs: a 7-6 loss to Alma and a 10-4 loss to Albion. In their other five losses over that span, the Hornets have scored just six runs in total. The team has averaged 6.67 runs scored in their six wins over that same time.
“Our lineup is so young, and earlier in the season we were very inconsistent at the plate. We would show flashes of how good we could be one day, then get away from that the next day,” said senior Marc Zughaib.
Over the course of the entire season, Kalamazoo has scored the least amount of runs of all MIAA teams: 93. This comes in spite of the team ranking second in the conference in batting average with a team average of .282. Youth could be a major determining factor to these struggles scoring runs. Including junior transfer Carter Chandler, the Hornets often start six first-year players in their eight field positions.
Further evidence of this comes in the form of improvements displayed over the course of the year. While the Hornets have scored the least amount of runs of all MIAA teams over the course of the entire season, the team has managed the score the fourth-highest total—64—in all MIAA games.
Some of their advancements over the year have come from a refinement of team hitting philosophy. “What I’ve seen as the season has progressed is our hitters have been able to drive the ball to the opposite field,” said Zughaib. “Our whole offensive philosophy is based off of this and our guys have bought into what has been taught this whole year by our coaching staff. It also has not been just one guy getting all of our hits. Everyone has been able to contribute which has made the lineup that much deeper.”
Not all the struggles can be explained by age. In fact, three of the team’s top-four batting averages belong to freshmen players. Freshmen center fielder Ian Kobernick leads the team with an average of .397—good for second in the MIAA.
The Hornets will look to put their struggles at the plate from the loss against Hope behind them when they face off against Olivet in a pair of home-and-home doubleheaders on Friday and Saturday. Olivet has surrendered the highest number of earned runs in the MIAA this season by 14 runs over the next-lowest: Kalamazoo. The pitchers have been happy to watch their teammates continued improvement at the plate and have used the momentum to positively affect their performance on the mound.
“The offense has consistently improved throughout the season and they’ve been great over the past five games,” said junior pitcher Adam McDowell. “It’s a lot easier to go out on the mound and throw confidently knowing your offense is going to put up runs for you. It means you don’t have to be perfect.”
Kalamazoo will open their four-game series against Olivet in the first game of a doubleheader at home on Friday starting at 2:00 p.m.