The Marietta College baseball team, ranked No. 23 in Division III, will do battle against John Carroll Saturday at Don Schaly Stadium in a doubleheader that figures to have crucial implications on OAC Tournament seeding.
The Pioneers enter Saturday 23-11 overall and 11-3 in OAC play, just a game behind first place No. 7 Heidelberg (12-2) and a game ahead of third place John Carroll (10-4). All three clubs have four league games remaining before the OAC Tournament, so this weekend will play a huge role in determining who will get what seed and where the tourney will be played.
Saturday is also a big day for the Etta Express because it is Marietta College's 16th annual "Community Day", which always produces a good turnout.
Photo courtesy of Marietta College
Marietta College pitcher Christian Herstine deals during a game earlier this season. Herstine is scheduled to throw against John Carroll Saturday at Don Schaly Stadium.
"We're excited," said MC head coach Brian Brewer. "It's one of those games you circle on the schedule just because of the event itself, and also because this is a battle for second place basically."
A sweep over the Blue Streaks would clinch at least the No. 2 seed in the OAC Tournament for Marietta, whereas getting swept would put the Pios a game behind John Carroll for second place and all but guarantee they won't be hosting the tourney.
Marietta hosted the last three OAC Tournaments, winning twice, so that's definitely something the Pioneers have their eyes on. However, Brewer doesn't want his team to get too far ahead of itself. For right now, the Pios just need to focus on the Blue Streaks.
"A doubleheader sweep, two wins would be how you draw it up," said Brewer when asked what he hopes to see Saturday.
"It's turning into a pretty good rivalry here the last few years"
Brewer said he'll go with his top two starting pitchers, left-hander Jason Byers and righty Christian Herstine.
Herstine's and Byers' numbers this season are nothing short of outstanding. Herstine is 6-1 in nine starts with an earned run average of .76 and 50 strikeouts in 59 innings. Byers is a perfect 7-0 with a 2.15 ERA and has fanned 65 batters in 67 innings. He also has a team-best two saves.
"Those guys are really good," Brewer said. "It certainly starts with those guys.
"When we run Christian and Jason out there I think there's a little bit of confidence and a little bit of swagger going on that allows us to play a little more relaxed and with confidence."
The pitching duo will need to be at the top of its game against JCU as the Blue Streaks have four batters in their lineup hitting over .350. Chet Lauer is third in the OAC with a .404 batting average while teammate Jimmy Spagna is third in runs batted in (36) and fourth in homeruns (4).
John Carroll also has a solid pitching staff led by ace Brandon Maddern. Maddern is 5-1 with a 2.15 ERA this season. Aaron Lapaglia is also enjoying a productive season, posting a 6-2 record with a 3.64 ERA.
"Their one and two (pitchers) are really good," Brewer said. "They've got a really good bullpen. They play pretty well against us typically."
The key to the series will likely be Marietta's offense. The Pioneers' lineup has struggled to an extent this season, at least by Marietta College standards. The Pioneers will need to come up with some clutch hits to avoid the recent trend of splitting doubleheaders.
"We're not a great club offensively," Brewer said. "I don't think that's any secret. We haven't been scoring a ton of runs all year. Hopefully it will bode well for us later in the year.
"We just need to be more efficient and create every opportunity that we can for ourselves. And a big two-out knock here or there wouldn't hurt either."
Game one is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. Community Day festivities begin at 11 a.m.
NOTES: Brewer announced Friday afternoon that the Etta Express has added a non-conference doubleheader to the schedule. The Pioneers will host La Roche College at Don Schaly Stadium on Sunday, May 4, for two 9-inning games starting at 4 p.m. Marietta split a twinbill at La Roche back on March 20th. The Etta Express won the first game, 7-1, while the Redhawks took the nitecap by the score of 6-3. In the first NCAA Regional Rankings released on Wednesday, Marietta College is second in the Mideast Region, while La Roche is ranked eighth in the region. The addition of these two games will allow Marietta to play a full 40-game regular season schedule. The Pioneers were down games dating back to the opening weekend of the season as weather has played havoc with the schedule all season long.