Baseball heads into conference schedule riding four-game winning streak

-Photo taken by and courtesy of Chuck Machinski

Since returning from the RussMatt Invitational in Florida, the Rowan baseball team has turned their season around, winning four in a row to get their record back above .500.

However, the Profs (10-9) now have to look ahead to a doubleheader against Rutgers-Newark (7-11) on Saturday, kicking off New Jersey Athletic Conference play. The matchup also marks the beginning of the final month of the season for the brown and gold, and head coach Mike Dickson said he believes his team will be ready to make a push.

“It’s a whole new season, that’s how I look at it,” Dickson said. “You take your Florida as one part of the season, and then your non-conference games as another part of the season, and that makes the NJAC games a whole season in itself. And we’re going into it playing well.”

Since the Florida trip, the Profs have made adjustments in their rotation to ensure they have the right guys on the mound, and have found much more success.

Senior Dylan Johannink and junior Rob Grilli have especially found success closing out games, as Grilli went almost five innings against Penn State Abington on Tuesday, allowing only three hits and no runs.

According to Grilli, Rowan’s success on the mound can be attributed to everyone getting comfortable in their new roles.

“We’re confident,” Grilli said. “Everyone’s confident with their pitches, they’re trusting how hard they’ve worked up to this point and it’s great to see everyone really coming together and starting to throw well on the mound.”

Grilli added that the team has also found success forcing ground ball outs, which is something the Profs’ coaches have stressed.

“We just keep the fastballs low in the zone, that’s something that [assistant coach Ryan] Kulik preaches, to make sure every pitch in the strike zone is down,” said Grilli.

Against Rutgers-Newark, Dickson is sending out two guys that have stood out over the past few games: freshman righty Eric Shugars and senior righty Johnny Dunn, who Dickson said is just getting back to full strength.

“Eric Shugars had an opportunity to start a few games down in Florida and pitched really well,” Dickson said. “Dunn had some previous injuries and we had to just bring him along slowly as the season went, so he wasn’t able to start early in the year, but he’s 100 percent now.”

On the offensive side, the bats have started up for the brown and gold. The team has outscored opponents 37-10 over their four-game winning streak. Junior third baseman Matt Jolly said, like the pitching staff, the team has bought into Dickson’s philosophy at the plate: keeping the ball down, cutting out strikeouts and being able to bunt the baseball.

“We’re just sticking to the approach, which is staying out of the air,” said Jolly. “That way we can put pressure on the defense and get some runs up on the board.”

Rowan will need to continue its consistently strong play as the conference season unfolds if they want to make it to the postseason. The team’s slow start has found them sitting seventh in the NJAC standings, but Grilli said everyone is confident and ready to bounce back and get some big wins.

“We’re really excited to get into conference play; the region games are tight and hard-fought, but the conference games are really just a whole different breed,” said Grilli. “The pressure’s on and the best players show up and play, so you’ve gotta love it.”

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