Winners of seven straight, baseball finds identity

Shortstop Matt Jolly turns two against Stockton on April 22. Jolly leads the team with three homeruns. -Assistant Photo Editor/Amanda Palma

Only four games remain on the schedule for the Rowan baseball team and the stars could not have aligned more perfectly.

The Profs currently sit tied for second in the New Jersey Athletic Conference with a 10-4 conference record (22-13 overall). They have two games — home and home — against first place Kean University (22-12, 11-3 NJAC) on Thursday and Friday before closing out the season with a doubleheader against Ramapo College (27-7-1, 9-5 NJAC) on Saturday.

The Profs control their own fate with everything on the line and their confidence is through the roof; they have won their last seven games. Standout freshman pitcher Eric Shugars said he attributes the streak to the team settling in to their identity.

“I definitely think we found our identity at the right time, especially at the end of the year,” Shugars said. “We have probably our four biggest games of the year coming up against Kean and Ramapo. But we’re hot and I think we’ll be able to win the conference.”

The pitching rotation has been a highlight for the brown and gold over the latter half of the season, as the team has found the appropriate roles for their many talented arms.

While Shugars did not factor into the rotation until the team went to Florida, senior pitcher Johnny Dunn has been one of the consistent elements Rowan has relied on.

“We’re doing well right now and we’re playing well as a team, which is great because in the beginning of the season we were struggling to find our identity,” Dunn said. “So right now things are going well, everyone’s clicking, and we’re really starting to shape up.”

Six of the seven games the Profs have won during their win streak have been against conference foes, so their timing could not have been any more perfect. Head coach Mike Dickson said the team has been dominating because they are playing all three phases of the game well.

“We’re hitting timely, we’re pitching well, and we’re playing good defense for the most part,” Dickson said. “If you can win two out of those three phases each time you’ll have a great opportunity to win the game.”

As far as the team settling in to their identity, Dickson said that while everyone is buying in to the small ball philosophy, the Profs are continuing their efforts to keep everyone on the same page.

“Getting everybody on the same page is a constant thing through practice and through your discussions with the team,” Dickson said. “With all the different lineups you send out there, when you find some consistency you want to try to stick with that for as long as possible and this group has been playing consistent.”

While Rowan was just average as far as team statistics for most of the season, their performance through the last few games has separated them from their conference rivals. The team currently leads the NJAC in hits (385) and is second in team batting average (.316). On the mound, the Profs sit fifth in ERA (3.68) and third in total strikeouts (212); two categories the team struggled at in early March.

Above all else, the Profs have shown improvement in two major areas that are not recorded on the stat sheet: mentality and consistency.

“We’ve been in a couple of these situations in Florida and last week when we had seven games in five days,” said Dickson. “We know we are capable of winning the conference, but for now we just need to get through this weekend, get into the tournament and survive and advance.”

With all of these improvements the brown and gold have made over these past few weeks, one thing that was never questioned was their motivation. The team has several seniors who will be lacing up their cleats for the last time as a Prof this season. Shugars said that the younger players will be doing all they can to bid them farewell with a championship title.

“For me it’s not so much about my own play over these next couple games,” Shugars said. “When I look at the seniors I know they really want to go out with an NJAC title and want to go deep into the playoffs, so my focus now is to play for them. We all want to be able to deliver for them.”


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