By BRAD KELLY
What: No. 18 Salisbury hosts York (Pa.) Spartans
When: April 14 at 12:00 p.m. and 2:30 p.m.
Where: SU Baseball Field
How to Watch: Sea Gull Sports Network
Fresh off a win earlier this week against rival Christopher Newport, the Salisbury baseball team will look to clinch the number one seed in the Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) tournament against the York (Pa.) Spartans this weekend. The Gulls simply have to win one game during the doubleheader to clinch.
The first game of the double dip will also be recognized as Senior Day, and this series will be the last two regular season games at the current SU baseball field.
Salisbury: The Gulls are 9-1 over there last 10 games and have been one of the best stories in the CAC this season. They came out of the gates slow losing four of their first six games, but rebounded magnificently to the tune of a 24-8 (15-1 CAC) record this season. With the top seed nearly in their grasp, the team will look to continue their rise by taking care of the Spartans.
Pitching: Salisbury would not be in this situation if not for the incredible performances from the rotation this season. It is not a coincidence that the team got off to a slow start at the same time as the struggles came from the pitching staff. But, that has not been the case for a large part of the second half of the 2017 campaign.
Senior pitchers Pete Grasso and Jeff Oster are key in leading the staff. Grasso currently has the lowest ERA in the CAC at 1.38. Oster is not too far behind, posting a 2.91 ERA while also notching 66 strikeouts this season, ranking him among the tops in the CAC. Look for the team to lean on both heading into the postseason.
Offense: The Gulls’ offense leads the CAC in runs scored this season through their balanced offense. The team collectively is sporting a .297 batting average while also posting a solid .405 OBP (on-base percentage) and .436 SLG (slugging percentage). The team hits well and gets on-base, two of the major building blocks of a well-built offense.
When not on the mound, Grasso is helping the team out at the plate. He leads the team with a .350 AVG and 43 hits this season. Behind him, there is more firepower waiting in the form of four more .300 plus hitters. Sophomore third baseman Jack Barry is right behind Grasso with a .342 AVG, currently leading the CAC in homeruns with eight and tied for fifth most RBI in the CAC with 34.
Junior infielder Scott Ardoin is batting .330, senior catcher Tom Labriola follows with a .315 AVG and he is tied with Barry at his RBI mark. Freshmen infielder Justin Meekins has a .307 AVG while leading the team in runs with 38 and a team high .530 OB% (on-base percentage).
Player to Watch: Freshman center fielder Justin Meekins
He is the spark that ignites the team from the lead-off spot and is hitting over .417 over his last three games. With the Gulls pitching looking as good as it has, the offense will be tasked with matching that production, and it all starts with Meekins at the top.
York (Pa.): The Spartans rank third in the CAC, but have had an up and down season in 2017. They sit with a 15-13 (10-6 CAC) record this year and have lost six out of their last ten. The team secured a CAC tournament berth earlier this week in a win vs. Penn St.-Harrisburg, returning to the conference tourney for the first time since 2014.
Pitching: Opponents have hit the Spartans pitching staff early and often this season. They have a team ERA of 5.72 with only one starter posting a sub-3.65 ERA. Junior pitcher Joel Kenney leads the staff with a 3.60 ERA and 34 strikeouts over 35 innings this season. The rest of the staff sports unsightly numbers. Senior Elliot Mortimor holds a 5.59 ERA over six starts, senior Randy Frankenfield a 5.70 ERA over five starts and sophomore Bobby Kuehn sits with a 6.98 ERA over six starts.
Offense: While the rotation has been a weak spot for the club this season, the offense is picking up the slack. As a team, they are posting a .308 AVG, .392 OBP and .414 SLG. The team does not rely on power, the team leaders only have three homeruns, but they get their fair share of hits.
The leader of the Spartans’ charge is junior infielder Christian Bilan. He currently has a .393 AVG, fourth best in the CAC, and leads the team with 44 hits. Following him, is junior catcher Seth Brosius, who owns a .316 AVG on the season and leads the team with 30 RBI. Both players are key cogs of the offense as they are tasked with driving in runs, so look for the team’s success to be predicated on their performances.
Player to watch: Spartan pitching staff
This may seem like cheating, but the Spartans desperately need someone to step up in the rotation if they have any plans on winning. The offense will continue to do its part, but without any semblance of quality innings, the Spartans will be fighting an uphill battle.