By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
WVU Tech might not be in the meat of its schedule, a docket that included the likes of NAIA powers Tennessee Wesleyan and Point Park (Pa.) at the start of the season. Playing a schedule like that is designed to have a team prepared for anything, no matter the opponent.
Part of that is beating the teams you are supposed to beat — which is exactly what the Golden Bears have done.
Tech, 3-12 at one time, is on a nine-game winning streak after Saturday’s doubleheader sweep of Ohio Midwestern. That streak has Tech above .500 at 16-14.
“(Playing a challenging early schedule) has paid dividends,” Tech coach Lawrence Nesselrodt said.
Indeed. The Golden Bears have won 13 of their last 15 games behind a combination of solid pitching and improved situational hitting.
Both are readily obvious with just a glance at the scores during the streak. Tech has outscored its opponents 92-10 the last nine outings, and the pitching staff has thrown three shutouts, four one-run games and a two-run game.
“It always starts on the mound,” Nesselrodt said, adding that sophomore Craig Johnson and freshman Josh Smetana have emerged during the Bears’ run. “Even in the two we lost (to Cumberland, Tenn.) we pitched well.”
Johnson (3-4) and Smetana (2-5) have stepped up in the absence of sophomore Taylor Carter, who missed some time with elbow soreness. But Carter was able to return Saturday, striking out 10 in five innings out of the bullpen in a 10-0 win. He didn’t walk a batter and held the Rams to three hits.
“Probably the most impressive thing is that the entire pitching staff stepped forward when (Carter) went down,” Nesselrodt said. “Three of our wins came when we have thrown ‘Johnny Wholestaff.’”
Nesselrodt was referring, of course, to the depth of his pitching staff. For instance, he used eight pitchers in a win over Ohio University-Chillicothe last week. He credits assistant Chris Enourato, the all-time saves leader at West Virginia University, for “maximizing what we have.”
Senior Grant Williams, who has played all nine positions during his Tech career, has made three appearances and is 3-0 with a 1.62 earned run average.
Offensively, Tech has gotten production out of several hitters. Kevin Bocock (.319, 24 walks) and Ryan Kessinger (.333, 20 runs batted in) are setting the table at the top of the order, Zach Sizemore (.356, four home runs, 30 RBIs) and Jose Soto (.303. 26 RBIs) are swinging well and the bottom of the order has been doing a good job of bringing Bocock and Kessinger back around.
“Baseball is a game of momentum and hitting becomes contagious,” Nesselrodt said. “Throughout our first 15 games, we had people that would have a good game but we couldn’t put anything together (consistently). Over the last 15, we have put some hits together.”
Tech is scheduled to host a doubleheader with Shawnee State Wednesday starting at 1 p.m. in East Bank. Johnson will start the first game, with Smetana getting the call for Game 2.
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