The Ashland University baseball team will play 16 percent of its regular season schedule in an upcoming eight-game in six-day stretch at Donges Field.
Because of some schedule readjusting due to rain and cold in the Eagles will play West Liberty State on Thursday at 2 p.m. in a doubleheader before opening a four-game series with Saginaw Valley State on Friday. On Tuesday, the Eagles will play another nonconference doubleheader against Walsh.
A schedule like that will put the Eagles' pitching staff to the test as head coach John Schaly mixes and matches the distribution of innings among the starters and relievers.
"We're going to need a number of pitchers, but we feel we can go 12 or 13 deep with quality arms," he said. "Our pitching depth is good, which we're going to need this next week."
The Eagles (12-9, 4-4 GLIAC) will need to rely on heavily on their starters to go deep into games. Junior Devin Peters and sophomore Chance Hitchcock lead the team in innings pitched and have combined to go 6-5 on the season. Those two each turned in quality starts at Wayne State last week and earned wins as the Eagles took three of four from the homestanding Warriors.
Peters and Hitchcock, along with freshman Josh Stover, should see the mound on the weekend against SVSU.
Ashland has also gotten solid innings from junior Chris Slavik, who has allowed just four hits across 16 innings this season. He blanked GLIAC preseason favorite Northwood over five innings on March 24 and gave up just two earned runs in four innings against Wayne State last Thursday. Additionally, senior Pat Carlozzi has given up just three earned runs in his last 13 innings and is capable of carrying a starters' workload.
Control has been a matter of concern for the pitching staff, which has allowed 120 walks and hit batters over 164 innings this season.
"For some of them, the big key is throwing strikes," said Schaly. "We have guys with good arms who have been a little bit wild. But when they throw strikes, they're pretty good."
Offensively, the Eagles have gotten production up and down the lineup as the Eagles have a .391 on-base percentage and are averaging 7.5 runs per game. Sophomore corner infielder Carson Mittermaier leads the team with a .411 batting average and 27 RBI. He is riding a six-game hitting streak. Four other Eagles are hitting at least .340 on the year, including junior Matt Littrell (.358), freshman Austin Eifrid (.350) and seniors Connor Barleben (.344) and Greg Ludwig (.343).
"We have a good mix between the classes," said Schaly. "We played a lot of young guys last year and they gained from that experience a year ago. They have to understand the importance of getting ready to play every day, especially in this league. Overall, there have been a lot of good signs. We've been inconsistent, really in all phases – offense, defense, pitching. But we've had more good days than bad days."
The good days will need to continue this week as the Cardinals (17-10, 4-4 GLIAC) come to visit. They lead the GLIAC in batting average and stolen bases and have struck out the fewest number of times per game in the conference.
"Saginaw is a really good offensive team," said Schaly. "They've swung the bats really well and they like to run. We're going to have to keep guys off base and shut down their running game. If we do that, we think we'll be able to score. They're going to be a really good opponent and a really good challenge for us. We'll have to play really well to beat them."
The SVSU staff is led by Mason Schwellenbach, who is 3-3 with a 2.67 ERA and has twice been named the GLIAC Pitcher of the Week.
The Eagles will have their work cut out for them at what should be a chilly and blustery Donges Field the next six days. But that's the nature of baseball in Northeast Ohio and in the GLIAC.