Manchester University
Oak Leaves

April 15, 2016

IN FULL SWING Senior Sean Knepper hurls the ball to another Spartan. Photo by Savannah Riley.

Baseball Heats Up in Cold Weather

Zach Newcomer

The Manchester University baseball team is just over the halfway point to their long season, amassing a 13–11 record, 7–4 in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference play. The Spartans are sitting in third place in the conference, with 16 games left in the regular season.

During the month of April, the squad has a 4–3 record, outscoring opponents 57–38 in that span. The team’s series last weekend against Earlham College went in favor of the Quakers, who won two of three games. The contest on Saturday was pushed back to 5 p.m. due to inclement weather, which has been a reoccurring theme this season for Manchester.

While playing in the series against Bluffton University on Sat. April 2, over the course of a nine inning game, both teams faced a couple weather delays that halted action. “The Bluffton game was the most ridiculous thing I have ever been a part of,” said sophomore pitcher Taylor Kopplin as he recounted the series of events during the game. “One minute it’s sunny and 45 (degrees) and the next you can barely see because of the wind and snow. After 10 minutes it’s sunny again and it was just a repeating cycle.” With the assistance of three delays, the game lasted nearly four hours. The team was able to come out with a 16–5 victory over the Beavers, with no help from the unforgiving Indiana weather.

The Spartans have several key players helping the offensive attack this spring. First-year Tyler LaFollette is batting with a .415 average and has an on-base percentage of .506 in 18 games this season. Senior Sean Knepper is showing power this season by belting five homeruns so far and earning a .635 slugging percentage. Junior Tailur Szarenski is showing why he was awarded all-HCAC first team last season by smashing four homeruns and driving in 25 RBIs, while leading the team with 36 hits in 24 games.

From the mound, Manchester is getting great efforts from their young pitching staff as they set into a weekly routine and pitching rotation. Kopplin leads with eight starts and 51.1 innings pitched and has compiled a 2.81 ERA over the course of the season. With 39.2 innings pitched, sophomore Brandon Eck garners a 4.99 ERA in seven starts. Junior Mason Neuman has two saves out of the bullpen for the Black and Gold in 12 appearances.

Helping aid the young pitchers this season is a list of three goals. The first goal is to have a WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) under 1.5. This means having less than 1.5 baserunners per inning. The next goal down the list is to accumulate a first-pitch strike percentage of 60 percent for the season. This will help lower opposing batting averages if the pitchers can maintain that goal. Last, the pitchers want to keep 3–0 counts under 15 percent for the season; this will help pitchers last longer in games and potentially keep more runners off the bases.

Head Coach Rick Espeset credits his young team’s success this season with good effort and attitudes and expects players to step up, no matter how much playing experience they have. “The team has met or exceeded expectations to this point,” he said. “Age is a non-factor for expectations.”

Manchester begins a weekend series at Hanover College starting at 4 p.m. tonight. On Saturday, the doubleheader begins at noon, with the third and final game of the series to follow shortly after, weather permitting.