RIO GRANDE, Ohio — On the heels of one of the more notable wins in program history, the University of Rio Grande baseball team is hoping their new-found momentum can fuel a late-season run that could produce a post-season berth.
The first chance to begin that run toward the Mid-South Conference tournament begins Friday afternoon when Lindsey Wilson College pays a visit to Bob Evans Field for the opening game of a three-game weekend set.
First pitch is set for 2 p.m., with a doubleheader to close out the series on Saturday beginning at noon.
Head coach Brad Warnimont’s club posted a 2-0 win at NCAA Division I Ohio University on Wednesday night - the program’s first win against a Division I opponent during the veteran head coach’s tenure and, perhaps, the school’s first-ever win against Division I foe.
Unfortunately, full-season records in the Rio Grande Sports Information office go back only as far as 1997, so whether Wednesday’s shutout of the Bobcats was, in fact, the school’s first over an opponent from the ranks of the NCAA’s top division remains unclear.
What is clear, though, is that Wednesday’s victory was the first non-loss against an NCAA Division I foe since March 1, 2000 when the then-Redmen, ironically, battled Ohio University to a 16-16 tie in Athens.
Regardless, the victory was an important one for the RedStorm (18-25 overall, 4-17 MSC), who enter the weekend 2-1/2 games behind both the University of the Cumberlands and the University of Pikeville for the final spot in the tourney field with only six conference games remaining on the regular season slate.
Contrary to published reports, Rio has not been mathematically eliminated from post-season contention, although the magic number for UC and UPike to clinch bids to the tournament stands at just five, meaning any combination of wins by the Patriots and/or the Bears or losses by the RedStorm totaling five would lock up spots for the teams currently tied for seventh in the league standings.
Rio is led offensively by senior Marcus Makuch (Baltimore, OH), who is batting .328. He also leads the club in home runs (2), runs batted in (26) and triples (3), while tying junior Kyle Findley (Cincinnati, OH) for the team lead in doubles with seven and ranking second in stolen bases with 12.
Juniors Kevin Arroyo (Toa Baja, Puerto Rico) and Grant Tamane (Pickering, Ontario, Canada) are batting .307 and .305, respectively. Arroyo leads the team in hits (46) and stolen bases (14), while Tamane tops the team with 10 sacrifices.
Pitching-wise, the most likely candidates for starting assignments in the weekend series are seniors David Steele (Kettering, OH) and Eric Ford (Chagrin Falls, OH) and sophomore Kyle Miller (Wilmington, OH).
Steele has become the RedStorm’s ace, posting a 4-4 record and a 2.60 earned run average. The right-hander has thrown a team-best 65-2/3 innings, allowing 53 hits and 24 runs, only 19 of which were earned. He also walked just 18 batters and fanned a team-high 65.
Ford has an 0-6 record, but also carries a very respectable 3.94 ERA and .240 opponent’s batting average. Miller has an ERA of just under 6.00, but has thrown three complete games and is one of three Rio hurlers with three wins.
As a unit, the RedStorm pitching staff ranks second in the league with a .245 opponents batting average. Lindsey Wilson ranks ninth among the 10 MSC schools in the same category at .284 and the Blue Raiders are eighth in the league in ERA at 4.39.
Rio Grande also ranks as the MSC’s top defensive team with a league-low 54 errors and a .966 team fielding percentage.
Lindsey Wilson, which is coming off a doubleheader split at Brescia University on Wednesday, is 25-22 overall and 11-9 in league play entering the weekend.
The Blue Raiders, like Rio, have three regulars who are hitting .300 or better on the season. The trio is comprised of Mitchell Osnowitz (.359, 12 HR, 12 2B, 39 RBIs, .647 SLG), Derek Shughart (.335, 1 HR, 7 2B, 5 3B, 13 RBI) and Jeandro Andino (.324, 2 HR. 8 2B, 23 RBI). Also, Jordan Berry leads LWC with 43 runs batted in.
Leading the list of candidates for starting assigments on the mound for the Blue Raiders are Luke Shearrow (4-2, 2.77 ERA, 65.0 IP), England Smith (4-3, 3.25 ERA, 72.0 IP) and Scott Sebald (5-0, 3.40 ERA, 63.2 IP). Jason Turner (5-4, 3.68 ERA, 2 SV) has been the top reliever.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.