After disappointing losses in their first two games with Furman, the Dayton Flyers look to salvage a win, and confidence, in Sunday’s series finale.
Greenville, South Carolina – There haven’t been any pep rallies, or bonfire testimonials of “we’re all in this together”.
But the mood on the Dayton Flyers’ bus following Saturday’s 9-7 loss was anything but jubilant. More like…close, but no cigar.
The fact is, this is a better Dayton baseball team through two games than that which played to 16-38 and 19-36 records the past two years. Tony Vittorio and his staff have recruited well, put people in places on the field where they can have success, and have prepared mentally to see that success manifest at an early point in the season. Translation: They want positive early returns.
The hitting, so much a part of their struggles the past two years, has been there. The Flyers pounded out 17 hits in their first two games, and leadoff man Nick Ryan put them in the catbird’s seat early on Saturday with a ringing home run to left on the first strike of the game. Eventually, they scored seven times, and in Vittorio’s words, “Enough to win a baseball game on a Saturday.”
But the achilles heel of this team through its first two games has been its starting pitching, something over which Vittorio may have a very short rope in coming games. Sophomore Austin Cline couldn’t find his command in the first inning on Friday; and twenty four hours later junior Mason Kutruff could not withstand the prosperity of a three-run top-of-the-third inning that restored the Flyers, at that point, to a 4-3 lead. He allowed six in the bottom of the same frame.
No, beside their ability to hit in these first two games, it’s obvious that what’s occupying the attention of the staff in these early contests is the readiness of the young pitchers recruited to maintain such leads and put the program back into a competitive position once the A-10 conference schedule begins.
There’s no question that Cline will bounce back after Friday’s hiccup. He pitched to a 4-4 record and 3.10 era in his freshman season and simply ran too deep into his pitch count by the fifth inning in the Friday opener to continue.
There’s little concern that Tyler Henry, another soph who had the team’s best winning percentage last year (4-1), will again throw strikes and compete.
And the early returns on freshman R.J. Wagner and Jordan Cox, both prized signees from Zionsville, Indiana, have been promising, as well. Wagner gave up a pair of runs in Friday’s loss, but threw hard and with command. Likewise, Cox was just as commanding on Saturday in two scoreless innings, his fastball touching as high as 90 mph.
Sunday, the ball goes to another freshman, Tyler Jones, out of Bellefontaine, with hopes of salvaging one game in the series and some positive mojo before a another series in South Carolina next weekend. In plain talk, Vittorio doesn’t want a repeat of his program’s 0-for-February start of last year.
“That’s up to the coaching staff to manage things like that, and we will. We’re going to be on top of it,” he said Saturday. “But our upperclassmen are going to have to show some leadership, as well. ”
Pausing to consider the most important element in baseball, he promised. “The young pitchers have been impressive. Six months ago they were pitching in high school and they thought were good. Now they’re here, throwing strikes and pitching effectively, and they still feel like they’re good. They way they’re going they’re going to earn more mound time, and soon.”
“What we need is consistency,” he added, again emphasizing the need for leadership from seniors like Nick Ryan, Mitch Coughlin and Robbie Doring. “We need to be consistent at the plate and on the mound. The goal is to put those things together in time to compete once the conference schedule rolls around.”
What he didn’t say was anything about “having” to win the Sunday finale with Furman. But you knew. Consistency would mean that 7 runs should stand for something against any Division I baseball competition.
And pitching, and the basic ability to throw competitive strikes – to challenge hitters – should be enough to protect any lead. They’re not that far away.
They just need to do it…with some consistency!