The odds of having a successful baseball season with a starting staff made up of four freshmen are slightly better than the Publisher’s Clearinghouse prize van pulling into your driveway.
Lawrence University baseball coach Jason Anderson may want to consider buying a lottery ticket because he picked some winners this spring. With four first-year players in the starting rotation and another two freshmen playing key roles out of the bullpen, Lawrence seems to have turned a corner where its pitching staff is concerned.
The Vikings are 12-14 entering play this week, and Lawrence is 4-4 in the Midwest Conference’s North Division. With half of the conference games complete, Lawrence is battling for a spot in the MWC Tournament.
“All we talk about is throwing strikes,” Anderson said. “If we believe in that, we are just fine. The end result is we’ve had two shutouts this season.”
Starters Drew Doares, Kelton Jenkins, Atley Gay and Davis Ogilvie have combined with relievers Phil Clark and Dan Taylor to form a formidable freshmen force.
“They’ve made a nice progression, and we’ve really cut down our ERA this season,” Andersons said. “We want to have the hitters get themselves out.
On or out in four pitches is our mantra.”
Lawrence’s earned run average went from 11.18 in 2011 to 6.21 thus far in 2012. The more innings these young hurlers log, the lower that ERA is going. Since the team returned from its spring break trip to Florida, the ERA is 5.64 over the last 16 games.
The other big change from a season ago is the number of free passes issued by Lawrence. The Vikings walked an average of 7.3 batters per nine innings in 2011, and that is down to 5.5 in 2012.
“Our pitchers have been doing as well as can be expected,” said Jenkins, a native of Bainbridge Island, Wash., with a 2-3 record and 4.91 ERA. “We’ve had some great coaching, and there are a lot of people pushing us every day to improve. I knew coming in that we were going to be a pretty talented group, but we have truly risen to the occasion as a pitching staff and rallied behind each other.”
Gay, who hails from nearby Manitowoc, Wis., leads the team with a 3.48 ERA and has a 2-0 record on the season. He was chosen as the MWC Pitcher of the Week after picking up his first career win and save recently.
Doares, who came to Lawrence from Holly Springs, N.C., has a team-best three wins and a 4.46 ERA. He has struck out a team-best 28 and posted his first career shutout, a five-hit, 1-0 win over Beloit last Saturday. Ogilvie is the hardest thrower in the group and has a 1-3 mark with a 7.46 ERA.
“They are all very different and that’s why the staff is very good,” Anderson said.
Clark has posted a 2-1 record with a save and a 4.66 ERA while working strictly in relief. Clark, an Omro, Wis., native whose brothers Louie and Jordan were both stars for the Vikings, came in as a position player but has found a home in the bullpen. Taylor, who came from a very small California high school, has pitched from the bullpen and played in the field. He is 0-2 with a 7.50 ERA.
“I didn’t think I would have six,” Anderson said. “The reality is that I thought three of them would be huge contributors this year.”
After winning only three games a season ago, the Vikings are four times better than that already this season. Lawrence also split the four-game series with both defending conference champion Ripon College and defending North Division champ Beloit. The pitching has been a big part of that, and Jenkins believes this young group will continue to improve.
“We can be as good as we want,” Jenkins said. “I see the sky as the limit. As long as we keep pitching with confidence, good things will happen. The goal for this year was to make it to (the conference tournament) so I’m pretty focused on that, but I imagine we’ll only go up from there, especially as we get more college experience under our belts.”
Anderson said it is up to the pitchers to decide their level of excellence.
“The answer lies within the guys,” Anderson said. “It depends on how hard they work in the off-season. My goal for those guys is to be pushing to be on the all-conference team. Baseball is about pitching and they are all buying into it.”
Lawrence saw its baseball win streak stop at seven games after winning the opening game of last Saturday’s doubleheader against Beloit. That matches the seven-game win streak the 1980 squad put together.
Running with the big boys
Sam Stevens and Kyle Dockery will face their toughest competition of the season when they travel to the Hillsdale College Gina Relays this week.
Stevens will run the 3,000-meter steeplechase on Friday, and Dockery will run the 10,000 meters on Thursday against an elite field featuring multiple Division I athletes. Stevens is coming off a win in the steeplechase at UW-La Crosse last Friday, and Dockery won the 5,000 last Saturday at St. Norbert.
Tennis records fall
The women’s tennis team beat UW-Stevens Point 8-1 last Saturday to set a season record for victories. Lawrence finished 14-8 to top the record of 13 wins set in 2005 and again in 2008.
Senior No. 1 singles player Beth Larson finished her season with an impressive 24-3 record and eclipsed the season wins record of 21 set by Appleton native Linda Tomtshak in 1985.
Feeling left out
The men’s tennis team tied for first place in the North Division with Carroll University and St. Norbert. All three teams had a 2-1 record and a 1-1 mark against each other, but Lawrence came up short in the tiebreaker of total matches won.
Carroll and St. Norbert won the tiebreaker and will play in the four-team MWC Tournament on Friday. Lawrence will go for individual singles and doubles titles on Saturday and Sunday at Nielsen Tennis Stadium in Madison, Wis.
Lawrence finished sixth in the MWC Championships a season ago.
Editor’s Note: Inside LU Athletics is a notes package written by Lawrence University Sports Information Director Joe Vanden Acker. It will feature teams and individual players, recap weekly awards or highlights and take a look at what’s ahead for the Vikings.