When UNO pitcher Shawn Semple stepped on the mound for the Privateers’ second game of their doubleheader against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi last Sunday, he noticed his teammates had an extra bit of pep in their step.
“I definitely saw a kind of energy while they were in the field,” Semple said. “They were making incredible plays behind me. I couldn’t have had such a good game without them.”
Sunday’s game was the freshman’s first start since March 13 after he was diagnosed with mononucleosis — and that energized defense assisted Semple in throwing UNO’s first complete-game shutout since 2002. The Privateers ended the weekend series with a 2-0 win over the Islanders and snapped their nine-game losing streak.
UNO followed that win Sunday by defeating Jackson State on Wednesday, and UNO coach Ron Maestri said he already sees the effect Semple’s return has had on the team.
“Having him back in the rotation puts everyone back to where they’re supposed to be, which allows them to get more comfortable in their roles,” Maestri said of the Swedesboro, New Jersey, native. “We were asking guys to start that we really would’ve rather had coming out the bullpen or on spot duty.
“But he’s been our most consistent pitcher all year, and having him back gave the guys a lot of confidence.”
With their No. 1 starter back in the rotation, UNO heads to Central Arkansas for a three-game series this weekend against the Bears.
The Privateers are attempting to add one more Southland Conference victory to their ledger, which would double their number of conference wins from last year. UNO also heads into the game looking to end an 11-game road losing streak.
The Privateers’ last win in a road game came against Southern Miss on Feb. 18.
“We just have to play better during the later innings in these game, and we’d be right there,” Maestri said. “We had close games at McNeese State and Northwestern State. They’re both two of the better teams in the conference. We just have to play with more confidence and make more big plays in some of these close games.”
In order to take down the Bears this weekend, UNO must focus on limiting Central Arkansas’ explosive bats.
Despite playing the fewest games of any team in the SLC to this point, the Bears lead the conference in home runs (19) and rank sixth in runs scored (184).
Much of the Bears’ production has come from juniors Logan Preston and Tyler Langley. The duo has already combined for 66 hits in their 34 games and have combined to hit 10 home runs — more than the entire UNO roster.
“We know they have some really good hitters over there, and it’s our job just to make things as tough on those guys as possible,” Semple said. “We know they have some really good hitters and they’re looking to put some runs on the board, but we just have to throw strikes and trust our defense.”