Despite having one of the smallest pitching staffs in Division I baseball, UNO has surprisingly gotten strong performances on the mound throughout this young season.
But when the Privateers’ pitchers began showing signs of inconsistency — they allowed 31 runs in last week’s series against Stephen F. Austin — UNO coach Blake Dean didn’t waste any time letting them know about it.
“I got into their stuff about it,” Dean said. “I told them how I felt about it and how we need them to step up. I think they responded well to it.”
The Privateers (16-4, 4-2 Southland Conference) will need their staff more than ever as they head into a crucial series at Lamar (13-7, 4-2), which begins Thursday.
In a battle between the two teams currently tied for second place in the Southland standings, UNO knows it will have to lean on the play of starting pitchers Shawn Semple and Riley Hodge.
The duo has pitched 61.1 total innings this year, combining to allow 22 earned runs, and the Privateers have won all 10 games the two have started.
With only 11 pitchers on staff, the performance of UNO’s starters can often be the difference between winning and losing — no matter how well the offense plays.
“We know those two guys are always going to give us a chance to win,” said Dean, whose team took two of three games at Stephen F. Austin last weekend. “It’s never easy playing back-to-back conference series on the road, and Lamar is a very talented team. We know we’re going to have to come ready to compete if we want to get a game or two off of those guys.”
Another bright spot has been the play of pitcher Bryan Warzek, who threw seven scoreless innings in his first collegiate win against South Alabama on Tuesday.
The freshman may have a 4.68 ERA, but he has started against some of the state’s best teams in LSU, Tulane and UL-Lafayette. Dean said the young pitcher has shown some toughness, and could move to the weekend rotation.
“He’s done really well for us, considering he faced a top-25 team in three of his first four career starts,” Dean said. “But you can see his confidence growing and he’s going to be important for us as we get deeper into the conference.”
If the Privateers are going to have a successful series against Lamar, one of the keys going in will be to cool off Cardinals left fielder Reid Russell, one of the league’s hottest hitters.
Russell is hitting .486 in March, with at least one hit in 12 straight games and a home run in five straight games.
He was named Southland hitter of the week Monday, but Dean said his team’s focus is to execute its game plan and not necessarily to slow down any one player.
“We just have to do what we do,” Dean said. “We’re not going to change how we approach the game just because of one guy. We’re going to play our game and let everything else fall into place.”