The flip side of a 1-2-3 inning

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Pitching has been the Leopards’ strong suit this season. Their combined ERA ranks third in the Patriot League behind Army and Navy.

Jessica Deutsch

Photos courtesy of Kenya Allen

It is a tale of two worlds for the Lafayette baseball team this spring. Strong pitching and hitting, when combined, leads to great success and ultimately, championships. For Lafayette, its hitting severely lags behind its pitching.

The Leopards now stand at 6-10 with more than half of their schedule remaining. Here’s a look at the Jekyll and Hyde baseball season:

Pitching: The Lafayette pitching staff is ranked third in the Patriot League with a combined ERA of 3.12, just behind Navy (2.42) and Army (3.10).

Tri-captain and relief pitcher Cory Spera ‘15 boasts an ERA of 0 and is 2-0 this season.

“Relief pitching is based on picking up the pitcher before you,” Spera said. “It’s your job to make sure the runner on base doesn’t score even though it doesn’t effect your statistics.”

“We keep it really loose and we have a good time thanks to our pitching coach, Coach Dura. We’re all friends and our personalities mesh really well together.”

Spera credited fellow captain Connor Ortolf ‘14 for establishing the Leopards’ tone. It isn’t just his starting status that motivates his fellow pitchers, according to Spera.

“Connor goes out there and really competes on the mound; he throws strikes and works quickly. I think that really effects everyone else.” Ortolf has an ERA of 2.48 and is 1-3 thus far.

Adding diversity to the pitching staff is the submarine style of relief pitcher Connor McMahon ‘16. The vast majorities of pitchers throw from over the top, but McMahon adds a different look. Submarine pitching requires the pitcher to bend their torso at a right angle, while releasing the ball underhand and just above the ground. This different release results in a harder-to-hit pitch.

McMahon enters situationally, especially at times when there are runners on base.

“If the batter does get a hit, it’s most likely going to be a ground ball, resulting in a double play,” McMahon said.

He echoed Spera on the positive pitching energy developed this season.

“The strongest thing our pitchers have is that we all trust each other and have each other’s backs. We’re confident that the next guy coming in will pick who was just on the mound.”

Hitting: Lafayette hitting, on the other hand, is ranked last in the Patriot League with a combined average of .222. The next closest is Bucknell at .238. Lehigh is first in the league with a .296-combined average.

What is even more alarming is that out of 296 Division I teams, Lafayette ranks 286th. Similar to pitching, hitting is a mental game. And according to catcher Parker Hills ‘15, the Leopards are struggling mentally.

“If you go up to the plate and try to do too much, you’re going to struggle,” Hills said. “The more confident you are the more successful you are. You can’t be thinking ‘Oh my god, there’s two outs, I have to get a hit.’ You’ll never be able to relax.”

The Leopards have just 108 hits this season that have translated into only 54 runs. Army meanwhile, has scored 131 runs on 187 hits.

Part of the problem is not enough hitters are making their way to the plate due to quick successive outs. Lafayette has 486 at bats. The next closest is Lehigh with 571. Navy leads the league with 709 at bats.

Lafayette has struggled most with sliders and curve balls. The starting pitcher for the University of Pennsylvania delivered many sliders in the game on Sunday, which gave Lafayette hitters trouble at the plate.

To somewhat alleviate their struggles, Lafayette uses two machines in hitting practice that replicate different types of pitches. This is used in addition to drill work that support sound mechanics. For hitters, more repetitions equal better muscle memory and vision.

“We haven’t been able to make enough adjustments yet to get to where we need to be,” Campbell Lipe ‘14 said. “The thing that helps me the best in hitting is that I’m not afraid to make changes like my stance or moving up in the box.”

“We need to trust ourselves more – we know we’re good hitters, we’re just getting away from what makes us good.”

The baseball team travels to Holy Cross for a four-game weekend series starting tomorrow at 2:00 p.m.