It’s rare that a team starts any season in a perfect fashion. In baseball, it’s even more rare. However, that’s exactly what The Rock has managed to do.
After they were picked to finish second in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) west in the preseason, The Rock has shown why they could very well be holding the PSAC trophy at the end of the season.
The Rock has seen stellar pitching in the early going with work from Ricky Mineo, Devin Dunn, Luke Trueman and Andy McClymonds. None of them have even come close to dropping a game thus far. It’s not very often that a team has pitching that is near flawless, but that’s what it’s been in the first few series.
“Pitching, for the most part, has been phenomenal for us and when you have good pitching you’re usually going to be in every game,” head coach Jeff Messer said. “Because of that, we’ll have a chance to win, and I think that’s how our team feels, with our pitching staff we’ll have a chance to beat anybody on any day.”
In 10 games, The Rock has pitched four shutouts as well as a no hitter in the first series that came from multiple pitchers.
“We didn’t let Ricky [Mineo] go the entire time because he had met his pitch count, and we had our reliever come in,” Messer said. “But any time you hold a team hitless it’s definitely an accomplishment because it doesn’t happen very often.
“I can probably count on my hands the amount times we’ve had a no hitter in the time I’ve coached here.”
Through the first few weeks of the season, Slippery Rock has experienced some nice weather. Messer feels that in a way it’s played a bit into how good their season has started.
“We’ve been fortunate that we’ve gotten decent weather this early in the spring, and we’ve been playing well,” Messer said. “I think that can be attributed to being able to practice [outside] going into games.”
The first part of the season normally consists of non-conference games, and this season has almost been like the return to normal. The Rock has started out with 10 non-conference games and their 10-0 record is their best start since 2013 when they started out 8-2.
“I think the players believe in themselves, you win 10 games it doesn’t matter who you’re playing, you still have to go out there,” Messer said. “It’s better to be 10-0 than 0-10, but once we start our PSAC schedule that’s when the games really count.”
Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) comes to town on March 25 to open PSAC play for The Rock. IUP will come in hovering around .500, but they’ll be looking to play spoiler to The Rock’s undefeated record. To Messer, when the conference schedule starts, it’s a whole new season.
“Our PSAC schedule starts on Friday, and it’s basically a whole new beginning because you want to win your early games, but what really matters are your conference games,” Messer said. “I think [the team] realizes that the PSAC is very competitive, and they know they just need to keep doing what they’ve been doing.”
What they’ve been doing is absolutely dominating their opponents. They’ve outscored their opponents 106-15. The Rock has been on fire on the offensive end with Alex Robenolt and Connor Hamilton leading the way. Hamiltion already has 17 RBI’s and five homeruns so far. Robenolt has 13 RBI’s and four homeruns and was named PSAC west athlete of the week last week.
“[The PSAC] is one of the best conferences in the country when it comes to Division II baseball, because you know that there’s no easy days or days off,” Messer said. “You know you’re going to be playing some tough competition.”
When Friday finally hits, The Rock will get a chance to show why they were picked to finish so high in the conference. But it’s just the start of a very difficult schedule. They’ll come face to face with both California University of Pennsylvania (Cal-U) and Seton Hill University in the coming weeks. Both teams have also started out very hot.
“Seton Hill was picked to win the conference and they have a solid team, and our guys aren’t looking past them, but we’re definitely taking things one game at a time,” Messer said.
The Rock’s early season play has given them the confidence boost that they’ll need going into these games. After another perfect week, The Rock jumped up eight spots from No. 30. to No. 22 in the nation.
“It’s good for the program and the players because you get more eyes on you since you’re No. 22 in the nation, but I hope we’re higher than 22 in the nation when the season is over,” Messer said. “But it is definitely something that’s nice for the players to see, but there are a few other PSAC schools in there too.”
But, just like the preseason, The Rock doesn’t focus on any of the accolades other than the one they’re chasing.
“Our players know that it doesn’t mean a thing if you aren’t in the postseason and going beyond that,” Messer said. “I think it’s definitely a good thing for our program, but at the same time our players don’t look at things and think they’re going to be easy for us the rest of the way.”