The Slippery Rock University baseball team’s season is coming to a close with one more four game series against Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) rival Gannon University. The first two games will be held on Friday at Kelly Automotive Park in Butler, Pa., with first pitch schedule for 11 a.m. while the second game is slated for a 1 p.m. start. Games 3 and 4 will be held at McConnell Family Stadium in Erie, Pa., with first pitches scheduled for 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.
Rock head coach Jeff Messer said that he likes his team’s chances against the Golden Knights this weekend.
“Our pitching is going to be the deciding factor this weekend,” Messer said. “So far this year, our pitching, for the most part, has been strong. We figure to have Alex start game one for us.”
Senior Alex Pantuso, who recently broke SRU’s strikeout record this season, is scheduled to start game one on Friday, and will probably be held to 80-85 pitches before being taken out of the game, Messer said. Messer continued by saying that this is all subject to change.
“We are going out this weekend looking to win every single game,” Messer said. “But the PSAC is set-up to not be favorable in any way and with rain scheduled for this weekend, everything is up in the air as far as who pitches. If Alex pitches Saturday, it means he couldn’t pitch Wednesday in the first round of the PSAC tournament.”
Messer stressed the urgency of these next four games because of proximity between The Rock and some of the other teams in the regional rankings, Gannon included as one. The Green and White is looking to at least split the four-game series with the Golden Knights to maintain a strong position in the rankings, Messer said. Messer said that his team has three “go-to” pitchers for Wednesday, one of which will be “guaranteed” to be ready to pitch. The three pitchers are Pantuso, senior Matt Gordon, and junior Chris Anastas.
“I have no problem with throwing Alex, Matt, or Chris on Wednesday,” said Messer, confidently.
Messer’s confidence in his pitching staff is justified. Between the three pitchers, they have an average ERA of 4.05 and combined totals of 158 strikeouts and 139.5 innings pitched.
Messer’s pitching staff is not the only area of the game that The Rock has strength in. SRU’s offense is led, in large part, by ‘Rock Solid’ performances from freshman Abraham Mow. Mow ranks sixth in the PSAC in home runs, with 10. He has recorded a .681 slugging percentage and 41 RBIs, good for eighth and seventh in the PSAC, respectively.
Rock seniors Christian Porterfield and Tyler Walters, likewise, have helped contribute to the offensive onslaught set in place the Green and White this season. In 143 at bats, Porterfield has obtained a .364 bating average, which includes 52 hits (seventh in the PSAC), 10 home runs, and 42 RBIs. Walters has continued his strong senior season with a .379 batting average that includes 12 home runs (a PSAC best), and recording 38 RBIs. Walters recently set a milestone by becoming the PSAC’s all-time home run leader, with 48 career home runs.
Walters said that he believes he has had success in college because of his confidence at the plate.
“I know I am a good hitter,” he said. “Before I step up to the plate I try to imagine what’s going on in the pitcher’s head, but once I do step up to the plate, my mind is blank. Baseball is a mental game so I try not to let things get to me.”
Coach Messer said that Walters “is up there” with some of the all-time greats that he has had the privilege to coach in his 33 year span at The Rock.
“Tyler has all the tools to play at the next level,” Messer explained. “Maybe not as a catcher but definitely as a first baseman or an outfielder.”
Walter said he likes his team’s chances going into the playoffs because, as a team, there is an expectation to be ‘great.’ As a senior leader, he said he does not hope to make a deep run in the playoffs, but expects to.
“We have a good group of seniors out there,” he said. “I expect us to be successful in the playoffs.”