Series Preview: Streaking VMI hosts Furman in weekend SoCon action

vmi baseballVMI baseball enters its weekend SoCon series with Furman on a five-game winning streak, in fourth place in the conference standings, and looking to build on the momentum.

The Keydets (19-17, 7-5 SoCon) swept league cellar-dwellar Western Carolina at Gray-Minor Stadium last weekend, and picked up another mid-week win on Wednesday with another solid start from Brandon Barbery, who held Richmond to two runs on seven hits in seven innings, and then a nine-run explosion in the 10th inning of a tie ballgame to win 11-2.

This is a team hitting on all cylinders right now. Rightfielder Matt Pita is the reigning SoCon Player of the Week, hitting .714 (10-of-14) last week with eight RBIs and five runs scored, including an inside-the-park home run.

Pita (.382/.466/.704, 9 HR, 36 RBI, 20 SB) is the linchpin of the lineup, which really doesn’t have a spot for opposing pitchers to take a breather.

Five Keydets are hitting better than .300 on the season, with eye regulars posting on-base percentages above .373.

VMI is second in the SoCon in homers (38) and on-base percentage (.394), and by far the most annoying lineup in the eyes of opposing pitchers, leading the league in walks by a wide margin (with 213, 38 more than the next highest total).

The challenge for VMI has been getting outs from its pitchers, but the staff is coming around. Barbery (2-2, 5.71 ERA) has solidified the mid-week, going 15 innings in his last two starts, wins over UR and VCU, giving up three runs on 13 hits in the two outings, striking out eight and walking three.

Looking ahead to the weekend, ace Josh Winder (2-4, 5.68 ERA) put up his best outing of the season in VMI’s 11-7 win over WCU last week, striking out 11, walking one and giving up four runs on eight hits in a season-high eight innings, holding the Catamounts scoreless over his final six frames.

If Winder can build on that outing into the second half of the SoCon schedule, he’ll have Friday nights locked down.

Zak Kent (3-3, 4.89 ERA) couldn’t get out of the fifth inning in the Keydets’ 12-9 win over Western Carolina on Saturday, but he had held the Catamounts to two hits in four scoreless innings to that point.

Kyle Staats (4-2, 5.89 ERA) has a pair of SoCon wins as the #3 starter and leads the staff in wins overall.

Getting to know Furman

The Paladins (18-19, 3-6 SoCon) build their offense around Ben Anderson (.381/.465/.565, 3 HR, 27 RBI) and Jason Costa (.321/.438/.527, 5 HR, 26 RBI).

You won’t see Furman run all that much – the Paladins have just 16 steals in 32 attempts this season.

The pitching staff has struggled more than VMI’s has this season, posting a 6.18 team ERA, seventh in the SoCon.

At press time, we don’t have the weekend rotation, but you’re likely to see Nik Verbeke (4-2, 5.00 ERA), Grant Schuermann (2-6, 5.33 ERA) and Matt Lazzaro (3-4, 5.11 ERA).

Preview by Chris Graham. Chris will join Wade Branner on the ESPN3 broadcast team for this weekend’s VMI-Furman series. Game 1 is set for Friday at 6 p.m., with Saturday’s Game 2 starting at 2 p.m., and the finale on Sunday getting going at 1 p.m.


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