McDaniel baseball putting ‘everybody on notice’ as it seeks rare postseason berth

In the midst of one of its better seasons, McDaniel baseball faced its toughest test of the spring against No. 10 and Centennial Conference leader Johns Hopkins.

The Blue Jays served up a reminder of the distance that remains between the NCAA Division III programs.

Johns Hopkins scored five runs in the first two innings and then went into cruise control en route to a 12-3 mashing Tuesday afternoon against the host Green Terror at Preston Field in Westminster. The teams will meet again Friday at 3:30 p.m. at Stromberg Stadium in Baltimore.

Senior second baseman Jimmy Stevens went 3-for-5 and drove in four runs, including a bases-clearing double in the sixth inning for the Blue Jays (22-7, 10-1 Centennial Conference), who collected their 12th victory in the past 13 games. Sophomore center fielder Alex Shane’s two-run double fueled a four-run second inning, graduate student left fielder Matthew Cooper and junior pinch hitter Jimmy Nunez both hit home runs, and the Blue Jays capitalized on three errors to add three more runs and support sophomore right-handed pitcher Bearden Awadzi (4-0).

Freshman third baseman Shane McKenna had two hits in three at-bats and scored one of the Green Terror’s two runs in the fourth inning, and sophomore first baseman Ben Davis opened the bottom of the sixth with a solo home run. But McDaniel (16-12, 7-4) suffered its most lopsided loss of the spring, tying a 10-1 defeat to Haverford on April 13.

“We gave a team like that — that’s one of the best teams in the country — too many free bases in the game with some infield errors and some walks and some hit by pitches, and then they got some extra-base hits, which is what they do,” Green Terror coach Jim Carone said. “They’re good enough to score without the free bases that we gave them, and when you add the free bases and their home runs and doubles and triples, you get a big number.”

As sobering as Tuesday’s loss was — especially to a Johns Hopkins program that improved to 16-1 in its past 17 meetings in the intra-state series — the Green Terror have made tangible gains this season.

Although the loss dropped the team from a second-place tie with Dickinson (20-8, 8-3) in the Centennial Conference standings, McDaniel is a half-game behind Swarthmore (17-12, 7-3) and owns sole possession of fourth place. The school is poised to qualify for the five-team league tournament, which would mark the Green Terror’s first appearance since 2016 and only fifth overall.

That would be quite a departure from 2021, which was senior shortstop Tyler Yohn’s debut with the program.

“My freshman year, everyone was excited to play us because it was a free two wins,” he recalled. “I think we’ve put everybody on notice. We’re getting better each and every day and each and every year.”

Stevens confirmed Yohn’s perception.

“When I came in here, they were sort of the laughingstock of the conference, and they’re definitely not that anymore,” he said. “They’re a really a solid team. They swing it really well. Their pitchers are solid with a lot of good stuff. So we came in here focused. We took it to them today because we had to. They’re a good team, and we’ve got another battle coming up Friday.”

Pitching has been McDaniel’s strength even if Tuesday’s game didn’t give much indication of that. Entering the game, the staff’s collective 4.64 ERA was the program’s lowest since the 2016 squad finished with a 3.90 ERA, and opponents’ .264 batting average was the lowest since 2012 when opposing hitters finished with a .260 average.

Carone said the Green Terror doesn’t rely on one pitching ace to go seven innings, but prefers to ask the entire stable of pitchers for their 50 best pitches before making changes on the mound.

“We have selfless guys, and I think at the end of the day, if we win a game, the team wins,” he said. “It doesn’t matter which pitcher pitched. We sold that to our guys, and they took it and ran with it. They compete for the innings just like you normally would, but it seems to really be working so far, and the guys enjoy it.”

Against the Blue Jays, however, the Green Terror’s pitching was exposed early and often. Junior third baseman Shawn Steuerer’s single drove in junior designated hitter Dylan Whitney to give Johns Hopkins a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning against junior right-handed pitcher Brady Bailey.

The next inning, the Blue Jays plated four runs, including Shane’s two-run double. Stevens’ double to center field drove in Jacob Harris after the sophomore right fielder opened the frame with a triple to right field, and an error by McDaniel freshman third baseman Shane McKenna allowed Shane to score. After hitting the next batter, graduate student right fielder Cooper, with a pitch, Bailey (2-1) was pulled in favor of junior left-handed pitcher Max Vener.

Johns Hopkins then showed why its lineup is one of the most prolific in the NCAA Division III landscape. Cooper, who set a new school single-season record and led the nation with 25 home runs a year ago, launched his fifth home run of the second with two outs in the fourth inning, and Nunez, a .143 batter with zero home runs pinch hitting for Steuerer, opened the top of the eighth inning with a solo shot over the left-field fence.

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The Blue Jays racked up their 48th and 49th home runs of the spring, which leads the Centennial Conference by 28 and is tied with SUNY-Maritime for the national lead.

“With Jimmy, he’s a great hitter who hasn’t gotten too many opportunities,” Stevens said. “So it’s always nice to see him. And Coop, we know he’s going to produce. He’s a great hitter, great leader, great person. So all of us have full faith in him.”

Meanwhile, Johns Hopkins continues to reign atop the Centennial Conference. Since 1994, the school has captured 17 of the league’s 29 championships, including five in the last eight years (not including the 2020 season canceled by the coronavirus pandemic).

Although the 2023 College World Series finalist is no longer ranked No. 1 as it was in the preseason, coach Bob Babb was happy to see the team’s bats get off to a strong start.

“It gives our pitcher the confidence to go out and attack the zone,” he said. “It gives our hitters confidence. We’ve hit into some tough luck, and we’ve played in some tough weather. So it was really nice to play on a warm day like today where the weather wasn’t a factor for hitting.”

McDaniel at No. 10 Johns Hopkins

Friday, 3:30 p.m.