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Baseball turns page toward March, eyes better results

February 29, 2016

By: CHRIS PRIDE

MARTINSVILLE, Va. — February is generally a month not preferred for baseball. Unfortunately, there’s no way around it in the college game.

First-year Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC) baseball coach Frank Jagoda will never use the time of the year as an excuse for poor play, because baseball starts in his eyes with having the right mental focus. The Patriots hope a lengthy homestand to start March will yield better results than the first 13 games in February.

PHCC went 2-6 in a pair of weekend road doubleheaders against Region X, Division I teams USC-Lancaster and Spartanburg Methodist. On top of splitting a four-game doubleheader series with Louisburg College and an 8-2 win over NCAA, Division III Ferrum College on Feb. 25, the Patriots are 5-8 overall. With 21 games in March, there is plenty of time over the next 31 days to increase the win total and build some positivite chemistry.

However, Jagoda said, the little things must improve for a turnaround to occur.

“I don’t think it matters what month you’re playing games in, they all count and they all matter,” Jogada said. “For us to have a better month we just need to clean up some of the smaller things. I think we’ve shown bits and pieces of it, but we need to keep doing the little things better.”

The Patriots played their toughest series of the season this past weekend (Feb. 27-28) against Spartanburg, avoiding a four-game sweep with a win in the final game Sunday afternoon. The pitching was once again touched up on the road and the offense leveled out. If not for Game 4, PHCC’s team batting average might not be as close to .300 than it is (.294).

PHCC hit .212 in the series almost .100 points fewer than the previous two four-game series’ combined. The loss in Game 2 also saw the first time the Patriots failed to record an extra-base hit in a game this season. They also left 29 runners on base over the four games.

The pitching had a team ERA of 9.00 despite limiting the Pioneers to .252 for the series. The difference was run-producing hits as Spartanburg had 12 of its 24 hits in the series go for extra bases and hit a home run in each game, finishing with seven in the four games.

“We didn’t come ready to play for the weekend and it showed,” Jagoda said. “We had an answer in Game 4 which was nice to see. We have to work hard in practice and be ready to go Saturday.”

The head coach added that it was tough seeing the series play out the way it did after defeating Ferrum midweek. Eight pitchers combined for a two-hit, 13 strikeout performance in the win over the Panthers, and with five doubles and a triple the offense looked poised to go to South Carolina with confidence. Instead it finished with 38 strikeouts to 23 hits.

Jagoda said that in order for his team to start fresh and have a better month it has to be prepared to play at a high level at all times. It’s not necessarily an X’s and O’s type thing but more of having his players prepared mentally on and off the field, he said. Proper preparation before, during and after games in college baseball, he added, determines much of a team’s success.

The Patriots enter a 10-game homestand over a nine-day stretch, starting Saturday (Mar. 5). A pair of four-game doubleheader series with Potomac State College of WVU and Jamestown Community College sandwiched with a pair of nine-inning games vs. Guilford Tech and Rockingham Community College midweek encompass the homestand.

Jagoda believes the lengthy stay at home is exactly what the team needs to right the ship after a rocky opening month. However, it has to build what it can over the next 10 games and take that same attitude and approach to the road.

“I think we can get back to being on more of a routine and sleep in our own beds which is nice,” Jagoda said. “Baseball is a tough sport that has a lot of travel. There are a lot of late nights and juggling that takes place. You have to be mentally tough and overcome.”

Some positives heading into the weekend, five of the six hitters that have played in all 13 games have batting averages of .318 or better. Jonah McReynolds (Martinsville, Va.) and Brandon Nania (Murrysville, Pa.) lead with .351 averages. McReynolds leads with a .510 on-base percentage while Nania is .017 clear of the infielder with a team-leading .568 slugging percentage.

While the starting pitching has combined for an ERA over 9.00 and hasn’t been as consistent as it was last season, at least at the start of 2016, the bullpen is proving it has some stable arms. Robert Fitzwater (Suffolk, Va.) and Miguel Lopez (Coral Springs, Fla.) have combined for an ERA of 1.26 over 14 1/3 innings pitched and 19 strikeouts to eight walks. Lopez is averaging better than two strikeouts per inning.

Over the next two weeks, PHCC’s baseball team has a great chance to retool its focus and do the little things needed to start reeling off its first winning streak of the season. Following the 10 home games, the Patriots will be greeted with seven of their next 11 on road to close March, including their first Region X, Division II series of the season at Wake Tech in Raleigh, N.C. Mar. 25-26.

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