By Daniel Johnson, Sports Writer
The nationally ranked Wildcats will continue conference play in New Mexico this weekend after gaining confidence and composure from a 21-1 bashing of non-conference opponent Texas-Permian Basin on April 18.
The Wildcats capitalized off seven Permian Basin errors and scored in all but one inning in Tuesday’s game. Among the 21 runs was another home run from ACU’s new single season home run record-holder Joel Wells. He extended his tally to 14 with eight games still remaining in the regular season and continues to lead the team with a .415 batting average and a slugging percentage of .859.
In addition to outscoring and out hitting Permian Basin, the Wildcats played a majority of their bullpen. With seven ACU pitchers taking the mound Tuesday, the Wildcats successfully expanded their poise before taking on a consistent Eastern New Mexico lineup this weekend.
In the team’s only loss against Texas A&M Kingsville in last weekend’s series, a combination of an uncharacterized showing from starter Jason Kennedy and a lack of relief because of previous games and injuries enabled the Kingsville Javelinas to score 13 runs. The search for a consistent fourth game starter has been a weakness that has continued to trouble the Wildcats.
Head coach Britt Bonneau said the Wildcat’s starting pitchers need to pitch deeper into games as they continue to approach postseason play. If the starters pitch a majority of the innings, the Wildcats will not have to rely on their offense and their bullpen as much as they have in the past.
Although ACU and Eastern New Mexico have opposite records of 8-4 and 4-8, and ACU is currently tied for first in conference while Eastern New Mexico is in last place, Bonneau said he is reluctant to take the Greyhounds lightly. His eagerness to not underestimate their opponents is well founded, since the Greyhounds have repeatedly hit well this season with a four starters holding a batting average above .330.
The Wildcats offense has slowed down since the preseason, but has continued to come through in a big way when it matters most. The Wildcats are 15-9 on the road and have scored a total of 373 runs. Seven of ACU’s starting lineup hold a batting average above the .330 mark, and the team has a combined average of .335. Both veterans such as Wells and newcomers such as freshman catcher Jordan Schmitt persistently excel at the plate.
Ultimately success this weekend will depend on which team pitches better. If Wildcat starters such as Christ Wiman and Brain Kennedy continue hitting the strike zone, the Wildcats should have no difficulty emerging victorious. Wiman and Kennedy have the top two ERA of the rotation and have consistently placed the Wildcats in a position to win throughout the season. Veteran Ben Maynard has also contributed on the mound despite struggling against Texas A&M Kingsville last weekend. Maynard has the second best record behind Wiman and is 6-2 thus far.
“This team can hit the ball well, so we’ll have to throw strikes and spot pitches,” Bonneau said. “Hopefully our pitchers will pitch real well, and we can continue to swing well enough to put runs on the board.”