The Thomas baseball team eyes another pivotal weekend against conference foe and NAIA No. 3 Embry-Riddle.
The winner of this three game series will walk away atop the Sun Conference standings as the bulk of league play begins to emerge.
“We’re both right there,” Thomas coach Mike Lee said. “It settles [first place] for another week. All it takes is one bad weekend and you can drop from first to fourth in a heartbeat, then you spend the rest of the year trying to dig yourself out.”
Thomas heads to Daytona Beach having won six of its last seven after enduring a six game losing streak – its first and only of the season.
The Night Hawks downed Eckerd on Wednesday behind pitcher Evan Morgan, who threw seven innings and four strikeouts while allowing just four hits in the 2-0 shutout.
During the recent rise, the Thomas bats hit a much-improved .323 up from the team .294 average, which Lee said is vital as the team heads to Embry-Riddle.
“We’re getting there. It’s just a matter of executing what we practiced,” Lee said of his offense. “We’re going to see top notch pitching this weekend – the best arms we’ve seen all year.
Embry-Riddle will send right-hander and Division I transfer Daniel Poncedeleon to the mound for Friday’s 6 p.m. matchup.
Poncedeleon (2-1), who has also been selected in three MLB drafts, has a 2.58 ERA with 36 strikeouts (seven per game) while allowing just 23 hits in five appearances this season.
Poncedeleon (2-1), who has also been selected in three MLB drafts, has a 2.58 ERA with 36 stirkeouts (seven per game) while allowing just 23 hits in five appearances this season.
Stetson Nelson, who held Thomas to three hits in the final series of the season last year, will pitch on Saturday for Embry-Riddle.
“He handled us pretty well,” Lee said of Nelson. “They always pitch well enough to keep themselves in it, and don’t make a lot of mistakes.
“It’s going to be a good measuring stick to where we’re at.”
Lee will send ace Kurt Gens to the mound on Friday despite a brief one inning stint in Wednesday’s win.
Ben Overman, who is averaging almost a strikeout an inning, will pitch Game 1 of Saturday’s doubleheader.
Stout reliever John Gainey is slated to make his second start of the season in Game 2, though that will depend if he is called upon in the latter stages of the first two outings, which was the case last weekend.
Lee sees this weekend’s series as one that will be decided from the mound, and will coach accordingly.
“If I need Gainey [Friday] night to win a ball game, that’s what I’ll do,” he said.
This weekend will cap a Florida road trip for the Night Hawks, which usually includes an appearance in the Warner Invitational. Due to scheduling conflicts – primarily the Daytona 500 two Sundays ago – Thomas couldn’t accomodate the annual outing.
The Night Hawks spent Thursday’s off day at Universal Studios in Orlando and will enjoy a morning of extra sleep, with Friday’s game just over an hour away from their hotel.
“It’s been relaxing,” Lee said. “There’s not been too much sunshine but hopefully it’ll clear up.”