The Wolves (17-15, 8-7 Gulf South Conference) have already put together one of their best conference seasons in some time, but there is still plenty left to do.
The work begins when No. 29 Valdosta State (18-11, 9-3) comes to town sitting atop the conference standings. It’s a conference opponent and it’s a significant rivalry, but this series has a special place for UWG coach Skip Fite.
“I’m excited about playing Valdosta State, my alma mater. I always am. I want to beat them about as bad as anyone we play. It should be a good battle. Valdosta’s playing well, and it will be a challenge for us. But I think we’ll do well,” Fite said.
The West Georgia skipper was hoping Wednesday’s game against Montevallo could help break his team out of a four-game losing streak, although the weather did not cooperate. A lightning warning followed by a downpour quickly canceled the game after just one inning of play.
The struggles have come both offensively and defensively during the current skid, as the Wolves have been outscored, 35-9, in the four straight losses. While those numbers suggest the bats are the problem, Fite thinks otherwise.
“I think [offense] is big. I think the bigger thing is that we pitch well early. If you look at the last four games that we’ve lost, we didn’t jump on the teams, but the games were close until the fourth inning. Then that fourth inning came and it just fell apart. We didn’t pitch very well. We walked a lot of guys, hit a lot of guys and got behind in counts and have to make a pitch and then they hit a home run,” Fite said. “I think the most important thing is that we get three good, quality starts.”
Chase Riemer has earned a spot in the starting rotation and will get the nod in Friday’s game. The junior transfer from Chattanooga State got his first start of the season last weekend against Alabama-Huntsville and started strong before getting into some trouble in the sixth inning and suffering the loss.
“We’re going to mix our rotation up this weekend. We try to put the hottest pitcher in there, and Chase Riemer is pitching well. He’s doing a good job and throwing well and he deserves to be in there early,” Fite said. “We’re going to throw him the first day.”
Fite added that after starting the season as the club’s ace, Max Aeschlimann will be the first man out of the bullpen. Saturday will hold the usual doubleheader rotation.
“Seth McClure in that first game on Saturday and then Cody [Skinner]. Cody had a tough game Saturday, but he’s coming back from a little bit of an arm injury and arm was a little tender. But it seems like it’s feeling good, so he’s going to get that last game Saturday. I think we’ve got it lined up pretty good to have a shot,” Fite said.
If the Wolves’ arms can keep the team in the game, Fite expects the bats to get going as the game goes on.
“Normally, when you see a good conference pitcher, it takes you three, four or five innings before you get going on him. That’s when the guy’s going to tire and his fastball is going to drop a bit. Our pitchers have got to raise it up a little bit to get us to that point in the game. That’s what has not happened the last four games. We were out of the games too quick,” Fite said.
Along with keeping the game competitive through the first four innings, the Wolves offense may get another boost — the return of All-GSC first baseman Andy Marinelli. The senior has not played since March 17 when he injured his hand diving for a ball against North Alabama.
Runs won’t be easy to come by against a VSU pitching staff that includes Kevin Rogers, who leads the GSC with a 2.09 ERA and Pete Whittingslow, who is fifth with a 2.81 ERA. Still, both pitchers are just 3-2 on the year.
With a reduced GSC this season, every team — except newly-added University of New Orleans — will make the GSC Tournament. But a higher seed and some confidence could go a long way to a possible tournament title.
“When you get to a tournament like that anything can happen, but confidence is a key element. If you go in there and you haven’t done well against these top-end three teams we’re fixing to play, if you haven’t done well or competed against them, it’s a tough mentality thing,” Fite said.
The Wolves already took one game against then-No. 5 North Alabama this season and will try to take down their second ranked team of the season this weekend.