Seeing another team run out of the dugout onto the field, victorious, was a rare sight for the UNG baseball team of 2017. The Peach Belt Conference (PBC) champs lost only eight games last regular season, but this season, the Nighthawks have already watched two different teams celebrate wins against them.
One of those teams was Florida Southern, who swept the Nighthawks this past weekend, something no team had done since March of 2016. In fact, the Nighthawks had not lost consecutive regular season games since February 2017, a span of 42 games.
“It’s terrible,” head coach Tom Cantrell said. “It’s not good baseball on our part, in any phase. Not good at all.”
The main difference with this year’s team is experience, as the Nighthawks only returned four offensive starters and have started as many as five freshmen in the lineup. Pitching hasn’t been generous to the Nighthawks either, as UNG’s most experienced starting pitcher, Steven Bower, has only played in one game, which he left after just two innings.
“It’s a young team and they’re trying to figure some things out, but they get down on themselves way too quick, and we got a lot of guys that are struggling and trying to do too much,” Cantrell said.
UNG had an abysmal weekend batting with runners on base, leaving 29 runners stranded and batting .227 as a team with runners in scoring position. On the mound, the Nighthawks allowed on average nearly two baserunners per inning and have given up an average of 7.5 runs per game.
“We have too many guys right now that are just deer-in-headlights,” Cantrell said. “We have to figure some things out. Too many fly balls, too many strikeouts at the plate. Pitching, every time we score, we go back out and give up a run. We can never seize any momentum.”
But even the school’s most successful baseball season in history — last year’s run which ended at the Division II College Baseball Championship — had its share of early season struggles, dropping three straight games last February before winning 15 of its next 16 games and going on a historic run. In 2015, the Nighthawks dropped four games in early February before winning 16 of their next 19 games and going on to win the PBC regular season title.
“That’s a good baseball team they played and if they want to do good things like the teams previous in ’15 and ’17 did, then they’re going to have to figure out ways to compete against teams like that,” Cantrell said.
UNG is set to start a three-game series against Trevecca Nazarene University on Friday before starting PBC play. The Nighthawks have never lost to Trevecca, winning all three games of their only series back in 2002.