UB baseball looks to turn corner in conference play
Bulls look to make waves in MAC play, figure out inconsistencies
The Buffalo baseball team understands the season doesn’t really begin until Mid-American Conference play begins.
The non-conference schedule will not get a team into a conference tournament. For head coach Ron Torgalski, it’s all about getting back to the MAC Tournament, where he views it as “anyone’s chance.”
“This is what all the non-conference games are for,” Torgalski said. “It doesn’t matter what we did in the previous 20 games … it’s all about winning every weekend and getting to the MAC Tournament and giving us a chance from there. We want to get back there and give ourselves a chance to win the league.”
The Bulls (8-13, 2-1 Mid-American Conference) are in the midst of conference play and are looking to make a run toward a MAC Championship despite missing the tournament last season for the first time since 2011. They had their first brush against a conference opponent last weekend when they faced Toledo for a three-game series and took two of the three games.
Even as the Bulls were swept in a two-game series against non-conference rival St. Bonaventure (11-8-1, 0-3 Atlantic 10) on Wednesday, Torgalski said it’s winning games in the MAC schedule that will determine if the Buffalo’s 2016 season will be a successful one or a disappointment.
“We’ve had some good weekends, but sometimes, we’ve played some uninspired baseball,” Torgalski said. “We have to continue to play through it and figure out where we can go from here. With conference play right there for us on the horizon, we have to get it together to make a run in the second half of the season.”
But even as Torgalski expresses importance in the team’s upcoming games, he also expressed worried about the team’s recent play and performance at the plate. Torgalski said that the Buffalo hitters “have to make every pitch and at-bat matter,” something they’ve struggled to do, leading to inconsistent play.
Torgalski noted the Bulls have had strong pitching performances from the starters, but the season will ultimately be decided with the bats.
The Bulls have had strong offensive series in the past, like when they scored 28 runs in their three-game series against Tennessee-Martin (16-9, 2-4 Ohio Valley Conference) earlier in the season. But they also had offensive droughts and shortcomings, like the five combined runs they’ve scored in their last three games.
“For the most part, I think the pitching has been pretty good,” Torgalski said, “It’s our position players. We just haven’t found that consistency to make us a good team. We got some holes in our lineup and we need some guys to start producing.”
There is one position player that is the anomaly from what Torgalski said: junior outfielder Vinny Mallaro. The junior slugger is making strides this season and has gradually worked himself into being the best hitter on the team. Mallaro leads the team with four home runs and is currently tied for the team lead with a .299 batting average with senior infielder Bobby Sheppard.
Sheppard, a junior college transfer in his second year in Buffalo, leads the team in hits with 26 and moved from third in the order to the top of the order this season, which has paid dividends for him. His average is up nearly 30 points from last year, he’s striking out less and is making more contact with the ball.
While the offense needs to catch up, the team is beginning to become, well, a team. The Bulls said before the season began, they had better chemistry than years’ past, mainly due to such a young roster. Sometimes, youth could be correlated with inexperience.
But that’s what the first part of the season is for. It’s for those young players to learn how to play at the college level. Sheppard said Buffalo’s performance began to click in their series victory against Toledo.
“Our pitchers threw great,” Sheppard said. “We had the mentality that we were going to win. We knew we wanted to win our way, but it started with Friday. Getting a victory on Friday allowed us to be in position to sweep. We didn’t complete it, but just working and getting there was a big step for us.”
The Bulls aren’t done with non-conference play just yet. They still have 11 games against non-conference opponents, including two teams they have met already in St. Bonaventure and Canisius (12-12, 3-0 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference).
Buffalo continues its season against Eastern Michigan (9-14, 3-0 MAC), its second MAC matchup of the season, on Friday and Saturday at Fred Handler Park in Olean, New York.
Friday features a double-header, which will begin at noon.