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Ranking just a start for Rams

February 27, 2003|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - The vote is in but it doesn't mean the job is anywhere near done for the Shepherd College baseball team.

Those in the know around the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference voted the Rams as the team to beat for the first time ever in the league's preseason poll. Meanwhile, Collegiate Baseball magazine has Shepherd rated No. 35 in the country.

That's all fine and dandy to coach Wayne Riser, but it doesn't prove anything ... yet.

"Any time you can draw attention from across West Virginia and the nation is a good thing for the program," Riser said. "We know it's nice and it puts the school in a great light. But I called (WVIAC commissioner) Barry Blizzard and asked if we could have the trophy right now and he said, 'No.' We have to go out and play and win."

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When Shepherd does play, it won't be like the Rams haven't been on the field before. The Rams return 10 lettermen from last year's 37-12-1 record, including four All-American candidates.

Maybe the most important of the four is Mike Spry. Spry is converting from the outfield to the starting shortstop position and returns to the Rams as the school's second-leading career home run and RBI leader.

"We moved Mike there because we didn't get someone who could play the position," Riser said. "He's battle-tested and one of the best athletes and leaders we have. He was the obvious choice. Mike will make every play he has to, he won't make any bad decisions and he will come to the dish and hit .400 with 17 home runs."

Spry is joined in the lineup by catcher Charlie Drummond to give Shepherd one of the top hitting tandems in the North Atlantic Region. Drummond hit .413 with seven homers and 50 RBI.

The other All-America hopefuls are pitchers Brian Renner and Jimmy Jackson. Renner is Shepherd's top returning starter after posting a 10-5 record and a 2.82 ERA last season. Jackson was Shepherd's closer with a 7-1 record and a school-record 10 saves. J.R. Fitzwater is also in the mix after a 6-3 record last year.

Riser enhanced the Rams roster by adding some key transfers who will step in and play immediately. Tavis Laws comes to Shepherd from Eastern Mennonite and is slated to start in center while Josh Delawder, West Virginia's all-time high school scorer in basketball, comes from Potomac State and will start in left field.

Shepherd has also added third baseman Bo Royal from Louisburg (N.C.) Junior College, while catcher Nick Gozzard and pitcher Mitch LeMasters come over from Allegany College.

"They will all be impact guys that should help us right away," Riser said.

The whole package is supposed to have everything it takes to knock perennial WVIAC frontrunner West Virginia State out of the top slot. The Rams lost to the Yellow Jackets in the conference championship game but gained revenge by knocking State out of the North Atlantic Regional Tournament.

"One of the best moments I had last year is when I shook (State coach Cal Bailey's) hand to tell him nice season after we knocked them out of last year's regions," Riser said.

But now, Shepherd is the one being hunted instead of being the hunter.

"We haven't dealt with that yet," Riser said. "Winning is a byproduct of what you do and who you are. If we go and do the best we can every game, we will be in good position to win."

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