The Rowan baseball team’s junior infielders — Jason Clapper and Matt Jolly — have been playing the sport they love together their entire lives.
The duo has even lined up next to each other, rotating between third base and shortstop, in high school and college. So when Clapper, the starting shortstop, went down with an undisclosed injury against Montclair State University on Saturday, Jolly seamlessly made the switch from third.
Rowan closed out the weekend by sweeping New Jersey Athletic Conference opponent New Jersey City then followed with a 20-3 drubbing of Eastern.
After playing the bulk of their conference season in less than a week, the brown and gold currently sit fourth in the NJAC standings at 6-4 (18-13 overall). They have eight conference games still to play over the final two weeks of the season, half of which are against teams that sit just one game above them: Ramapo College and Kean University.
Head coach Mike Dickson said the toughest part of the long weekend was keeping fresh arms on the mound.
“The way I look at it, between Florida and last week we played half of our season in a two-week period,” Dickson said. “I don’t think anyone wants to do that. Especially when you’re trying to manage your arms, because some guys can’t go back-to-back days so you have to manage differently.”
Dickson added, however, that the rapid-fire rotation gave him a great look to see where his guys are at for the end-of-season push coming up.
“I think going into this weekend, I’d like to say I finally have a really good idea who my starters and bullpen guys are going to be, and our plan is in place for these last two weekends,” Dickson said.
Clapper believes he will be back in time to help his team make a run at the postseason, adding that the infield has been and should continue to be a strength for Rowan.
“We’re all pretty fundamentally sound,” Clapper said. “We focus on taking everything one step at a time; fielding the ball first, then knowing what to do with it so we can cut the mental errors out of the game. We’re playing smart, and I think that’s why we’ve been playing so well defensively.”
With Clapper out, the narrative for the team then became how freshman Dillon Mendel would gel at third base with the infield group — Jolly, senior second baseman Evan Hughes and senior first baseman Steven Todd — that had been playing together since the second week of the season.
“He’s really stepping up for us,” Jolly said. “He’s been coming up big with a lot of hits.”
“He’s hitting in the three-hole now, and that’s been my spot since I started playing, so it’s nice to see him step into that role and take over,” Clapper added. “Hopefully he continues to play well and we’ll be able to carry a lot of momentum into the last four NJAC opponents.”
Mendel’s performance over the Profs’ current three-game winning streak showed the pressure was not going to get to him.
“I think they do a great job,” Dickson added. “It’s nice to have a guy like Mendel who’s come off the bench here and gotten six extra-base hits in the last week to fill in for Clapper, but I’m confident in the way that those guys can play defense and the way they’ve played all year reflects that.”
Even with 13 losses already on the season, the Profs remain confident that they will be able to not only go far in the conference playoffs, but also make a run at the Division III tournament.
That will start today in the first game of a home and home series at Stockton.
“I think we have the talent. We just need to prepare the correct way,” Clapper said. “There’s no doubt we should have the confidence. We’re coming off three wins and we just put up 20 runs [against Eastern], so we should be confident that we’re hitting the ball well. If we play all three phases of the game well, I don’t see why we couldn’t beat any team in the country.”
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