Diamond Hawks continue to struggle on offense

Brandon Sans, Staff Writer

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UNC Wilmington went 9-5 through 14 games in 2016. In nine wins, it scored a combined 103 runs compared to scoring 20 runs in its five losses. It rode the early success of its offense to a 41-19 record and one game short of a NCAA Super Regional bid.

When seven of the nine starters from that team returned this season, it was easy to see why UNCW was the unanimous preseason pick to win the Colonial Athletic Association for the third straight year. Instead, the Seahawks have learned what happens when the offense is unable to score runs.

At 5-9, any chances of picking up where they left off from that 2016 have all but evaporated. In its five wins, UNCW has only scored 40 runs, while it has scored a abysmal 26 runs in nine losses. The lack of offense has hurt a pitching staff that could be considered good enough to keep UNCW in most of its games.

In four of its losses, UNCW has scored two or fewer runs, but undefeated when scoring four runs or more. No one could have expected similar offensive numbers from last year, but is interesting to note in a March 1st game against Coastal Carolina, UNCW fared well with two-out hits, going 5-for-14. However, the Seahawks did not advance a runner to third base with less than two outs at any point in the 4-1 loss, stranding 15 total runs through nine innings.

That game provided a perfect snapshot of the season thus far for the Seahawks – getting runners on base but unable to get them home – who have left 102 runners on base in the season. Getting hits to score base runners is something that has been lacking per head coach Mark Scalf.

“We’re doing a decent job of putting ourselves in position,” said head coach Mark Scalf after the Coastal loss. “We’ve just got to close things out.”

A dive into CAA stats displays an absence of UNCW in every category it led or was in the top five of last year. In fact, the only category UNCW’s offense has shown up in again is strikeouts – fifth in the conference as of March 13 – with 121.

Scalf has attempted to tweak his lineup in an attempt to generate more production. The only player who has been in the same position every game is junior catcher Nick Feight.

Feight is typically joined in the top third of the lineup by Robbie Thorburn and Brian Mims. The trio has gone a combined 52-for-171 (.304), but the rest of the team has gone 59-for-295 (.200). For the Seahawks to have success, it’s vital to generate production from all parts of its lineup.

“You’d like to think no matter what year it is, you got at least six guys in the lineup putting quality at-bats together,” said Scalf after a loss to Florida Gulf Coast. “I think there’s times when we’re not aggressive and a little too passive. Hopefully it’ll begin to click.”

It’s still early in the 2017 season and far too early to write this UNCW team off. For all the issues it continues to work on, it does so knowing what it can accomplish when the mental aspect of the game aligns with the physical gifts these players have proven to have in the past.