You know you're on a roll when…

... 2-for-4 day at the plate brings your average down. Such is the fate of thirdbase/outfielder Shawn Wixted who is just pummeling the ball at a fantastic .529 clip. Look inside for Byron Conover's Army baseball update.

Despite a somewhat ugly loss on Sunday, taking an away series from UNC Greensboro 2-1 is a big, BIG step in the right direction for a program that is cusp of national recognition in the polls. The Spartans are a quality program, and early season has been the bane of Army baseball for well over a decade. The fact that they can score runs and win series early in the season is a huge step forward. Still ramping up its offense and defense, this team has the makings of an offensive steamroller when it starts to hit on all cylinders.

The weekend was really a dichotomy of polar opposites. While most Army pitching and hitting was dominant, the defense had some serious lapses while other pitching and hitting showed some signs of normal early season hiccups.

In the hitting department, Army averaged 10 hits a game, with some of its biggest bats on the cooler side of the hitting scales. While Wixted continues to be the Black Knights hottest hitter, David Darnell took steps forward offensively, as did Joey Henshaw and Zach Price. With the exception of Wixted, all the Army hitters showed signs of winter rust, but the fact that they can still put up such impressive offensive numbers is highly laudable.

With 14 runners left on base in the first game, and 27 total for the weekend, that's telling a bit of the story of the Sunday loss. That rust just won't let our hitters focus take over and deliver clutch hits with runners in scoring position, something that will undoubtedly improve with more repetition. Army will definitely be better at capitalizing on opportunity than they have shown so far.

In spite of some of the bigger bats cooling down a bit, Army is still hitting at a very high .313, over 40 points higher than the same time last year. Their biggest enemy to date has been the weather, with only six games under their belts. That all should begin the big surge forward over the next three weeks, as Army begins its Florida Spring Break trip this weekend and comes back to a four game series with Cornell preceding opening Patriot League play at Holy Cross.

In the pitching department, we saw three of our starters take huge steps forward from their first outing. Ben Koenigsfeld and Kirk Porter were nothing short of spectacular on the hill. Koenigsfeld got the win in the second game, throwing a no hitter into the sixth before getting touched up for two runs (only 1 earned). He posted eight K's over six innings with only a single walk in the first. He was throwing hard, with lots of movement, and completely baffling UNCG batters with his breaking stuff. His incredible efficiency at dispatching hitters might only have been surpassed by Porter. The big righty came on in relief of Matt Fouch in game 1, with one out in the sixth, two men on, and a 2-0 count on the hitter. Three pitches later, the Knights were out of the inning unscathed on a double play. Porter went the rest of the 3 2/3's innings to get the save, striking out six and walking no one, and did it in a paltry 43 pitches. Porter was in the 90's with his stuff, blowing it past hitters at will and then buckling them with curveballs and changeups. These two juniors put on a pitching clinic that was a marvel to watch. The fact that they did it so early in the season, bolsters Army's hopes greatly as the season moves on.

Except for back-to-back homers in the fourth, Matt Fouch was very good on the hill. The senior lefty was controlling the zone throwing strikes, only walking one batter over 5 1/3 but striking out six.

The rest of Army's staff did well, but suffered some hard luck along the way with defensive miscues. Army posted an uncharacteristic nine errors on the weekend, along with a couple of unturned double plays. UNCG has won its games this year with opportunistic hitting created by opponent's mistakes. The loss on Sunday was a great example of it. While Army squandered 10 hits and five UNCG errors by only plating five runs, UNCG posted 10 runs on 12 hits, three Army errors, one unturned double play (only got 1 out), two walks, and six hit batters.

The good news defensively, is that Army continues to make strides each week and put up some defensive highlight reel plays this weekend. Second baseman Zach Price has shown tremendous strides in his defensive game from last year and made an over the shoulder catch running into centerfield that even UNCG fans couldn't help but applaud for. At first base, Kevin McKague continues to make a case for possibly being the best defensive 1b in all of college baseball. The big guy can go right or left and if he touches it, he sucks it up like a Hoover. The truly amazing parts are his great range and quickness to get to balls, and his ability to continue to make the play after the snag. On Sunday, he snatched a line drive out of the air, laid out and full diving to his right, and then got up and beat the base runner to the bag for the unassisted double play.

This truly is a special group of young athletes, and as these kinks get worked out, many good things are on the horizon.

BC

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