Road trips for the Marshall A's this summer have meant traveling with nine to 12 players and having very little flexibility in terms of their batting order and pitching options. That's why A's manager Sean Culhane is thrilled to be entering the playoffs and finally having a full roster to work with.
His excitement grew this week when he received a piece of positive news. Jordon Kontz, who led Marshall in batting average before suffering a broken bone in his foot on July 1, has recovered from his injury and has been cleared to play for the A's when they begin the Section 7B playoffs Saturday. Kontz had a .508 batting average in 61 at-bats before going down with his injury. He also had a 3.18 earned run average in 28 1/3 innings pitched.
The addition of another strong bat to an already potent lineup and a versatile player in the field has the A's hopeful that they can be one of the top two teams to advance to the super section tournament.
"It's a huge deal for us," Culhane said of having Kontz available for the playoffs. "That's a big player for us to get back in the lineup that hasn't been in the lineup for a month. He's clearly one of our better hitters and one of our better fielders, and he's also one of our better pitchers, too. We just got, in my opinion, a lot stronger with having him healthy."
Marshall (19-6 overall) was already looking strong heading into the postseason. The team has won eight of its last nine games since a stretch of losing four of six games in Corn Belt League play in late June and early July.
Along with being able to rely on a more consistent lineup in July, Culhane said another reason for the improved play has been his pitching staff's understanding of their role. The team has allowed three runs or fewer in the past six games, and it hasn't been because of overpowering performances from the A's starters.
"You don't have to strike a lot of people out, just throw strikes and let the defense work," Culhane said. "That's what we've done. If you look at our stats, we're not striking out 15 people a game, we're striking out maybe four or five. That's not a ton of strikeouts in a nine-inning game, but we're pitching to contact and letting the defense do its job."
A's hurler Travis McGlauflin will get the start in the team's section playoff opener against Sauk Rapids at 10:30 a.m. Saturday in Richmond. The big 6-foot-6 right-hander has already delivered one stellar performance against Cyclones this season. He tossed a five-hit shutout to lead the A's to a 1-0 win over Sauk Rapids July 20 in the Nick Bell Classic in Cold Spring.
"Travis deserves the start," Culhane said of McGlauflin. "He's pitched against them before and threw really well.
"Baseball is a different game every time you play and you don't know what you're going to get, but he's the guy we're going to throw right away in the first game of the playoffs and hopefully we can get another performance from him like we did in the Nick Bell Classic."
The A's will try to provide McGlauflin with a little more run support this time around so he doesn't have to throw another shutout. Some players have gotten together a few times this week to work on their batting. The team's last game of the regular season was last Friday against Castlewood (S.D.), an 11-1 win, and Culhane wanted to try to schedule some rare practices to make sure the team's bats don't go cold for the playoffs.
"I just don't like having that much time off in between games. It ends up being too long," Culhane said. "You get stale and start to forget what you're doing and it just helps you to stay sharp more than anything."
Culhane's A's are seeded second in the five-team tournament, while Sauk Rapids is seeded third. Cold Spring, the runner-up of last year's Class B state tournament, is the top seed with a 29-4 record.
Should Marshall finish as one of the top two teams in the section tournament, the A's would get a chance to play on their home turf at Legion Field since Marshall is one of the sites for the four super section tournaments. Culhane said that provides added incentive for his club, which hasn't hosted a playoff game for three years.