After shouldering the load the first two months, wear and tear has started to set in for Belmont’s pitchers.
A bum elbow has kept ace Chase Brookshire off the mound for three weeks. Closer Josh Davis is slowly working his way back from a hamstring injury.
And perhaps the biggest blow came on Saturday when starter Austin Coley broke his hand on a pitch lined back at the mound. He’ll be out at least four weeks, if not for the remainder of the season.
The timing is less than ideal as the Bruins are in the thick of the race for their first Ohio Valley Conference championship.
“We have a lot of injuries to overcome right now but that’s adversity that we like, that we welcome,” right fielder Drew Turner said after a 10-6 loss to Austin Peay on Sunday. “We’ll be better from it. We’ll deal with it and move on. Obviously, it will be difficult but we have great team character. The next guy in line will be ready to step up.”
Belmont (27-11, 14-4) limped out of Clarksville with its first series loss of the season after dropping the final two games to Austin Peay. The Bruins are tied for first place with Jacksonville State with four conference series remaining. Belmont will take a break from the OVC on Tuesday to host rival Lipscomb at 5 p.m. at Rose Park. The Bisons (14-27) won the first meeting 5-3 two weeks ago.
Belmont has mastered the OVC bats for much of the season, leading the league with a 3.46 ERA. Sophomore lefty Daniel Ludwig, at 8-1, has more wins than any OVC pitcher. Coley was 6-0 and appeared to be cruising toward his seventh win until he was removed from the game in the sixth inning Saturday.
Brookshire (3-1) also tops the league with a 1.15 ERA in seven starts. But he hasn’t pitched since March 28. Coach Dave Jarvis said his elbow injury is being evaluated on a day-to-day basis.
The most experienced pitcher on the staff, the senior left-hander figures to play a huge role in the future of the weekend rotation.
“Whether or not we get Chase back will be a determining factor,” Jarvis said. “Who we use in that third slot on the weekend is TBA right now.”
With Coley out and Brookshire’s status up in the air, that leaves the Bruins with just two weekend starters — James Buckelew and Ludwig. Buckelew is coming off his worst outing of the season. He allowed six earned runs in 2.2 innings pitched on Sunday. The only other pitcher who has started this season is Dom Veltri. The freshman has made just three midweek starts and has failed to reach the fourth inning in his last two starts.
“Hopefully we get [Brookshire] back sooner rather than later because he is an awful valuable asset to have,” Jarvis said. “I feel good about our pitching staff. If you have Chase and you have Austin, we’re a different animal — there’s no doubt about that. But it is the offense’s turn to pick up the slack.”
Despite being overshadowed by the pitching, Belmont’s bats have been consistent. The Bruins rank in the middle of the league in several hitting categories. They’ve been shut out just once and have scored at least 10 runs seven times, including 25 against Southern Illinois-Edwardsville on April 14.
But two of the top three teams in the league — Jacksonville State and Tennessee Tech — are still on the schedule and both are on the road. Belmont is trying to hold on for its second straight regular-season conference title and first in the OVC after leaving the Atlantic Sun last year.
Jarvis, however, put more importance on just making the six-team conference tournament. The Bruins have flourished in that setting the last two years, winning its last two A-Sun tournament titles to reach the program’s first two NCAA Regionals.
A third straight postseason trip depends on how Belmont’s arms, and bats, respond the last four weeks.
“Everybody here has great ability,” Turner said. “We know that offensively, defensively, pitching-wise we can always be better. Regardless of who is on the mound, it is just a matter of executing and doing your job. We feel like we can still do that.”