Susquehanna ended a seven-game skid in its final game of the regular season to clinch the final spot in the Landmark Conference baseball tournament, which begins today.
“It was rather stressful,” Susquehanna senior Dillan Weikel said of the regular-season finale. “We knew what we had to do, and we knew it was all in front of us.
“There was a little relief because we were all pretty tight, but the job’s not done.”
Weikel, a 2016 Mifflinburg graduate, will get the ball to start today’s opening game at 3:30 p.m. at top-seeded Scranton. Elizabethtown and Catholic play the other first-round game in the double-elimination tournament.
Despite squeaking into the tournament by one game over Moravian, Weikel said the River Hawks have a team that can make a run.
“We’re all clicking, and when we’re all clicking, we’re a good team,” Weikel said. “We can compete with anybody in the conference.”
Weikel, who was 4-3 with a 2.84 ERA in a team-high 631/3 innings, is hoping to set the tone today.
“Game 1 is the most important,” he said. “I love that I’m getting the ball first. I’m very comfortable on Scranton’s field. It’s like our home away from home because we’ve played there the most.
“It’s a great atmosphere, and it’s all turf, so you get true bounces.”
Weikel, who was named to The Daily Item’s all-decade baseball play for his time as a Wildcat, pitched only 262/3 innings the last two seasons due to the coronavirus shutdown in 2020 and spending 2021 coming out of the bullpen.
“The past couple of years I was relieving, and I didn’t throw as many innings as I wanted,” Weikel said. “I’ve gotten back to the game I’ve been playing for — I’m getting old — 15 or 16 years.”
The results have paid off for the River Hawks, as Weikel dropped his ERA by four points from last year. That work started well before the season began.
“Once January hit and we were doing live sessions in the field house, I got up to 85 pitches to get my stamina up,” he said. “Since then, I don’t think I’ve thrown a bullpen less than 85 pitches.”
Weikel also has 60 strikeouts this season after combining for 52 strikeouts in 651/3 innings over his first three seasons with the River Hawks.
While he isn’t looking for strikeouts, that increase combined with the large drop in ERA shows that Weikel has seized the role of ace for Susquehanna.
“Being a pitcher kind of means you’re a control freak,” Weikel said. “You want to be in control of the game. You want to go six or seven innings to help the team out, and give us a chance to win.”
Weikel pitched five-plus innings and allowed one or fewer earned runs in six of his 11 starts starts this season. The River Hawks were 4-2 in those games. The 6-foot righty is hoping to give Susquehanna one of those performances today to set the tone for the tournament.
“From a pitching standpoint, we just need to limit free bases,” Weikel said. “We need to throw strikes, throw to contact. If we do that, we’ve got the defense behind us and they’ll have their bats ready, so I think we’ll be a force.”