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PHOTO GALLERY: Experience now paying off for Shepherd

  • Skip Traynor - Special to the Sun The Shepherd baseball and softball teams played doubleheaders at home against Bullock Creek to determine the conference champions Tuesday, May 13, 2014. The girls split their contests while the boys dropped their doubleheader.
  • Skip Traynor - Special to the Sun The Shepherd baseball and softball teams played doubleheaders at home against Bullock Creek to determine the conference champions Tuesday, May 13, 2014. The girls split their contests while the boys dropped their doubleheader.
  • Skip Traynor - Special to the Sun The Shepherd baseball and softball teams played doubleheaders at home against Bullock Creek to determine the conference champions Tuesday, May 13, 2014. The girls split their contests while the boys dropped their doubleheader.
  • Skip Traynor - Special to the Sun The Shepherd baseball and softball teams played doubleheaders at home against Bullock Creek to determine the conference champions Tuesday, May 13, 2014. The girls split their contests while the boys dropped their doubleheader.
  • Skip Traynor - Special to the Sun The Shepherd baseball and softball teams played doubleheaders at home against Bullock Creek to determine the conference champions Tuesday, May 13, 2014. The girls split their contests while the boys dropped their doubleheader.
  • Skip Traynor - Special to the Sun The Shepherd baseball and softball teams played doubleheaders at home against Bullock Creek to determine the conference champions Tuesday, May 13, 2014. The girls split their contests while the boys dropped their doubleheader.
  • Skip Traynor - Special to the Sun The Shepherd baseball and softball teams played doubleheaders at home against Bullock Creek to determine the conference champions Tuesday, May 13, 2014. The girls split their contests while the boys dropped their doubleheader.
  • Skip Traynor - Special to the Sun The Shepherd baseball and softball teams played doubleheaders at home against Bullock Creek to determine the conference champions Tuesday, May 13, 2014. The girls split their contests while the boys dropped their doubleheader.
  • Skip Traynor - Special to the Sun The Shepherd baseball and softball teams played doubleheaders at home against Bullock Creek to determine the conference champions Tuesday, May 13, 2014. The girls split their contests while the boys dropped their doubleheader.
  • Skip Traynor - Special to the Sun The Shepherd baseball and softball teams played doubleheaders at home against Bullock Creek to determine the conference champions Tuesday, May 13, 2014. The girls split their contests while the boys dropped their doubleheader.
  • Skip Traynor - Special to the Sun The Shepherd baseball and softball teams played doubleheaders at home against Bullock Creek to determine the conference champions Tuesday, May 13, 2014. The girls split their contests while the boys dropped their doubleheader.
  • Skip Traynor - Special to the Sun The Shepherd baseball and softball teams played doubleheaders at home against Bullock Creek to determine the conference champions Tuesday, May 13, 2014. The girls split their contests while the boys dropped their doubleheader.
  • Skip Traynor - Special to the Sun The Shepherd baseball and softball teams played doubleheaders at home against Bullock Creek to determine the conference champions Tuesday, May 13, 2014. The girls split their contests while the boys dropped their doubleheader.
  • Skip Traynor - Special to the Sun The Shepherd baseball and softball teams played doubleheaders at home against Bullock Creek to determine the conference champions Tuesday, May 13, 2014. The girls split their contests while the boys dropped their doubleheader.
  • Skip Traynor - Special to the Sun The Shepherd baseball and softball teams played doubleheaders at home against Bullock Creek to determine the conference champions Tuesday, May 13, 2014. The girls split their contests while the boys dropped their doubleheader.
  • Skip Traynor - Special to the Sun The Shepherd baseball and softball teams played doubleheaders at home against Bullock Creek to determine the conference champions Tuesday, May 13, 2014. The girls split their contests while the boys dropped their doubleheader.
  • Skip Traynor - Special to the Sun The Shepherd baseball and softball teams played doubleheaders at home against Bullock Creek to determine the conference champions Tuesday, May 13, 2014. The girls split their contests while the boys dropped their doubleheader.
  • Skip Traynor - Special to the Sun The Shepherd baseball and softball teams played doubleheaders at home against Bullock Creek to determine the conference champions Tuesday, May 13, 2014. The girls split their contests while the boys dropped their doubleheader.
Experience always pays off in the long run.

The Shepherd baseball team is finding that out this spring.

After suffering through a 9-18 season and taking its fair share of lumps along the way in 2013, a young Shepherd squad is better because of it.

“I had never been as young as I was last year, but we’ve played other schools that said that they had a bunch of sophomores too. The only difference is that there sophomores weren’t any good and I knew that my guys we’re going to be pretty good,” said head coach Jack Nartker, who is in his 25th season with Shepherd. “So far, our season has been going pretty good. We lost a couple to a good Clare team and split with a good Beal City program. We also lost to a good Essexville-Garber team that is leading the TVC East, but we’ve played competitive with the teams that we’ve lost to.”

The maturity and confidence that Nartker’s younger players gained from last year is beginning to show. Despite being swept by a surging Midland Bullock Creek squad on Tuesday, the Bluejays (17-6, 10-2 TVC Central) are one win away from doubling last year’s win total and securing a second-place finish in the Tri-Valley Conference Central.

“At the end of last year, we we’re starting three freshman, three sophomores and three juniors, so that looked like a really good JV team on paper,” Nartker joked. “We still managed to hang in there, but we just couldn’t win. I can’t tell you how many games that we’ve won this year by one run where last year we lost a number of one-run games. Our guys are showing that maturity and confidence this year that came with the experience that they received last year.”

Experience on the mound has been the biggest difference maker for Shepherd this spring, and although Nartker may not have the most dominating pitching staff in the area, he does have one of his most balanced staffs in years.

“We’ve got good, solid pitching this year. We may not have overpowering arms but we don’t walk very many guys” Nartker said. “There’s really not a lot of difference between our 1-4 pitchers, but we also don’t have someone like Colton Loomis who could go in and shut someone down like he did a couple of years ago for us.”

Seniors Billy Clark and Brandon Stressman and juniors Mason Branigan and Gage Gall comprise Shepherd’s staff that has stifled opposing batters in recent weeks.

In its last 14 games, Shepherd’s staff has only allowed more than three runs on three occasions, including a doubleheader loss to Midland Bullock Creek earlier this week. The Bluejays have also not allowed a double-digit scoring effort this spring.

“We’ve just had a more consistent effort this season,” Nartker said. “We field the ball pretty well, and as long as we don’t walk people, we’ve been able to stay competitive and get some wins.”

The Bluejays have also had a consistent effort at the plate from top to bottom.

“Mason and Brandon have both hit really well, as has Ryan Cline,” Nartker said. “We’ve also had a few surprises this year. We kind of knew what we were going to get at the top of the order but I wasn’t sure of what we were going to get in the middle or the bottom of the order. We’ve really had solid hitting all the way down to the ninth spot this year and have had good production from top to bottom.”

With no Sanford-Meridian to contend and with St. Louis, Ithaca and Carson City-Crystal all struggling this spring, Shepherd appears to be the favorite to win the St. Charles district.

“Sanford-Meridian getting kicked over to the Saginaw district helped us out, because they were really good last year and they have almost everyone back this year,” Nartker said. “I think that we’re the best team going in, but I’ve thought the same way in the past and didn’t win, so hopefully we get that message across. If we can get past districts, we feel we can be competitive in the regional. There will be some good teams there with the possibility of Pinconning, Clare or Sanford-Meridian, but at least we’re talking about the tournament this year. We were just trying to keep the guys mentally going last year after getting beat up.”

Shepherd returns to action Monday with a non-conference doubleheader with Mt. Pleasant before closing out the TVC Central season on Wednesday with visiting Saginaw Swan Valley. Shepherd can lock up second place in the TVC Central with at least a split with Swan Valley.

Last Updated: 5/17/2014 5:39:02 PM EST

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