PAT LONGOBARDI — Sports Writer
After a season like last year, the SCSU baseball team knew they would have to rebuild in some key areas due to graduation.
One of those roles was hard to spot early in the game, but the closer position was wide open.
After gaining experience out of the bullpen last season, sophomore right-hander A.J. Turnier got a chance to take over as the Owls’ closer.
Turnier, from Waterford, Conn., took over for Michael Johnston, and he is surely leading by example.
The Owls’ bullpen has been one of their strengths this season with the younger pitchers helping provide quality innings to help out the starters and keep their team in the game.
Turnier is quickly becoming a top closer in the Northeast-10 Conference with still two more years to go.
As of April 25, Turnier is 2-0 with a 1.23 ERA in 12 appearances and 13.2 innings pitched. He currently leads the Northeast-10 Conference with eight saves on the season.
“He has been doing well,” SCSU head coach Tim Shea said. “He has performed, and he does not have a lot of innings pitched. He has provided [saves] from the closer’s spot. He has been pretty good for us.
“Any time we have a lead late, we expect him to do the job to get the ‘W’ and to get outs. That is all that we can ask and he has done that.”
Turnier said he has tried to give the team chances to win every time he is on the mound.
“We have been great this season,” Turnier said. “We are trying to save the arms which helps the bullpen.
“With [Johnston] being the closer, he left big shoes to fill. It was a little nerve-wracking, but I did well with it. I got a lot of opportunities to do my best.
“I try to take it pitch by pitch and to stay focused and to throw strikes every inning, We have a good [pitching] staff.”
Johnston helped lead the Owls lead to a deep postseason run and helped shut the door for a starting rotation that was among Southern’s best in school history. Johnston set the all-time school record for saves in a season last year with 16 and had with a dominant 1.21 ERA.
The No. 21 ranked SCSU baseball team is currently 26-12 overall and 8-4 in the Northeast-10 Southwest division, good enough for third place. The Owls are also No. 4 in the NCBWA east regional poll.
Turnier also had a lot of postseason experience last season and a chance to watch one of the best seasons in Southern’s history as a freshman, which could have helped his cause as well to be the next in command on the mound.
“He was our set-up guy and he had some work out of the bullpen,” Shea said. “He even started a game for us. He has a live fastball and good control. He has handled it well [moving to closer].
“He certainly got his feet wet last year [in the postseason]. He was our set-up man and he had a lot of opportunities, and I think he did a great job. We are certainly excited what he is doing now and he is only going to get better.”