Depth, and a desire to complete last year’s unfinished business has the GW men’s baseball team thinking it can follow up last year’s season, which ended one game shy of the NCAA Tournament.
“Had we won that last game, it would have been the best season at GW. But since we didn’t, it was just a great season,” sixth-year head coach Tom Walter said.
Last year’s squad recorded the best season in Colonials history, winning 38 games with five players earning All-Conference honors and one, Matt Walker, who now plays in the Detroit Tigers farm system. But a loss to Temple in the final game of the Atlantic 10 Tournament meant the team fell short of its goal: winning the conference title.
This season, Walter said the team has a different, more team-centered attitude. No longer is the focus on individual players. Senior co-captain Chris Barry noted that while statistics will always make individuals stand out, everyone needs to produce.
Walter said he hopes each of his players focus more on the team’s lofty goal – winning the A-10 – than on personal statistics, something he said has been a problem in the past.
“I believe we have a lot of guys who are pretty motivated and determined to bring the championship to GW baseball,” he said. “So I would agree that we have some guys who are interested in the big picture rather than what they’re doing.”
Senior co-captain Matt Krimmel agreed he is not interested in his personal statistics, which last year helped lead GW to the 18th-best team batting average in the country (.325). Krimmel batted .361 and said this season he wants to do what is best for his team.
“I don’t want to have any regrets this year,” he said. “I don’t want to look back and see what I could have done differently or better.”
Doing what’s best for the team may include testing players now in unfamiliar positions. With new depth, Walter can balance against another team’s strengths, be it a predominantly left-handed hitting team or a team that piles on doubles.
After Tuesday’s 17-6 loss against a James Madison team that knocked in 17 runs on 18 hits, GW is 2-3. Walter said the teams GW is playing now, such as UNC-Greensboro, are stronger than GW’s A-10 opponents. A tough pre-season schedule is intended to prepare the Colonials for conference play.
“We’ll be ready once the conference (play) rolls around, when we’ll be in a situation where we’re better,” the coach said.
GW’s toughest conference competition should be newcomer Richmond, with UMass and Dayton right behind. Richmond, playing in the Colonial Athletic Conference last season, finished with a 27-26 record overall and a 7-13 conference record. The Spiders return five top hitters and three top starters and are 4-0 so far this season. The Colonials have until April 27 to prepare.
Walter said that while this year’s schedule is tougher, he thinks his team is better equipped to handle it because seven of nine starters are returning from the team that went 38-23.
“On paper, we’ve got a better club than we did last year,” Walter said.
One area where this statement holds true is pitching. While last season’s team ERA ranked 34th in the nation, Walter noted his pitchers were hampered by injuries and inconsistency.
Now, Walter has as many as seven “solid college pitchers.”
Junior Greg Conden, the ace who battled injuries all last season, is back and throwing better than he has before, Walter said. Conden won eight games last season in 15 appearances, finishing with an ERA of 3.72, fifth on the team. Already with two wins under his belt from the opening weekend, Conden is expected to be a consistent force on the mound.
Senior Jason Baker, in his second season at GW, is anticipated to win more than the seven games he won last year. The Colonials number-two starter finished with a 3.81 ERA in 14 appearances.
Tri-captain Chris Worth, senior Glen Skutnik, sophomore Dennis Gramolini and freshman Avi Rasowsky are solid pitchers now battling for the third starting spot.
Reliver Mike O’Connor, who will lead GW’s bullpen, has been working with pitching coach Dennis Healy and is throwing well, Walter said. Last season he was second on the team with 26 appearances and finished with a 4.45 ERA.
The Colonials also have depth behind the plate, returning eight players that batted over .300 last season.
Krimmel and Mike Bassett, who batted .326 last season and made first-team All-Conference, will be the driving forces behind a potent offense. At third base, Krimmel led the team in runs scored (55) and tied for the lead in hits (78), earning him a second-team All-Conference honors. Bassett, an outfielder, led the team in homeruns (14) and doubles (15). He needs eight homeruns for the all-time record.
Barry, Travis Crowder, Tony Brown and Jake Wald will also be keys to Colonials offense. A broken hand sidelined Barry most of last season, but the infielder managed to hit .315 and tied Crowder with 16 steals, second best on the team. Crowder, the Colonials leadoff man, batted a team-leading .372.
Brown, a red-shirt senior, and Wald are offensive powers, hitting .343 and .351 respectively, but they draw more attention in the field. Brown is a speedy centerfielder who was drafted by the New York Mets out of high school. His ability to cover tremendous ground will stop many opposing extra base hits. Wald is the starting short stop, who last season committed only 10 errors in 250 chances, earning him a place on the Second Team A-10 All-Conference.
Along with the returning players, seven freshmen add to the quality of the team. Joe Michalski from Elliot City, Md., is expected to be effective behind the mound. He led his high school team in homeruns all four years and batted above .400 his junior and senior year.
“We brought in more than we lost, so we have a lot more depth than in years past,” Walter said.
The pitching is there, the batting is there, the talent is there and the depth is there. For the GW baseball team there is no next season because this is the one that counts.
NOTES: James Madison rode a pair of run-producing innings en route to a 17-6 win over GW at Long Field/Mauck Park Tuesday. The Dukes took an 11-2 lead after knocking in six runs in the second inning and five runs in the fourth.
Losing pitcher Glen Skutnik allowed six runs on five hits in less than an inning of work.
Senior rightfielder Mike Bassett went 3 for 5, and freshman catcher Joe Michalski had a pair of doubles and an RBI.
The Colonials travel to Tulane for a weekend series beginning with a 6:30 p.m. game Friday.