Last season the GW baseball team won the Atlantic 10 tournament and advanced to the NCAAs for the first time in 10 years. But one month later, six players, including one junior, left for the major league draft.
After losing so many standout players, most college teams would expect to take at least a year to rebuild the program and develop new players. But not the Colonials, senior co-captain Tony Dokoupil said.
“We’re going to have a very different team than we did last year,” he said. “But it is absolutely possible for us to win the conference again and go further in the (NCAA) tournament than we did last year.”
Seventh-year head coach Tom Walter said the Colonials will use a combination of pitching depth and power hitting to overcome the departures.
“I’m excited about this season,” Walter said. “We return seven position players who played a good deal last year and they are more than capable of getting the big hits. And our younger guys will be able to step up and take on big responsibilities.”
Walter expects that his trio of captains – Dokoupil, junior Jeff Fertitta and senior Chris Barry – will be the offensive catalysts for the team this year. Among the three, Fertitta had the most success at the plate last season, hitting .328, with 12 home runs and 46 RBI.
On the other side of the ball, GW will look to the pitching staff, led by senior right-hander Greg Conden.
“Our pitching is definitely going to be a strength,” he said. “We have five guys who could be top starters and our bullpen is strong.”
Last year, Conden started almost a quarter of the team’s games, finishing with an 11-3 record, a GW record for most single season wins. The righty gave up 45 earned runs and struck out 69 in 96 innings pitched.
One of the younger players expected to step up and factor in to the team’s success is freshman short stop Tom Shanley. Walter said Shanley will fill the hole left by would-be senior Jake Wald, who opted to leave college early for the draft after last season. Shanley, who proved himself in the team’s fall workouts, will be the starting shortstop on opening day, Feb. 11 against Norfolk State.
“I’m confident he’ll do well,” Dokoupil said. “He’s a freshman by title only.”
Other freshmen Walter said he expects to have an instant impact on the program are pitchers Josh Wilkie and Dan Pfau and outfielders Paul Garner and Matt Owens.
While a big freshman class makes it easy for the rookies to separate themselves, Walter said the newcomers have meshed nicely with the rest of the team.
“It is easy for them to hang out among themselves but the older guys have taken them under their wings,” he said. “They are showing them the ropes rather than letting them figure it out on their own. I am pleased with that.”
Fertitta said the freshmen have not had any trouble fitting in, a factor that will help the team in the long run. Dokoupil agreed and added that it is important for the team to form a solid unit.
“We could tell right away that their personalities would mesh perfectly with our team,” Dokoupil said. “Our cohesiveness is just as strong this year as it’s been in the past. We have a lot of downtime on the bus and in hotels and if you don’t enjoy who you’re with, you won’t play baseball to the best of your abilities.”
Playing to the best of their abilities will be extremely important for GW this season, Walter said. Richmond, who returned every player from last year’s squad and is ranked No. 15 in the country, will be the Colonial’s top rival. Last year the Colonials upset the Spiders to win the A-10 tournament.
They are a good team and we’ll be right there with them,” Fertitta said.
“We will definitely contend for the A-10 again.”
Walter agreed and put one more team on the list of rivals.
Both Richmond and Xavier will be very good,” he said. “Every year you expect to win the conference but it won’t be a cakewalk. We certainly have a fair chance to repeat as champs but we have to play very well.”
With so many first-year players it will be tough for the team to jump out quickly, but they expect to finish better than last year’s first-round loss in the NCAA tournament, Dokoupil said.
“You always want to get better from year to year and last year should be a stepping stone for us,” he said. “With so many unproven freshmen, who are just out of high school, there will be an adjustment period early on but we should see a big improvement from the beginning of the year to the end. The biggest thing is to finish better than we start.”