Sophomore shortstop Tom Shanley knew the GW baseball team had a shot at an Atlantic 10 West crown this season. But he did not expect the degree of success the Colonials have enjoyed down the stretch.
“I mean you don’t count wins before the season starts, but this has been better than expected,” Shanley said. “Two or three weeks into the year we looked at the schedule and realized we shouldn’t lose many games.”
Despite dropping two of three games at Duquesne (20-26, 11-10 A-10) last weekend, GW (38-16, 19-5 A-10) has won 29 out of its last 35 games, including a school record 14-game win streak.
After getting rained out Saturday, the Colonials and Dukes were forced to compete on both schools’ graduation day Sunday. The Colonials dropped both games of the doubleheader, losing the first game 5-1 and the second 4-3. The losses snapped GW’s win streak and clinched Duquesne’s berth in the A-10 Tournament.
A week after clinching the A-10 West title, the Colonials now have the most conference wins in school history. With the second best record in the A-10, the Colonials will have a first round bye in the conference tourney. No. 1 seed Rhode Island (32-17-1, 20-4 A-10), the winner of the East, has the top record in the conference and will also receive a bye the tournament, which will be held May 26-29 in Norwich, Conn.
GW has not faced the Rams this season and despite URI’s strong record, several Colonials said they felt confident about a possible match-up in the conference finals. Before that, however, GW needs to get through the preliminary rounds.
Having a bye is a “huge psychological advantage,” Shanley said, because the Colonials’ top starting pitchers will match up against opponents’ third and fourth starters.
Shanley pointed to Dan Sullivan (9-3, 3.86 ERA) as the team’s ace that could give opposing teams trouble in the postseason. The junior right-hander went 8-0 in the A-10 this season. Freshman Derrik Lutz has been the star out of the bullpen, collecting a school record 11 saves.
Sullivan got the win Friday afternoon, a 4-1 victory over Duquesne in the first game of the series in which he pitched over seven innings and allowed only one run. Lutz picked up the save for GW.
In addition to solid pitching, the Colonials will rely on an explosive offense in the postseason. Freshman Anthony Smith is leading the A-10 with 65 RBIs, 15 more than second-place Jason Connor of Temple. Smith, Shanley and juniors Brad Rosenblat, Geoff Milsom, Anthony Raglani and Ryan Roberson are each batting over .300 on the year.
Sophomore starting pitcher Josh Wilkie (5-2, 2.64 ERA) said the team’s pitching and offense has come together at the right time.
“We knew we had the potential to be good in the fall,” he said. “We found the groove and know how to work with each other. Everybody is just meshing together.”
Wilkie also said there is a noticeable difference between this year’s and last year’s squads. In 2003, GW finished the regular season with a 12-9 record in the A-10 and sneaked into the tourney as the sixth and final seed. The Colonials advanced to the conference’s final four teams before Richmond knocked them out.
“We had some good guys last year,” he said. “But they just weren’t the big time players they’ve developed into this year. People would sit around and wait to make the big play or big hit last year. This year, everybody’s got the confidence that they can do it themselves.”
If the Colonials win their last two regular season games, they will finish with 40 victories, which would be two wins short of their total in 2002 – a year that included a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
The Colonials will finish the regular season this week with games against George Mason Tuesday and Towson Wednesday.
With a high win total, Shanley said an at-large bid into this year’s NCAA Tournament could be possible even without a deep run in the A-10 Tournament.
“Forty wins is a pretty big number,” he said. “I don’t think the (selection committee) could deny you (a bid).”
Last Tuesday, the Colonials added to their win total with a 15-12 victory over the University of Delaware. Down 15-4 going into the ninth inning, the Fighting Blue Hens (26-17) scored eight runs but could not complete the comeback.
-Joshua Meredith contributed to this report.