The GW baseball team’s season ended with a thud last May.
First, the Colonials fell to Rhode Island in the Atlantic 10 Tournament. Then, they became the only 40-win team in Division I baseball not to make the NCAA Tournament. And if that wasn’t enough, head coach Tom Walter left to take the vacant University of New Orleans job and freshman slugger Anthony Smith transferred to St. John’s University.
However, the Colonials are determined not to less these losses affect their chances this season. Instead, they will look to build on last year’s 40-16 regular season record and their A-10 West title.
“Coach Walter did a great job here. His teams have averaged 40 wins the last couple of seasons so there’s pressure to live up to him,” said new head coach Steve Mrowka, whom GW hired last August. “People look to us to come out and represent this school and this team so I am really working everyone hard to make them better. They expect us to win.”
In 11 years at Georgia College and State University, Mrwoka posted a 407-231-2 record and his teams consistently made the NCAA Tournament. The new coach has his club off to a solid 4-2 start this year, but has had some unexpected obstacles to clear.
The elements ravaged Barcroft Park over the past few months, making it unplayable this spring. As a result, the Colonials are taking infield practice on the artificial turf field at Mount Vernon and batting practice in the Smith Center’s cages.
“The field at Barcroft is mud due to the snow and ice, but we are working on it,” Mrowka said. “We are going to approach the first one or two weekends’ games as scrimmages since we didn’t play any. We are going to try to win but we aren’t going to get frustrated if we don’t.”
When GW opened its season at Norfolk State University on Feb. 16, the Colonials had not seen action on a real baseball diamond since the fall. Still, the Colonials pumped out 15 hits in a 13-3 win. Senior hurler Dan Sullivan got the opening day win, as junior infielder Tom Shanley went 3-for-5 with 2 RBI and 2 runs scored.
Then, after dropping two of three to Georgia Southern University, the Colonials got back on track with wins at Old Dominion University and James Madison University. GW will face perennial powerhouse University of Miami for a three-game series this weekend.
Much of GW’s core is back, aside from Smith and Anthony Raglani, whom the Los Angeles Dodgers selected in the fifth round of the Major League Baseball draft. The Colonials return three players who earned All-Conference honors including Sullivan, Shanley and sophomore relief pitcher Derrik Lutz.
Sullivan, who won 10 games for the Colonials last year, will anchor a staff that includes junior Josh Wilkie (a six-game winner last year) and Avi Rasowsky, GW’s best long reliever last season. Rounding out the rotation will be Lutz, who saved 12 games last season. The closer could be one of many GW pitchers asked to expand their roles this spring.
“I think our pitching staff is strong just not very deep.” Mrowka said. “We have nine to ten guys, if we have one or two injuries we could be circling the wagons.”
He added that junior Dan Pfau will be used in a set-up role out of the bullpen along with senior Nate CasaGrande. Sophomore Derek Haese, who worked only one inning last year, will add depth as a spot-starter and middle reliever.
GW also added transfer Justin Prinstein from Division III Albion College as well as freshmen Brian Frazier and Joel Brookens, who could each could see time as relievers.
Offensively, the Colonials lost Raglani (12 HR, 50 RBI) and Smith (15 HR, 69 RBI).
Senior Ryan Roberson (14 HR, 61 RBI) will move across the diamond from third base to first base. He led the A-10 in hits last season and will likely bat cleanup.
“I think we got a real shot to do really well this year,” Roberson said. “It’s going to be very exciting because we have the same core of guys back.”
Shanley, now in his junior year, looks to once again increase his offensive numbers and hold down the infield as the team’s starting second baseman. He hit five home runs and drove in 26 runs last year.
“I have had a lot of great personal moments and accolades,” Shanley said. “But this year I really want the team to play well and make the NCAA Tournament.” The Colonials have not made the tourney since 2002.
Shanley has been one of GW’s most consistent and clutch hitters over the past few seasons. He hit a walk-off grand slam to beat Richmond 4-2 in April that vaulted GW into first place in the A-10 West.
Senior Geoff Milsom also looks to contribute, sliding from shortstop to third base, and sophomore Michael Parker will become the Colonials’ starting shortstop. Senior Joe Michalski, who struggled with injuries last season, will be GW’s starting catcher for the fourth straight year. Former high school All-American sophomore Bill Simpson will also see time as the team’s designated hitter.
The Colonials’ outfield will be anchored senior right fielder Brad Rosenblatt, who has driven in 79 runs in the last two seasons and junior Matt Owens will play center field.
The Colonials scored 432 runs last season (tops in the A-10), and offense does not appear to be a concern this year.
“I think our team can really hit so we might be winning some 20-19 games,” Mrowka said of his team’s ability to out-slug other clubs.
GW begins its A-10 season Mar. 26 against Rhode Island at Barcroft Park, as the Colonials will once again vie for the A-10 West’s top spot.
“I think we have a good team and I think we are going to win a lot of conference games,” Mrowka said. “Can we duplicate a 41-win season? Well, that’s going to be tough.”