Clutch pitching secures baseball’s surprising fifth seed in A-10 tournament

Media Credit: Delaney Walsh | Hatchet Photo Editor

Senior Justin Albright throws a pitch on Saturday against La Salle. Albright earned the win in the game and helped grab the sweep for the Colonials.

Less than three weeks ago, the Colonials stood with a 7-8 conference record, a distant ninth place in the Atlantic-10 standings and an unlikely playoff contender.

From many perspectives, it was the story of typical struggles under a first-year head coach, and of rebuilding a program still trying to find its legs.

Dayton, VCU and La Salle – three conference foes – were all that remained on the Colonials’ schedule. The conventional wisdom was to just finish out the season strong, bring in new recruits and start fresh next year.

But that’s not how the 2013 Colonials wanted to be remembered.

Instead, over the last 18 days, they’ve fought for a Dayton sweep, a VCU series win and, with Saturday’s 4-1 victory in their final regular season game, a sweep of La Salle.

The Colonials now hold a 15-9 conference record, making a remarkable four-place jump into the fifth spot of the playoff standings. They will face fourth-seeded Xavier in Charlotte, N.C. Wednesday.

“We knew we had to win a majority of the latter half of our season and conference games to have a shot to move forward,” senior Tyler McCarthy said. “We were able to lock it up yesterday and improve our seeding today, so we’re really excited about it.”

In Saturday’s season finale, which fell on Senior Day, head coach Gregg Ritchie turned to senior Justin Albright to take the mound.

Entering with only five pitching appearances on the year and a pedestrian 6.41 ERA, Albright surprised everyone but his team, maneuvering through a few tough jams to earn the win for himself and his fellow seniors.

“The most important thing for me at least, is that [Albright]’s such a competitor and whatever he has to give that day is what you can always count on from him,” associate head coach Tom Sheridan said.

Albright battled through one such jam in the bottom of the second, after letting the first two batters reach base on a walk and hit-by-pitch. A sacrifice bunt left runners on second and third with one out, and the Explorers threatening to end the senior’s outing early.

Albright responded by inducing a groundout back to the mound and getting the final batter of the inning to strike out looking. He allowed no runs and no hits for the inning.

In the next inning, the Colonials backed up Albright’s resilient pitching performance with some run support of their own.

After a double by senior Matthew Murakami led off the third, freshman Matthieu Robèrt’s single to left field allowed Murakami to come around to score. With the bases loaded later in the inning, Beightol hit a sac fly to right field that allowed senior Ryan Hickey to score, giving GW a 2-0 lead.

Albright got himself into another jam in the fourth, loading the bases with one out and allowing a La Salle runner to score on a single. Luckily, the damage ended there, thanks to a pinpoint throw from Beightol in left field and a controversial play at the plate that called out a runner.

He cruised to the finish line at the end of the day, getting the win, and a line of seven innings pitched, four hits allowed, one earned run, two walks and three strikeouts.

Albright said he was proud of the way the team scrapped and executed their way to victory and to the playoffs.

“We’re not a power team, we’re not gonna drive home runs out of the park, but we’re gonna play small ball, score runs every inning, try to chip away, and good pitching has been our success all year,” Albright said.

Sticking to that strategy, the Colonials added some insurance runs for Albright, scoring one run in the bottom of the fourth off a single from Robèrt, giving him a total of two RBIs in the game. A Murakami sacrifice fly added another run in the eighth.

The lately unhittable bullpen duo of senior Kenny O’Brien and junior Craig Lejeune closed out the final two innings.

Albright found his usual success on the offensive side of the plate, with one hit and three stolen bases, totaling 28 steals on the year – a tie for second in the A-10.

Ritchie declined to comment on today’s sweep of the Explorers. He has not spoken to The Hatchet in over a month, after he said his team played “uninspired, ‘no care’ baseball” following an April loss. Ritchie was hired last offseason after working as the hitting coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Colonials will now move on to the A-10 tournament, held at Charlotte’s Hayes Stadium from May 22 to 25. The format is a bracket-style, double-elimination tournament, with GW expected to start junior Luke Staub in their first-round game against fourth-seeded Xavier at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

GW has not squared off against the Musketeers this season, but the Colonials have momentum on their side as they enter the tournament.

“The moves we’ve made in the last couple of weeks have shown that we can pretty much stick with anyone. So we want to turn some heads and stick it to everyone,” McCarthy said.

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