As the Colonials get set to begin Atlantic 10 play Friday, consistency and mistakes are on the mind of the young team.
The Colonials broke out to a 7-3 record, their best start to a season since head coach Gregg Ritchie was a freshman on the team in 1980. But it could have been even better – had walks, errors, missed hit-and-runs and bases-loaded double plays not helped GW drop a handful of games.
One of the youngest teams in the country, the Colonials traveled out to California for a four-game, spring break road trip against some of the top talent they will see all season. They dropped three of four in tightly contested ballgames and sit at 9-6.
There is the talent, like with three-time Rookie of the Week Robbie Metz, a pitcher-hitter combo phenom out of Poolesville, Md. There are the mistakes, too, like an inability to stop the bleeding on the bump.
“They have to take ownership of it and say, ‘OK, like today, we had a chance to bury that game. We win that game and all of a sudden, boom, we jump out to a 2-0 lead and we just give up five without even having them swing the bat. That can’t happen. That’s something we have to learn, that it just can’t happen,’” Ritchie said after the road trip.
The pitching can be top of the line. Junior Bobby “The Bull” LeWarne has established himself as a hard-nosed, grind-it-out presence on the mound.
The opening-day starter, he has gone 3-1, exceeding the win totals from his prior two seasons. LeWarne gave up just six runs in 19 innings before his rough start against Cal State Northridge. In a team-high four starts and 25.1 innings, LeWarne is averaging a strikeout per inning.
Metz has a 0.47 ERA, having given up one run in 19 innings. After working the mid-week games so far, with a long duel against Long Beach State’s ace, Metz has worked himself into the weekend rotation. Expect him to pitch in this weekend’s conference-opening series.
The back of the bullpen has been lights out: Redshirt senior Craig LeJeune has not given up a run on the season. In his seven innings – six appearances – he’s struck out 10, and allowed three hits and no walks. Sophomore Eddie Muhl has recorded four saves. His one moment of mortality came when he yielded six runs, though just one earned, in what amounted to a 6-0 loss against Long Beach State, but the seventh, eighth and ninth innings have been a point of strength.
“We’ll have a back of a bullpen that’s better or as good as any team in the conference,” Ritchie said. “And our starters, I know two of our starters for sure, can be as good as anyone in the conference.”
On the offensive end, GW has been streaky. Often if one batter is hot, the whole team is cooking, but it boils down to the fact that there are a lot of young guys in the lineup.
Most of the slots are filled. An outfield spot will rotate occasionally, freshman Brandon Chapman and junior Matthieu Robert have split the catching duties, and a couple pieces will move in the infield when Metz, the second baseman, pitches.
The designated hitter position is still a mystery. A host of players has tried to fill the roll: Senior Brookes Townsend was the main man from the get-go. For a period, it rotated between the off-duty catcher, Chapman or Robert. When Metz pitches, he will generally fulfill the roll of DH, too. And the most recent special of the day has been sophomore Colin Gibbons-Fly – the player with a bat, but power is extra.
The most secure part has been the top of the lineup. Sophomore leadoff hitter Joey Bartosic and two-hole batter Metz lead the team in batting average, hitting .366 and .377, respectively. They have a combined 45 hits, and Bartosic leads the way with 13 runs scored to Metz’s nine and eight RBI to Metz’s six.
GW’s biggest offensive element is an ability to control the tempo of the game. When the Colonials get on base, the pitcher watches. Bartosic is 7-7 on stolen bases and Metz is 7-11, helping create a dynamic offense that still threatens when they aren’t scoring at will.
“I feel really good about our offensive ability,” Ritchie said. “We still have some moving pieces. We still have some unknown pieces that you would like to have solidified a little sooner. We are a very young team.”
When the starting pitcher gets into a groove, the Colonials tend to compete. Early in the season, if they get cold on the field in long innings, their bats get colder. As the rotation settles in with their three likely weekend starts of LeWarne, Kemp and Metz, the Colonials are bound for a successful season in the A-10, above the preseason pick of eighth out of 13.
“We have a couple things to iron out consistency wise, but I think we’re ready to go and compete,” Ritchie said. “I like to be in a little better place and be more consistent, instead of the ups and downs.”
An overview of the A-10
A year after GW did not qualify for the conference tournament, the team has aspirations to win it all. The stars seem aligned, as the Colonials will host the tournament at “The Tuck” and have talked all year about defending their home turf.
But the preseason favorite is Saint Louis, who garnered six first-place votes. The Billikens won the A-10 regular season last year and are returning seven starters.
VCU was picked just below the Billikens in the preseason poll to finish second. The reigning A-10 champion, George Mason, received one first-place vote and was slotted to finish third.
GW’s schedule pins them against a mix of the top and bottom teams in the conference. The Colonials will play their A-10 home opener against St. Bonaventure on March 27. They will later host Dayton, Fordham and will close conference play against Saint Louis. They’ll travel to Saint Joseph’s this weekend and will later head to Massachusetts, George Mason and Rhode Island. Last year’s combined conference record among the teams GW will face this year is 104-101-1.
When the Colonials face the Hawks in Philadelphia this weekend, they will meet a 6-9 team that is 3-0 at home. Last year, Saint Joseph’s went 18-8 in conference last year, good for the second-best record in the league.
GW will face a slightly more veteran team, but one that has struggled out of the gate with both fielding errors and finding the right arms in the bullpen.
The first game against Saint Joseph’s is scheduled for Friday at 3 p.m.