A-10 Championship or bust: Baseball begins new season with high expectations

Sitting in his office, he rattles off iconic team slogans, slogans that led to championships.

Steel Curtain. Bad Boys. He even drops a, “You like that!”

Then, head coach Gregg Ritchie brings up another one: Finish.

It’s his new favorite slogan. If you’re a college football fan, maybe you know it. It was Alabama’s team motto this year, and Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide won the National Championship.

The baseball team hasn’t settled on a slogan yet. There’s a mantra, but there’s no team motto matching the idea of finish.

Finishing means an A-10 championship. The six to seven starters who made up the youngest team in the country two years ago will now lead the team as upperclassmen. The preseason conference poll placed GW at fifth, behind Saint Louis, VCU, Rhode Island and Richmond. It’s the Colonials’ highest ranking in recent years (last year they were ranked eighth and finished sixth), but not the goal of the team, which starts its season Feb. 19 at North Florida and plays its first home game Feb. 23 against Delaware.

“It’s been made very clear since the start,” junior Andrew Selby, the team’s starting right fielder and leader in slugging percentage, said. “There’s no more growth. There’s no more anything. It’s either we win or we don’t.”

A veteran team
The expectations are high. The team boasts a starting staff with two seniors, Bobby LeWarne and Jacob Williams, plus last year’s All-Rookie team selection Metz – and returns the leader in the NCAA’s regular-season saves.

“I think anything less than an A-10 Championship would be a failure for us,” junior closer Eddie Muhl said. He will be missing his bullpen mate, Craig LeJeune, who was one of two key departures last year (along with center fielder Ryan Xepoleas). Expect to see senior submariner Luke Olson take over the setup role.

And with all of this upperclassmen talent, is there a lot of pressure?

“It’s not really a pressure. It’s just something we expect to do,” junior leadoff hitter and center fielder Joey Bartosic, who set the Colonials’ all time hit streak (24) last year, said. Bartosic’s teammates, half-jokingly, call him a GW legend.

“When we came in here as freshmen, we had so many freshmen, and we all agreed that by the time we leave we’re getting an A-10 championship. This is a good year that we think we can do it,” Bartosic said.

Weathering staff changes
Many of the players have been together for years, but the GW coaching staff underwent several changes this past offseason, ending up with three new coaches on staff for this spring.

Director of Operations Jim McKew left to become a professional scout with the Detroit Tigers. Pitching coach Dustin Johnson left after just one year to become a professional scout with the San Diego Padres.

The new Director of Operations is 2013 graduate Ryan Hickey, the team’s former center fielder. The new pitching coach is Brendan Monaghan, who graduated from Saint John’s in 2007 and was most recently an assistant coach at UMass Lowell.

Another 2013 graduate and former GW utility player, Tyler McCarthy has joined the team as a volunteer assistant coach. Head assistant coach Dave Lorber is the one remaining face on the coaching staff and Ritchie calls him the key to success for keeping the transitions between staffs smooth.

“You would like to see some consistency of years that builds the program a little better,” Ritchie said. “So yeah, those transitions make it somewhat difficult at times.”

All the coaches who have left have moved on to more prestigious organizations, be they professional or at bigger college programs. Ritchie wants the best structure in place around his team, but he sees it as part of his job to help his staff fulfill their own goals as well – like a professor linking his students up with an internship on Capitol Hill or at a top consulting firm.

“One of the things I think you can’t do is hold people back,” Ritchie said. “It’s like a guy showing you he can swing the bat, put him in the lineup. I don’t care he’s a freshman. Put him in the lineup.”

A couple question marks
Still, there will likely be no freshmen who start in this year’s lineup. With juniors filling every spot, aside from Metz at second base and sophomore Brandon Chapman at catcher, the team’s lineup is stable with starters from last year.

Out of left field, three players are currently competing for the starting position. Sophomores Mark Osis and Matt Cosentino, righty bats and good friends, are both in the hunt. The third contestant is junior Eric Ramsey, a lefty bat who is one of two Wake Forest transfers new to the team. The other is redshirt junior Ty Kobylinski.

Cosentino right now has the slight edge since he started several (26) games last year. Osis has the best bat speed on the team, Ritchie says. And Ramsey explains himself as a “takeaway defender,” a top-of-the-order guy with speed.

“That’s the one spot that you go, ‘I really don’t know what’s going to happen with that spot.’,” Ritchie said.

The position could be in constant rotation depending on lefty-righty matchups and if Metz is pitching. When he is, a rotation similar to last year’s could be in effect, with junior Eli Kashi swinging over from third base his more natural position in the middle of the infield, at second. Then, a player with a big bat, like junior Cody Bryant, could play third base.

The other option this year, with the addition of Kobylinski, is to move junior Bobby Campbell over from first base to his old position at third base, and let Kobylinski play first base.

A host of players could fill the DH spot. If it’s not filled by one of the competing left fielders, or one of the above players to fill the role for Metz in the infield, the list could include junior Collin Gibbons-Fly and senior Andy Young.

The all-important weekend series rotation, particularly come A-10 play, is essentially set with three familiar faces from last year: LeWarne, Metz and Williams. If Metz needs rest, after wearing down last year, pitchers like past starters such as junior Jordan Sheinkop and senior Randy Dalrymple can fill in.

The first midweek-game starter is a 6-foot-2-inches, 185 pound right-hander: Justin Friedman, the one freshman on the team slotted with a position.

GW will need the best from its starters early on, playing one of the hardest schedules in recent history. Last year the Colonials traveled to California, taking one in three against Cal State Northridge. They lost 6‒0 to the Long Beach State Dirtbags, but gave up all six runs in the eighth inning, after a strong Metz start.

The opposition
Over the past few years the conference has grown more competitive. Saint Louis is a perennial powerhouse and VCU went to the NCAA Super Regionals last year.

This year GW will face even stiffer competition out of conference.

Their first series is at North Florida, which won the Atlantic Sun Conference last year. They head to Kent State, which won the Mid-American Conference East last year. GW will host the Big West Conference’s Cal State Northridge, which last year boasted its highest win total (33) since 2002.

GW will also visit local juggernauts Maryland and Virginia, both typically in the top-10 in the country, and will head to Charleston Southern and Houston – a top-15 team last year, who ended their season with a 3-2, 20-inning loss to No. 2 Rice in the NCAA Regionals.

“When you play the best, you start to ramp up your game,” Ritchie said. “We’re basically challenging this program to challenge themselves to go to the next level.”

Do they worry about being able to compete with these upper-tier teams?

“No, compete is not an issue for me.”

Finish?

Ritchie nods.

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