Atlantic 10 Preview: Despite injuries and tough nonconference, baseball still shooting for A-10 championship

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo by Andrew Goodman | Hatchet Staff Photographer

The baseball team beings Atlantic 10 play Friday with a conference championship in mind, despite setbacks during the nonconference season.

“With the amount of injuries we’ve had, it’s put somewhat of a glitch in the overall plan,” head coach Gregg Ritchie said of the preseason.

Before the season started, the baseball team was down a handful of arms. Freshmen pitchers went on the shelf for the season. During most of nonconference play, GW played down five pitchers, and is only getting back one of them for the year.

“That’s not something that you can just go, ‘OK, fill it.’ It’s an unknown area. It’s going to have to be just like left field. We’re going to have to figure it out,” head coach Gregg Ritchie said before the season started.

Left field has been sorted out for the most part by sophomore Mark Osis. The lineup has more or less settled in, depending on the matchup. The bullpen has been a mess, with GW losing seven games in its bullpen this year.

“Our goal is to get to the seventh with a lead,” Ritchie said before the season. “Get to the ninth with a tie. You win the game by one, you win the game.”

These bullpen issues, on top of the toughest nonconference schedule the Colonials have played in years, has made the early going difficult in terms of wins and losses.

There has been a glitch in the overall plan, but the goal remains the same – an Atlantic 10 championship. GW sits at 8–16, with one game to go against UMBC this Tuesday before A-10 play starts at home against La Salle Friday.

“When you talk about the competition we’re playing, we are getting closer. And that’s the point,” Ritchie said this weekend.

The Colonials were swept this weekend at No. 16 Houston. Facing the stiffest competition of the year, GW encountered a potential first-round draft pick, a 6-foot-3-inch sophomore lefty throwing 92–93, in the series finale. Seth Romero no-hit the Colonials through 6.2 and one-hit them through eight innings on 82 pitches.

GW lost 14–0 in game three to Houston, and had to dip outside of its lackluster bullpen and resort to position players to finish out the final two innings. The previous two games at Houston, 5–0 and 5–2 losses, the Colonials were at least in the game. “They were really meeting the challenge, way beyond,” Ritchie said of his team in the second game. “And I know the other team felt the same way. ‘Wow, they had us.’ And we did, and we just couldn’t get it done.”

Houston was the toughest competition GW will face all year, competition that even the GW starters couldn’t contain. The starters have been solid all season long, giving up about half a run per inning, and just half of the total runs allowed by GW this season. Overall though, it’s the bullpen that has been the bugaboo. It’s the bullpen, not the bats, that could balk at the Colonials’ opportunity to win an A-10 championship this year.

Aside from slightly softer competition, the pitching staff will see some help from sophomore Brady Renner. The 6-foot-3-inch righty made his first appearance on a mound in months this past week against Georgetown. Coming off a back shoulder strain, Renner started against the Hoyas. He threw two innings of no hit ball, on 26 pitches. Then the bullpen came in and gave up three runs, in GW’s 3–2 loss.

The plan for Renner is to be a weekend starter. GW currently has its three weekend series guys, seniors Bobby LeWarne and Jacob Williams, and sophomore Robbie Metz. Ritchie skipped Metz’ last couple of starts to rest him for A-10s, saying he showed signs of not being fully recovered from last year’s injury and fatigue.

The plan for the starting rotation is not clear, nor is it for the bullpen. Renner, when ready to go longer, could go into a starting role, potentially bumping Metz into a piggyback role with Renner or just into the bullpen altogether. Renner could also just stay in the bullpen for the most part. The plan will start unfolding after UMBC Tuesday, where Renner will likely again get a shortened start. Until then, the current mix of bullpen guys needs to be tighter for GW.

“There is without a doubt that someone is going to have to step forward. We’re still going to have guys that are going to step forward and pitch,” Ritchie said.

GW can get off to a hot start in conference play, facing some of the stiffer competition in the back-half of A-10 play. The first four series Colonials play will be against teams picked below them in the preseason rankings, before they face last year’s A-10 championship winner VCU in a big-time home series the weekend of April 29.

Here’s our preview of this year’s conference play, leading up to the postseason A-10 championship, hosted at Fordham, starting May 25.

La Salle (7–17) home, April 1 to April 3
GW last played the Explorers two seasons ago, taking two of three in Philadelphia. In 2014, they finished in the middle of the pack in the A-10. Last year, La Salle took a step down, and this year, again, the team is not expected to be a top performer, predicted to finish 10th.

This year the Colonials host La Salle to start conference play, giving them a good chance to start their high ambitions on a good note.

Davidson (14–10) at Davidson, April 8 to April 11
GW’s first and only game against the new A-10 member Davidson was in last year’s conference tournament. The Wildcats won 2–1 in a heartbreaking loss which ended the Colonials’ hopes of winning the GW-hosted conference tournament.

Then, Davidson was the No. 4 seed in the championship, but this year the Wildcats are predicted to fall off the mark a bit. They were picked to finish sixth, one spot behind GW. Earlier this year, Davidson won two of three at home against Georgetown.

GMU (7–16) home, April 15 to April 17
The Patriots have been a true local rival for the Colonials since coming to the conference. Last year, GW lost two of three in Fairfax, Va. and the year before lost two of three at home. This year George Mason is predicted to finish tied for eighth in the conference.

Dayton (5–16) at Dayton, April 22 to April 24
The Flyers are predicted to finish 11th in the conference. This road trip could provide big momentum for GW, headed into the all-important home matchup with VCU. If the bullpen holds together to this point, expect GW to walk away from Ohio with a record of at least 8–4 in the A-10.

VCU (15–6) home, April 29 to May 1
The defending Atlantic 10 champion Rams, who won last year’s conference tournament as a No. 5 seed, are off to hot start entering league play. VCU went 13–6 in its non-conference schedule and swept St. Bonaventure in its first A-10 series to begin 2016 with an unblemished 3–0 conference record.

Fordham (11–13) at Fordham, May 6 to May 8
Fordham finished just behind GW with a 13–11 A-10 record last season, ousted from the A-10 championship in the first round by second-seeded Rhode Island. The Rams are 11–13 in out-of-conference play, and currently own one of the top three team ERAs in the league, allowing just 92 earned runs through 23 games.

Richmond (13–11) home, May 13 to May 15
The Spiders are 12–9 in nonconference play this season, after finishing third in the A-10 last year. Despite dropping their first A-10 series against Saint Joseph’s last week one game to two, Richmond boasts the best hitting numbers in the league thus far. As a team, the Spiders lead the league with a .340 batting average, 168 runs and 263 hits.

Saint Louis (10-13) at Saint Louis, May 19 to May 21
Saint Louis was picked to win the league in the preseason coaches poll and, after a slow start, the Billikens have won seven of their last 10 games. The team has begun conference play 2–0 to stand at 11–12 overall. Saint Louis does a bit of everything, fourth in the league in batting average (.263) and eighth in ERA (4.98). The team is led at the plate by power-hitting senior infielder Josh Bunselmeyer, who is hitting .314 with six home runs and 27 RBI. On the mound, senior right-hander Matt Eckelman is 4–2 with a 4.37 ERA and is striking out nearly a batter per inning.

All A-10 records and statistics current as of March 26.

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