Versatile senior class reflects program growth, culture shift

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo

Senior Luke Olsen tosses his glove in a practice this fall. Seven seniors will graduate from the baseball team following this season.

Six seniors filled the lineup in the final game of baseball’s 2013 season.

Playing in the postseason for the first time since 2006, a team full of seniors made an improbable run. GW was picked to finish last in the conference during the preseason. The Colonials went on to play three games in the Atlantic 10 Tournament. Head coach Gregg Ritchie won A-10 Coach of the Year in his inaugural season.

This year’s senior class, which plays its final regular season series this week at Saint Louis, is a group of seven players, a core six of whom have been on the team since the get-go. As Ritchie concludes his fourth season at GW, the group is also the first he has coached from freshman to senior years.

In their rookie season three years ago, the team regained its footing after nearly a decade of futility. The group of now-seniors has witnessed a culture shift in GW baseball, which looks poised to return to the postseason for a second straight year later this month.

“They provide stability,” Ritchie said. “These guys are really good character people. They’ve helped change this program. They’ve helped change this culture. They’re really becoming really good men.”

The seniors are made up of three position players and four pitchers. There’s catcher Matthieu Robért, outfielder Gabe Scott and do-it-all, utility man Andy Young. There’s Randy Dalrymple, who transferred here and played his first season last year. Then there’s ace of the staff, Bobby LeWarne, starter Jacob Williams and jack-of-all trades, submariner Luke Olson.

Not all the seniors fill equal roles on the team. LeWarne and Williams have led the team as essential weekend pitchers for the past two years. LeWarne is definitively the team’s ace, while Williams has served as an example of development in the program.

Williams was a weekend starter last year, garnering eight starts in 15 appearances to the tune of a 3.32 ERA. This year he started in that role, pitching in the often decisive Sunday game of a series. But as sophomore Brady Renner came back from an injury and the 6-foot-4-inch transfer and junior Shane Sweeney joined the team, Williams’ role as a weekend starter diminished. Williams was called upon to be flexible.

“Being able to look at it from a competitive perspective: If someone comes up, a new recruit or a younger guy or whatever and starts pushing you, I think the ability to use that as motivation to work even harder is what has kept us all being able to continue to excel and trying to get better,” Williams said.

He would pitch the back end of a game as Renner was still building up his pitch count, and last weekend, Williams started and twirled a dazzling 7.0 innings, giving up three runs, one earned, in a loss to Fordham.

Robért has played a similar role as well.

His freshman year, the catcher from New Orleans started in 40 of the team’s 58 games. Down the stretch, he took a slight step back for a sophomore catcher, but for the most part Robért was the main guy behind the dish as a freshman. He even led the team with three home runs.

When Brandon Chapman came to the team last year as a freshman, Robért’s role soon took a backseat. Chapman is a little taller, has a stronger arm and had a better bat last year, driving in 25 runs and leading the team in doubles.

“You feel it more as a senior,” Robért said. “In the past years my driving force has always been to play for the seniors. It’s nice having guys like Bobby Campbell have our back.”

Olson is familiar with the role of filling in where needed in his senior season. In the Fordham series, he was called for his first start since his sophomore year. Olson started just once in each of his first two seasons.

Although Olson did not last long against the Rams, he was a Houdini artist in Friday’s extra-inning walk-off win against Richmond, in which he pitched arguably the most important inning.

Entering the game with no outs, the bases loaded and his team down two runs in what amounted to a near must-win, he faced the Spiders’ captain and cleanup hitter and struck him out. Olson forced the next batter into a double play on a come-backer to the mound.

As for Young and Scott, they have played the role of late-game switches. Scott came in for speed on the bases. Young came in for defense, anywhere but behind the plate and on the mound.

The two are perhaps the unsung heroes of the senior class. In their freshmen year, there were 14 total freshmen on the roster. The two of them have found their roles on the team, as the new Ritchie-era goes from rebuilding to the eventual goal of championship-building.

“When we started as freshmen, Ritchie made it a point to make a culture change in the program,” Scott said. “It’s been a pleasure to be the first class to go all the way through during that culture change.”

This year, Young was named the team’s Warren Fulton III Memorial Award recipient for “spirit, teamwork and sportsmanship,” in honor of the late Fulton, who passed away in his senior season as a Colonial. Robért was awarded the Jackie Robinson Award for the way he has led the team, despite his new role as backup catcher.

GW generally starts six juniors and three, sometimes four, sophomores, as the team continues to get younger. As more and more of Ritchie’s recruits come in, each class has arrived with more talent than the year before.

“We all didn’t get recruited by these coaches but…they kept working with us, acting like we were a part of the team,” LeWarne said. “And now just being able to see these new guys come in and help us out is pretty fun to watch.”

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