Now in his fifth year at the helm of the baseball program, head coach Gregg Ritchie is seeing the fruits of his labor as his first recruiting class reaches its final season on the team.
Seniors third baseman Eli Kashi, first baseman Bobby Campbell, center fielder Joey Bartosic and right fielder Andrew Selby have been regular starters since they came to campus and are now beginning their final season.
“My freshman year we were the youngest team in the nation, starting seven freshmen,” Bartosic said. “Then my sophomore year we were just as young. It is really cool to see the culmination of everything.”
The Colonials are coming off a 24-33 record in 2016, when they went 12-12 in the conference but ultimately fell to No. 2 VCU in the postseason. They have now reached the Atlantic 10 tournament three times in the past four years but have been unable to bring home a trophy since winning the championship in 2002.
Roughly a week before the season is set to kick off, the Colonials were selected to finish eighth in the A-10 Preseason Poll – two spots lower than they finished last year.
Despite the middle-of-the-pack prediction, Ritchie and his team are full of confidence that they will make a run and possibly get the ring that they have been chasing for years.
“The expectations are always to win the A-10 championship and go beyond,” Ritchie said. “I do my own rankings with my staff too. [GW] is always number one.”
New looks on the mound
The biggest question mark for the Colonials this year that could change the outcome of the season will be the inexperienced pitching staff and what the Colonials can expect from them.
“Where we go is where our mound goes,” Ritchie said. “Pitching is the name of the game.”
During the team’s last campaign, GW’s offense had the third-highest batting average in the league at .278 and stole a league-high 69 bases.
But they conceded a 4.75 earned run average – good for third-worst in the A-10 – and the fewest strikeouts per nine innings in the conference.
Since last season, GW graduated its two top starting pitchers in Bobby LeWarne and Jacob Williams as well as Luke Olson, who contributed 53.0 innings out of the bullpen.
Now the Colonials have six freshmen and three players returning from injury that Ritchie said he expects to carry a big load and pick up the slack come game time.
“If I didn’t have faith in them I wouldn’t have recruited them, but there is always the developmental phase,” Ritchie said. “It is a new world. You are playing the best of the best of where you were at.”
New to the coaching staff this year is pitching coach Rick Oliveri. He comes to D.C. after coaching for five years at Monmouth and fills a position that has seen multiple changes in the past few years.
“They have taken [Oliveri] really well,” Ritchie said. “He is really connected with their minds and souls. You can see the willingness to go right to him and say ‘I want to talk to you about this.’”
The Colonials will likely try out a few different starting and low-relief pitchers before setting a rotation. Senior Shane Sweeney and junior Brady Renner may find a spot. But newcomers like Elliot Raimo, Jaret Edwards, Andrew Wheeler and Emmett Harkins were mentioned as a few of the eight or nine players in the running for a position in the starting five.
The one arm that Ritchie was positive he would count on is two-way player – part pitcher, part second baseman – Robbie Metz.
“Metz will definitely pitch this year, he will be a starter,” Ritchie said. “I expect him to be the man, to take the ball every weekend.”
Metz said he is ready to step into that role as a consistent pitcher after two years of battling the fatigue of playing two positions.
“Last year I started kind of well but just faded away because my arm was getting sore,” Metz said. “This year I am definitely going to watch my arm. But, I am ready to go on Sundays. It is going to be fun.”
Senior Eddie Muhl then rounds out the GW pitching staff as a reliable closer. He finished last year with 11 saves, good for third in the A-10, after picking up a NCAA-leading 17 the season prior.
Muhl has been a vocal leader in the bullpen and a veteran that is looking to help pave the way for the young pitching staff.
“For my three years here we have always had guys in the back end of the bullpen that really embrace the younger guys and help bring them along,” Muhl said. “I’m just trying to pass that along.”
A familiar lineup
The Colonials starting nine will look remarkably similar to last year after losing only one position player in the lineup, Kevin Mahala, after he was drafted in the 18th round by the Pittsburgh Pirates last year.
Occupying shortstop this year will be Nate Fassnacht, the only freshman that will be a regular starter.
“He is physically way past Mahala already when Mahala walked on campus,” Ritchie said. “With the bat, strength, size, arm, everything. It is just about him learning how to play his game against this competition.”
Fassnacht will likely hit in the two-spot to start the year and defensively anchor an infield that has held the league’s best fielding percentage two years running.
Leading off for GW will be Bartosic, who hit .349, stole 19 bases and displayed his knack for getting on base last season.
To round out the top five hitters will be junior left fielder Mark Osis, Campbell and Metz. The trio will be counted on for a large portion of the offense and runs driven in on the team. Osis in particular, who was recovering from a broken hand in the fall, may find it a tough task to repeat his .368 BA and 1.000 fielding percentage.
In the six and seven spots the Colonials will likely have junior catcher Brandon Chapman and Selby, who have both been able to hit for extra bases.
As a third-year starter behind the plate, Chapman has been forced to guide the youthful pitchers through their introduction to college baseball, Ritchie said.
“It has challenged him, it has made him grow,” he said. “[Chapman] has got to have a little bit better communication and he has developed that over the course of the fall and the spring.”
In the nine hole, Kashi will provide a spark at the bottom while maintaining a consistent effort and ability on the defensive end.
Ritchie will likely look to junior outfielder Matt Cosentino to start at designated hitter, but the team made it clear that it felt like nearly the entire roster has an argument for playing time.
“The whole lineup, top to bottom, we are so deep.” Osis said. “We play a starters vs. non-starters game and it is extremely competitive.”
Ready to play
On Friday, the Colonials will travel down to Auburn for a four-game series over the weekend. They then host a midweek matchup against Delaware State before heading back south to take on Florida A&M.
Players said they are itching to get the season underway, but February is only the start to a long season. GW has a total of 21 games in about a month to prepare for the start of A-10 play.
Ritchie said he is using the early games as a test for his young pitchers. He wants them to have a chance to come into their own, he said.
“There’s not a lot of time,” Ritchie said. “There is going to be a lot of touches of the ball by all 16 pitchers.”
Barbara Alberts contributed reporting.