When baseball took the field for its season opener against Florida Atlantic Friday, the Colonials’ batting order featured five players new to GW’s starting lineup.
The fresh look was forced by the departure of five 2017 graduates who led the team both offensively and defensively, and helped head coach Gregg Ritchie maintain largely the same lineup the past few years.
The departed class accounted for more than 53 percent of GW’s hits, total bases and runs batted in last season, while anchoring the corners of the infield and two thirds of the outfield.
But Ritchie said he is confident his new team is just as talented as previous years’ and if they play for each other, wins will follow. The Colonials will seek major contributions from the group of returning starters, immediate impact first-year players and a couple former role players stepping into the spotlight.
“We talk about it all the time during games, our goal is to win a championship, however the day-to-day level is what we are really focused on,” Ritchie said.
With 14 new teammates, Ritchie said he is expecting his returners to serve a moderating role on the roster, as some of the most reliable bats in the lineup and gloves on the field.
Senior outfielder Mark Osis – one of GW’s most consistent bats over the past two years – will return to the middle of the lineup and outfield. Most games, he will hit from the three hole and play in right field.
In the middle infield, the Colonials will return both senior second baseman Robbie Metz and sophomore shortstop Nate Fassnacht to the top of the lineup. They both hit over .330 last season and finished with a fielding percentage around .970.
Metz, who will hit anywhere from No. 2 to No. 6 in the order, will be expected to continue driving in runs. Fassnacht will likely swing around the No. 5 spot. Ritchie said opponents will be looking to shut Fassnacht down after learning more about him during his breakout freshman campaign.
“He has got to repeat, he was a freshman and sophomore year can be a tough year,” Ritchie said. “They are going to punch back. Anytime you are a first-time guy in the league, whether it is in the big leagues or minor leagues or in college, that first year when you come and you go ‘bam’ and everybody goes, ‘whoa,’ this guy is really good.”
But Fassnacht said he doesn’t think about individual expectations. Instead, he hopes the Colonials will benefit from the developing defensive relationship between him and Metz, he said.
Rounding out the returning starters is senior catcher Brandon Chapman, who provides the pitching staff with years of starting experience. He will hit near the bottom of the lineup but will be counted on to start behind the plate.
In the outfield and infield, Ritchie said he expects at least four first-year players to assume starting roles from day one and contribute in the top half of the lineup.
One of the Colonials’ most anticipated players this year is senior outfielder Isaiah Pasteur, who will begin the year hitting at the leadoff spot and playing left field.
He sat out last season after playing for two years at Indiana and transferring to GW in 2016. Pasteur has had difficulty with his hitting reliability but showed improvement over the summer – hitting .308 and getting selected as an all-star in the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League.
Pasteur’s quickness on the bases can help the Colonials recover from the graduation of outfielder Joey Bartosic – who led them with 24 stolen bases on the year.
Also on the left side of the field, third baseman Trevor Kuncl will be GW’s only freshman to start in the field early on.
As more games are played, Ritchie said he hopes more young players will find innings and their place on the roster. One of the team’s newest additions to the coaching staff – Director of Baseball Operations and 2017 graduate Bobby Campbell – has helped the freshman stay committed through the offseason, he said.
“He has been a great inspiration to the players just being around,” Ritchie said. “These guys respect what he was like and what he did.”
In order to fill Campbell’s void, the Colonials will turn to Junior College transfer junior Dominic D’Alessandro. He will be GW’s best bet for extra base hits and may split time between first base and designated hitter.
The final first-year player who will commonly join the starting nine is sophomore catcher Alex O’Rourke. He will not be more than a second option behind the plate but played in two games last weekend as the DH.
For the last players in the lineup, Ritchie said he will rely on a few returners to jump into the action for the first time. His most notable mention was senior outfielder Matt Cosentino, who has always been “a supporting cast guy.”
Cosentino batted second and started in center field against Florida Atlantic, but he said an unexpected move to the infield may place him at first base more often than not this year.
Whether or not GW continues to lose games before conference play, Ritchie said to expect changes in the lineup. He said the flexibility they have allows the coaching staff to test out lineups and avoid being forced into decisions by position.
“With our talent level and our schedule, we have the ability to make winning our top priority and not development or anything like that,” Cosentino said. “It is A-10 title or bust.”