Baseball coach’s hitting strategy leads youth national team to fifth consecutive gold

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo

Baseball head coach Gregg Ritchie helped lead USA Baseball 18U National Team to its fifth-consecutive gold in the Pan-American Championship at Rico Cedeno Stadium in Panama Sunday.

Updated: Dec. 7, 2018 at 8:18 p.m.

Baseball head coach Gregg Ritchie helped lead the USA Baseball 18U National Team to its fifth consecutive gold in the Pan-American Championship at Rico Cedeno Stadium in Panama Sunday.

Ritchie and Team USA showcased a 17–2 win over Panama, earning USA its fifth consecutive gold medal. USA Baseball’s 18U National Team is made up of the nation’s top youth baseball players, selected from various tryouts and showcase games held all over the country.

“I’ve spent 20 years as a coach so I’ve seen a lot of the top players in the country and in the world,” Ritchie said. “Every time you get around the top talent level and it’s all in one spot like that, like these 20 guys, it inspires you to give it your best because you know that there’s so much potential, you give it everything you got to make sure that it’s done the right way.”

As the team’s hitting coach, Ritchie oversaw the team’s offensive front. Throughout the nine-game Pan-American tournament, Team USA went undefeated, scoring 131 runs to average out to 14.6 runs per game.

“This 18U baseball team was the strongest offensive team we’ve ever had, and that was in large part due to Gregg and his coaching,” Matt Blood, the director of the 18U National Team program, said.

Before becoming GW’s head coach, Ritchie played professional baseball for eight years and coached at the professional level for more than 15 years. Ritchie has spent the last three years with USA Baseball.

Under Ritchie’s instruction, the Colonials have gone from a team owning a .253 batting average in 2013, Ritchie’s first season coaching, to last season batting .285 on the year – tied for first in the Atlantic 10 – while tallying the most hits and scoring the second-most runs in the conference. He has also led the Colonials to three 30-plus-win seasons.

With five postseason appearances in Ritchie’s six seasons as head coach, the Colonials have come close to a conference title – including a historic postseason run to cap off last year – but have yet to take the final pennant. Ritchie said experiencing a championship win with USA Baseball makes the prospect of winning one with GW that much sweeter.

“It just really makes me want it for my guys at GW,” Ritchie said. “The ability to go out there and dog pile – and you’re just trying to make sure people don’t get hurt – that feeling is a feeling like no other.”

As a coach, Blood said Ritchie preaches a traditional hitting philosophy, emphasizing positioning and timing at the plate in hopes of making hard contact during every at-bat.

“We’re really focused on just staying with a singular mindset, trying to do something simple – we’re going to square the ball up, we’re going take balls, hit strikes and try and stay right in the middle of the field with every ball we hit,” Ritchie said. “And that produced a lot of barrels, a lot of hard-hit balls and clean contact.”

The strategy of maximizing hard contact helped the 18U National Team post a .683 slugging percentage, meaning extra base hits.

Overall, the team ended the tournament with a combined .407 batting average compared to opponents’ .203. This year’s 131 runs scored is the most scored by an 18U team in an international tournament.

In the gold medal game Sunday, the team’s hitting flourished and racked up 17 runs scored. Infielder Bobby Witt Jr., a high school senior out of Colleyville, Texas who has been touted as one of the top draft picks in the 2019 MLB draft, hit for the cycle during the game, ending the night with four hits and three runs batted in.

Blood said Ritchie’s experience and demeanor as a coach were the qualities that stood out to him.

“He’s very caring with players,” Blood said. “He genuinely cares about each one, and will put in the time with them and help them improve as much as possible.”

Despite the overwhelming success of the team, Ritchie said the most rewarding part of the experience was not going undefeated or winning a gold medal but the relationships formed throughout the process.

“It’s not necessarily the wins, it’s not necessarily the championships,” Ritchie said. “If you’re doing it the right way, whether you win or lose, you’re gaining so much.”

This post has been updated to reflect the following correction:
A previous version of this post included an incorrect photo caption. The caption is now correct. We regret this error.

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