It was scoreless into the eighth inning.
The fans sitting under the lights in Northridge, Calif. had yet to see a run scored. It was an old-fashioned pitchers duel between the ace of the staff: a redshirt senior for the powerhouse and a freshman fresh off his third conference Rookie of the Week honors in the young season.
One of the youngest teams in the nation, the Colonials took the trip out to California to gauge if their early success was real.
At 7-3, they were off to their hottest start in decades – since 1983, when head coach Gregg Ritchie was a freshman. They faced a Long Beach State program that finished the season in the NCAA Regionals last year.
Then one run scored in a two-out rally for the Dirtbags. Then an error led to a couple more. And then a few more.
GW allowed one earned run to Long Beach State but fell to the Dirtbags 6-0.
By the end of Wednesday night, they would drop their fourth game of the season before heading to Cal State Northridge for a three-game series. But the Colonials showed some lukewarm signs of maturity.
“If you just looked at the box score, it would tell you, OK we got handily beat. And it was so far from the truth,” head coach Gregg Ritchie said. “We pushed a regional team that has more major leaguers in the big leagues right now than any other program in the nation, and they had to put everything up against us, which says a lot about the development of a program.”
All six runs were scored in the eighth, when sophomore Eddie Muhl came in to relieve Robbie Metz. The rookie threw seven shutout innings, with four hits and eight strikeouts in the no decision.
In the second inning, Metz picked up his shortstop after sophomore Kevin Mahala committed a throwing error. He fielded the ball off the mound and started a double play to end the early threat. After a wild pitch in the third, Metz struck out the next batter with a runner 90 feet from home.
“This is what makes Robbie special in my mind,” Ritchie said. “The maturity level of his own self-evaluation. At one point in the game he said, ‘I just don’t have command of my fastball very good today.’”
Metz retired the last 11 batters he faced. He found his command through the game, particularly with his curveball, burying it and going back to back with it to fool the Dirtbags hitters.
When Muhl came in, he had no such luck, though he retired the first two batters to start the eighth.
A single through the left side and a walk to the next batter opened the floodgates. A couple batters later, with one run in already, sophomore Bobby Campbell – playing his first game back at third base this season after starting there for most of last season – committed a throwing error. Two runs scored. A couple more singles and a total of six runs scored in the inning, all with two outs.
“You can’t just go, ‘Hey, you played a good game,’ because we just made some mistakes,” Ritchie said. “You also have to tell them, ‘Hey, that’s unacceptable what you did because it was a lack of preparation or a lack of mental skill. Not physical skills, mental skill.’”
GW wasn’t without scoring opportunities. In the third, a lead-off single was wasted after a double play line out on the next play. In the sixth, a lead-off walk was squandered after a pick-off play by the catcher threw out the runner at second.
To close the game, the Colonials left the bases loaded in the ninth in a makeshift rally: infield error, hit by pitch, hit by pitch. The Colonials couldn’t scratch a run, with a strikeout and a game-ending double play.
“We just need to learn how to play with a championship-level heartbeat at that point of the game, which we sped up a little bit,” Ritchie said. “And that’s experience, that’s demanding it being done as well and expecting more of yourself.”
“Over the couple years I’ve been here, we would not have competed like that against a team of this quality. No chance,” Ritchie added. “We would not have competed that well. We’re definitely moving forward.”
GW will pick up play in a three-game series starting Friday at 2 p.m against Cal State Northridge. Sophomore Bobby Campbell is the probable starter.