Caption: Senior Ryan Hickey keeps his eye on the ball as he prepares to swing during the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader against Temple. Samuel Klein | Contributing Photo Editor
This post was written by Hatchet staff writer Brennan Murray.
There were two gone in the top of the ninth when senior closer Craig LeJeune hurled his final pitch towards home plate.
With the tying run on third and the go-ahead on first, a tense GW dugout watched silently as he let it fly, hoping a hard-earned shutout effort against Temple would survive one more desperate Owls swing.
Jammed, the batter tapped a slow roller out in front of LeJeune, who collected it with ease before throwing a bullet to first. Exhales swept through the stadium as the he recorded the final out of the game – and an overall thrilling series.
The out, which preceded a triumphant yet still humble team gathering by the pitcher’s mound, capped GW’s second consecutive conference series win, an impressive feat for a team that didn’t even taste victory until the tenth game of the season.
“If you really believe you can do it, every single game you go out there, no matter what the score is, you can find a way to win the game,” head coach Gregg Ritchie said following the win. “The biggest thing is mentality.”
Though a brief blip against UMBC snapped GW’s four-game win streak Wednesday, the Colonials (10-17, 5-1 A-10) returned to Barcroft Park this weekend as they looked to continue their perfect conference record. After three closely contested bouts, GW emerged with two victories, winning 4-3 in game one and 1-0 in game three, losing by just a two-run margin in the first half of Saturday’s doubleheader.
Forming a huddle in left field following their dramatic game three finish, the Colonials engaged in their customary postgame tradition, yelling “attitude and effort” on a count to three. For Ritchie, their elation on Sunday was simply a byproduct of adhering to that motto.
According to LeJeune though, his team possessed something more than good attitude and strong effort this weekend, something that he said helps better explain how GW has been able to transform into a team that’s now tied for first place in the A-10.
“I think we just have a lot of heart now,” LeJeune said. “We have the will to win and the heart now, too.”
If the Colonials were playing with more heart this weekend, it certainly spilled onto the diamond Friday afternoon when they erased a three-run deficit to defeat the Owls in walk-off fashion. Freshman Danny O’Donnell pitched a scoreless eighth inning in relief before senior shortstop Matthew Murakami knocked a two-out RBI double to bring GW back within one.
Caption: Freshman Nolan Lodden covers second base as he tries to pick off a Temple baserunner who was leading off in an attempt to steal third. Samuel Klein | Contributing Photo Editor
With the score at 3-2 heading into the ninth, LeJeune pitched a perfect ninth before Colonials hitters took care of the rest in the final half inning. Senior Justin Albright drew a walk to start things off before freshman Tyler Fairbanks pushed him to second with a sacrifice bunt.
Pinch-hitting senior Derek Brown then knocked a single to left, scoring Albright to knot things up at three apiece. With two outs, junior Brookes Townsend stepped to the plate and grounded an infield single. An errant throw by Temple’s third baseman allowed pinch-running sophomore Xavier Parkmond to make it to the plate from second and score the winning run.
“Winning the first game of the series is always the biggest thing you can do,” Ritchie said. “It gives these guys the sense of ‘hey, we’re gonna win the series, let’s go get it.’ And that’s what we did.”
Though it’s easy to point to some clutch hits as the reason for the win, Ritchie praised his bullpen instead. Though relief pitching was one of the weaker points for the Colonials earlier this season, the back end of GW’s bullpen has been stellar of late. LeJeune, who garnered his fourth save on Sunday, echoed Ritchie’s emphasis on the mental aspect of the game when citing reasons for his recent success.
“It’s all about the mindset. I’m just going out there and giving it my all every time,” LeJeune said. “I’m just doing it for my team.”
In game two, the Colonials’ bats fell silent in what ended as a 3-1 loss. Temple’s starting pitcher Eric Peterson struck out nine GW batters in his complete game, one-run effort. The lone run he allowed came off an RBI single from Albright in the bottom of the fifth, one of just six total hits in the contest for the home team.
Though GW put together more patient at bats in the second half of the doubleheader, striking out six fewer times than in the first half, Colonials hitters didn’t plate a runner until Townsend drove a triple to left field in the bottom of the sixth. Junior Owen Beightol scored on the play, providing GW with its one and only run in the contest.
Junior Aaron Weisberg, senior Kenny O’Brien, and LeJeune all did their respective parts to preserve the slim advantage. After Weisberg turned in 6.2 innings of scoreless work, O’Brien finished off the seventh before LeJeune closed the door in the ninth.
It was an exciting finish made even more exciting by a record 300-plus crowd.
“Whether it’s 100 or 900, if those fans are active in the game, the players can feel it. They were feeding off of it all day, which was really nice to see,” Ritchie said.
Perhaps it was the confidence gained after coming back in game one that led the Colonials to their second straight conference series win. Perhaps it was because they played with more heart. But whatever it was that helped the Colonials play solid baseball this weekend, their success has given way to a new mindset in the dugout, one that Ritchie hoped he would eventually see.
“They really believe they can win,” Ritchie said. “That’s the biggest thing in any sport, whether you are playing tic-tac-toe or hangman, or if you’re out here on the baseball field.”
The Colonials are back in action Tuesday, when they square off against regional rival, and soon-to-be A-10 foe, George Mason.