It was a balmy 41 degrees, one of the few days above freezing in the 11 since GW played a baseball game due to five postponements.
The layoff served as a gut check on whether the team’s early-season potential meant anything, leading up to a game against crosstown rival Georgetown.
“I challenged them today before the game. I said this game is about the identity of this team,” head coach Gregg Ritchie said. “You guys have a chance to create an identity today, how you play this game against a team who is a rival in our city.”
A win meant they could compete and be competitive the way Ritchie wants them to be: start in the region, then get bigger and bigger, with the omnipresent goal of Omaha in mind for the program.
“The way we played against NJIT was a doubtful thing on whether we were mature enough to win consistently,” Ritchie said. “You guys need to prove to yourselves and this team and this staff that you have a better identity than you showed in the second game against NJIT. And they did it, which was really nice.”
The first six innings were frosty offensively on Wednesday afternoon against the Hoyas, especially when sophomore Bobby Campbell uncharacteristically grounded into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded in the third out of the three-hole.
In the sixth, Ritchie called his players in and set another team challenge: don’t be the guy to roll over, pull the ball and ground out.
A side-winding relief pitcher came in for the Hoyas and struck out his first batter in the seventh. Then sophomore Andrew Selby rocked an 0-1 pitch to left center.
He flew around first and with no sign of stopping, his legs looked more and more like those of a cartoon as he rounded second and flew into third under the tag. His helmet came crashing off as he made contact with the bag, ground and third baseman. Safe.
Then freshman catcher Brandon Chapman went 11 pitches deep. He fouled off five straight balls, then hit an excuse-me, stay-alive stroke that carried a ball to shallow left center. It was good enough for a single, and good enough to drive in the go-ahead run.
“I put a little bit more pressure on myself, but I just kept telling myself to stay relaxed and calm down and use my hands,” Chapman said.
GW would tack on another run that inning and one more in the eighth to go onto win 3-0 against Georgetown.
The bats may have been rusty early-on, freshman Robbie Metz included, but the rookie had the right type of goose egg on the mound. He went five innings – four hits, no runs on 63 pitches, 42 for strikes.
Metz didn’t have to work out of many jams in his first career start. Come his final inning of work, the Hoyas started to elevate the ball on him, with all three outs coming courtesy of his outfield.
“I felt great out there,” Metz said. “For the first time, I thought it went really well. Just have fun out there.”
With scouts bundled up in black jackets and scattered in the bleachers behind home plate, Metz did not seem intimidated. His first couple pitches were out of the zone, but then he quickly found his groove.
The scouts were there for Georgetown’s preseason Big East All-Conference selection, Nick Collins, also a Cape Cod League midseason all-star catcher. Metz retired him both times he faced the power lefty.
“It’s an external belief,” Ritchie said about Metz. “When players see guys like that, especially a freshman, do that kind of thing, it starts to bleed into the other guys. And that’s the kind of leadership we’re looking for. Not necessarily a guy who’s yackity-yackity-yacking or boom-ra-ra-ra, but a guy who’s really mature about his look, his presence and in the face of adversity, he just keeps pounding and grinding away.”
Junior college transfer Shane Kemp came in and allowed three hits in 3.1 innings of work. With stuff in the 90s, he looked dominant. Clean most of the way through to the ninth, Kemp ran into a jam after a pop up fell into shallow center, setting up runners on first and second with one out.
With Kemp a little above his designated pitch count, Ritchie came out and let sophomore Eddie Muhl close out the game. Muhl recorded the final two outs with four pitches to record the save.
Ritchie’s mix-and-match pitching staff, including starting a freshman battery with Metz and Chapman, is his way of building the program on the run.
“It’s a fine line you walk on,” Ritchie said. “I don’t like to lose, but I do like to develop winning consistency.”
GW will resume play this weekend against Niagara, with a usual three-game series starting Friday.