Mike Lonergan looked like mayor of The Tuck for the day.
Everywhere he turned, the full crowd for Saturday’s doubleheader against VCU greeted him. He was shaking hands with the Tucker Field faithful and baseball players’ family members – all there to see if the Colonials could sweep the two games and potentially move into first place in the conference.
Sitting quietly in the stands were also men’s basketball junior guard Matt Hart and National Invitation Tournament MVP Tyler Cavanaugh.
It was somewhat an uncomfortable reminder though, of how important a conference game can be, particularly against a league-leading team like VCU. The basketball Rams are March Madness regulars and the baseball Rams made it to the NCAA Super Regional last year.
Though of course the men’s basketball team finished its season on such a high-note, it was games like these where if the game had had a more positive outcome, the Colonials might have been dancing in the NCAA Tournament instead.
And with a season goal for the baseball team of winning the Atlantic 10 Championship, and in turn the College World Series, GW could have benefited from a series win.
If the Colonials lost the series to VCU, it wouldn’t be the end of their hopes to win the A-10 Championship – but it would toughen their chances of winning the regular season and put them in a tight spot in the final three series to end the season, jockeying for a good seed in the conference tournament later in May.
“It’s tough because a team like VCU, they make a Super Regional and you really want to beat them,” closer, junior Eddie Muhl said. “Most of the time we try not to be result oriented. We battled our hearts out and we left it all out on the field and I’m really happy with how we played.”
And so GW played the series like each game was the final game of the season.
After Friday’s 3-0 loss, in a game in which they were one out away from being no-hit, head coach Gregg Ritchie was still planning to win the game until the final out.
“Make no doubt about it, the single game we won is huge. It’s utterly huge,” Ritchie said of the win and of the doubleheader. “The big things these guys need to know is what they did is special. It’s a special game they played, to be a part of something like that. Let it propel you forward with confidence into next week and the next series.”
And that’s why Saturday you saw something you probably have and may never see again (among an array of baseball novelties) – the team’s lockdown closer coming in the game for 6.1 innings, throwing 94 pitches from the seventh to the 13th and final inning. Convention went by the wayside; winning went to the forefront.
Muhl went back out every inning. Occasionally a pitcher would be up in the bullpen to warm up. At other times, it seemed sophomore Robbie Metz would come in from second to pitch, since there is no midweek game this coming week for him to start.
“I was going to go until win or lose,” Muhl said. “I just tried to give us a chance to battle and I was going until they took the ball out of my hand.”
Nevertheless, Ritchie went for the win and Muhl felt fine. He would finally give up the go-ahead run in the top of the 13th on a bases loaded infield single, in which the batter just beat a throw from across the diamond by junior Kevin Mahala.
Back in the first game of the doubleheader – a day in which the first pitch was thrown at noon and the final pitch was thrown at 8:55 p.m. – Ritchie used 16 different position players in an effort to find the right combination, whether it was the perfect person to bunt, run, or blast, he did everything he could to find the perfect fit. In that game, he did. GW took the 10-inning contest 4–3.
In the second game, both teams had missed opportunities to win the game throughout extra innings, as so often is the case, but this one went the way of VCU, whose corner outfielders made diving catch after diving catch to help secure the eventual win.
But Ritchie said he recognizes the importance of every game to help his team achieve their team goals, with the rigors of the regular season baseball schedule.
“You need to reflect in the right way,” Ritchie said. “It’s a matter of clarity in those situations. And there are sometimes when they don’t trust the plan. We did so many things, it’s really hard to say, what about this, what about, c’mon, it’s 13 innings of just getting after it, back and forth, back and forth. That’s just the game. That’s the way it goes, you can’t be perfect.”
For now, it’s nine A-10 games until the conference tournament against Fordham (9-6), Richmond (9-9) and Saint Louis (10-5).
GW (9-6) is currently tied with Fordham and Saint Joseph’s and sits one game back of league leaders VCU (12-6), Rhode Island (10-5) and Saint Louis. First place might not be GW’s right now, but it certainly is still attainable.
“Could’ve done it today, just right there, that game,” Ritchie said. “So it’s going to be nip and tuck the rest of the way with six or seven teams.”
And a future meeting with VCU could be in store. If that happens, how does Ritchie feel?
“I feel we’re better and that’s the truth,” he said.