GW had the best closer in sophomore Eddie Muhl, the NCAA’s leader in saves with 16, going into the game. He was one away from tying the GW career saves record with 17.
But instead, in a game of diving stops and line drive catches, a hard-hit ground ball snuck under the outstretched glove of sophomore shortstop Kevin Mahala with two outs in the ninth. The ball rolled into vacant left center and the game was tied up.
An inning later, Muhl let the leadoff man on again, and once again he scored for George Mason, this time on the only hard hit ball against the closer who had yet to blow a save all season, and the Patriots won the rubber match 4-3 Sunday in extra innings.
The win clinched the series against the Colonials, who were looking to win their conference-leading 12th game of the season. GW fell to 11-6 on the season, one game back in the loss column of Richmond and Rhode Island, who they’ll play next weekend, for first place in the Atlantic 10, with two conference series left in the season.
“There’s parity all around,” head coach Gregg Ritchie said. “Every time you look at the top 25, eight teams get upset. Every game’s a game and you just got to try to win as many games as you can.”
Through five innings the game was comfortable for GW. They had a 3-0 lead heading into the sixth, an inning after freshman starter Robbie Metz allowed his first hit of the game.
Although Metz did not make it through the sixth inning, he looked as good as he’s been for a while until it began. At one point he fanned five in a row. The packed crowd roared when the Patriots singled in the fifth, acknowledging how difficult it was to hit the rookie. Metz also only pitched in the game, instead of hitting as he normally does, allowing him to focus on his work on the mound.
“Robbie threw well but got a little gassed at the end, lost command,” Ritchie said. “He started not locating, but he did a fine job. He just didn’t pull it out and made some mistakes.”
In the sixth he lost control of his fastball, allowing two to score and leaving two on for redshirt senior Craig LeJeune. The Colonials’ former closer threw 2.2 innings, holding the Patriots to no runs and striking out three before handing the ball off to his bullpen buddy, Muhl.
“He answered the bell big time,” Ritchie said. “He did a lot. He got us to that spot.”
Normally that spot, a late lead, is enough for GW. But not on Sunday.
Two of GW’s three runs were manufactured by an unusual source. Sophomore Cody Bryant, who entered the game with six hits, all singles, doubled twice on hard hit balls.
In the second, Bryant doubled with two strikes and two outs and then scored on a two-strike double by sophomore Eli Kashi. Bryant doubled again in the fourth to drive in the Colonials’ last run of the game.
Sophomore Joey Bartosic helped manufacture GW’s first run in the first inning. He led off the game with an infield single, stole second and then scored on an RBI single by sophomore Bobby Campbell.
But in the 10th, Ritchie sent Bartosic, whose success rate heading into the game was 85 percent. The batter faked a bunt, but the deception wasn’t enough to help out Bartosic, who was hosed down at second, squandering the leadoff base hit.
“I’m not truly happy with myself in some of the situations, but sometimes things don’t work out. You just keep playing the game,” Ritchie said.
Friday, 5-4 GW
Junior Bobby LeWarne won his conference-leading seventh win of the season. The team leader in wins threw seven innings, allowing four runs on eight hits while striking out eight.
Unlike in Sunday’s affair, GW’s normally successful pitching routine of a starter, LeJeune and Muhl did, in fact, work to record the series opening win. Muhl was hit in the bicep by a comebacker in what would be the final out of the game, but Ritchie said he was unaffected by it on Sunday.
GW broke the scoreless tie in the fourth with back-to-back doubles by Metz and Campbell to score one. Then freshman Brandon Chapman connected for his first career homer to drive in two.
They scored their other two runs of the game in the top of the seventh to provide a safety net for when LeWarne would give two back in bottom of the inning. Mahala and sophomore Andrew Selby both doubled to drive in a run each.
Saturday, 0-4 George Mason
George Mason’s John Williams threw a complete game shutout. He allowed four hits, three of them to Bartosic and one to Selby.
“We just didn’t hit. We had a lot of off-the-end bat contact,” Ritchie said. “That was it. The guy threw away and soft. We just didn’t get it done.”
In a change to the weekend pitching rotation that normally sees Metz throw Saturday and junior Shane Kemp throw Sunday, with help from the bullpen, sophomore Jacob Williams got the start Saturday instead, pushing Metz back a day.