This post was written by senior staff writer Josh Solomon.
A slow heartbeat is the team’s philosophy. Resiliency is its motto.
It’s a philosophy for a team made up of mostly underclassmen, one of the youngest teams in the nation. As the season progressed, it remained relevant.
At times it looked like it would just be a saying. The team had lofty goals: win the conference championship and advance to the NCAA tournament and beyond to Omaha for the championship. The team bought into it early and started the season with their best record since 1983.
Then the Colonials (32-22) dropped their final four conference series of the regular season, but made the Atlantic 10 tournament as the sixth seeded team out of seven. GW lost its first game by three runs, but played on in the double elimination format.
Then they won two games. Then they had a chance to win their third elimination game in a row, up 1-0 with two outs in the bottom of the eighth against Davidson in the elimination semifinal game.
GW had missed opportunities to tack on here and there, but its freshman spot starter Brady Renner had been magnificent. With a runner on and the clean up hitter up to bat, the Long Island kid had already struck out 10. He was up two strikes on the Wildcat, who had struck a hard, looping foul ball in the at bat – showing the slightest sign of struggle.
Then the superhero story of a young team maturing in a conference tournament under the night lights of their home field came to a sudden end. It hung up in the air and it soared out of the ballpark. It, a two-run, go-ahead home run gave the Wildcats the lead for good.
It would end the Colonials’ season in a 2-1 loss Friday night, but resiliency was not lost in GW’s last chance in the ninth inning.
“They were resilient trying to come back again weren’t they?” head coach Gregg Ritchie said. “Just couldn’t quite get it done. I talked to the team that they were fantastic all year, a lot of growth, a lot of young boys growing into more mature men and playing this game they love as best they can.”
With two outs and two strikes, Kevin Mahala singled. Then Joey Bartosic singled. Then Eli Kashi fell behind two strikes to no balls. He fouled two pitches off in a row to stay alive, as he has done artfully all season long, watched a ball just miss to the chagrin of the Davidson faithful yelling behind him in the stands, checked his swing but held up, saw a breaking ball not bite enough to run the count full, called time in the box a few times in the game of cat-and-mouse within this high-pressure situation – one keen for a slow heartbeat – and then struck out at ball four in the dirt. Game over.
“I was excited. That’s like what you dream about, you know, come through in the ninth,” said the sophomore second baseman Kashi. “But it’s tough, it’s tough, it’s a tough way to lose.”
The final moment was magnified under the microscope of the near-capacity crowd at The Tuck, but GW couldn’t find the big hit despite several chances at the plate.
The Colonials scored their lone run in the third inning. Senior Ryan Xepoleas, a potential spark plug in any game where his bat showed up, led off the inning with a bunt base hit. Sophomore Bobby Campbell, batting in the eight-hole, chopped a ball to a leaping Davidson third baseman on a hit and run. Xepoleas moved to second. A couple batters later sophomore Joey Bartosic singled to shallow right, enough for Xepoleas to score.
For a while, the one run looked good enough. Renner worked a tightrope in the first couple innings, allowing runners into scoring position, but then settled down and had seven strikeouts through four innings. It wasn’t until his 113th pitch that the story changed for the young righty.
“It’s just like the other situations,” Renner said. “It’s a lack of focus, it’s just…I didn’t get the ball down. Mistake made.”
Richie could have brought in in the nation’s saves leader, sophomore Eddie Muhl, but Renner seemed to be rolling. Aside from a couple hard-hit foul balls, there were no signs of trouble and the Colonials were facing the possibility of playing two games Saturday.
The 30 wins will remain a landmark number for the ball club, as will be the team’s progress in the A-10 Championship. The team is still early in its rebuilding process, and the four graduating seniors, outfielder Ryan Xepoleas, lights out reliever Craig LeJeune, catcher and outfielder Xavier Parkmond and first baseman Brookes Townsend, leave with something to hang their hats on.
“You strive to reach your goal everyday,” Ritchie said. “That’s what continues to push you forward in anything you do, whether it’s get a degree, whether it’s get married, whether it’s have children, whether it’s play baseball and get a ring. When you don’t quite achieve what you’re pushing toward there is a disappointment. Like I said, at the same time, how you did and how you went about it, the forward moving progress, there’s a tremendous amount of joy.”