William and Mary Tribe baseball was at home this weekend, hosting conference rival VCU in a critical three game series. After a series of tough losses at the hands of conference opponents, the Tribe finally managed to break through, winning on both Friday and Saturday and clinching their series against VCU in impressive fashion.
After last weekend’s series against the UNCW Seahawks, in which the Tribe was swept on the road and was pushed to five losses in six games, the team looked as though they were at the brink. With insufficient hitting and pitching becoming a trend, it looked like the Tribe would soon find themselves on the wrong end of the conference standings. However, this is not an incapable Tribe team and, given the chance to get out of their rut, there was little doubt that they would.
On Friday, junior Jay McCarthy gave them that chance. In just his second start of the season, McCarthy went 6 innings allowing only one earned run on six hits, while striking out seven. Strong pitching wouldn’t stop with McCarthy, however, as sophomore Brett Koehler came in after junior Matt Davenport allowed two hits to start off his second inning of relief. After allowing one of those runners to score, Koehler proceeded to throw two scoreless innings while striking out three and earning the save. This save gave Koehler seven on the season, tying him for 5th place on the Tribe’s single-season save list, while three more saves would see him tie the school record of 10 saves in a single season, set in 2008.
With a return to form for the Tribe’s pitching, it would be up to the offense to complete the turnaround.
After two innings of continued trouble with leaving runners on base, the Tribe finally managed to plate some runs thanks to the strength of the top of their lineup and an unfortunate blunder by VCU.
Freshman Ryan Lindemuth started the bottom of the 3rd with a single that shot through the left side of the infield. He would advance to second off of a single by senior Derrick Osteen. This led junior Tadd Bower to the plate with two men on an no outs. After a wild pitch advanced the runners to second and third, Bower lofted a 3-2 pitch to left.
On a day when the Tribe needed to win, they were certainly given some help.
The VCU left fielder managed to place himself directly under the fly ball, but, perhaps because of the steady rain falling during the game or a simple lapse in thought, he could not catch it. The dropped catch allowed Lindemuth to score from third, and would also allow Bower to make it all the way into second. With runners on second and third again, senior Jonathan Slattery would plate Osteen with a groundout to first. A deep shot by Stephen Arcure glanced off of the right fielder’s glove for an RBI double, although the inning came to an end as Arcure attempted to stretch for a triple. However, by hook or by crook, the Tribe would finished the inning leading the Rams 3-0.
After the Rams plated one run in both the 6th and the 8th innings, the Tribe tacked on an insurance run in the bottom of the 8th. With one down, sophomore Derek Lowe would reach on another error by VCU, this time on the throw from the third baseman. As was the case in the 3rd inning, giving the Tribe an extra out would come back to haunt VCU, as Lowe would advance to third on a sacrifice bunt and a stolen base, coming home on a single by Lindemuth to make the score 4-2. This would be the final score, as Koehler returned for the bottom of the ninth to shut the door on VCU’s offense and give the Tribe the win in the series opener.
Saturday’s game featured a continuation of the Tribe’s pitching prowess as senior Logan Billbrough had a strong start on the mound. He would go seven innings, only letting up only two earned runs (both coming in the second inning) while striking out seven and walking only one.
While the pitching was certainly impressive, Saturday’s contest was a chance for the Tribe offense to show that they can put up strong numbers with or without the help of weather-induced outfielder errors. Nonetheless, they would still get some help from VCU’s defense.
After VCU struck first in the top of the second, plating two runs, the Tribe offense came alive in the bottom of the 3rd. With two outs and help from a loss of control by VCU’s starting pitcher, the Tribe would load the bases on two walks and a hit-by-pitch. After a failed pickoff attempt by the pitcher plated Bower from third, sophomore Ryan Williams came up to bat with two on and two outs. Williams would soon give the Tribe the lead, hitting a huge 3-run jack to left for his team-leading 5th homer of the season. The blast gave the Tribe a 4-2 lead after 3.
After two more scoreless innings for both teams, the Tribe made their lead nearly insurmountable with another huge four run inning. After singles by sophomore Ryan Brown and Lowe to lead off the inning and a sacrifice bunt to advance the runners, the Tribe had men on second and third with only one out. With Osteen up to bat, the squeeze was on. However, a poorly fielded throw on the play allowed not only Osteen to reach base safely, but two runs to score on the error. As was beginning to emerge as the theme of the series against VCU, an extra out for the Tribe would haunt the Rams. With one man on, Bower came up to the plate and hit a huge shot to deep right-center field, taking the Tribe lead to 8-2 after 6 full innings.
Although the Rams would manage to plate one run in the top of the ninth, the rally would end there, and the final score would be 8-3 in favor of the Tribe.
A strong showing in these two games is crucial for the Tribe, as it not only pushes their winning streak to 3 games, but it also snaps their conference losing streak. With the end of the season fast approaching, it is these conference matchups that become so important for a team that still has a chance to make the CAA championship. Another showing like last weekend would all but eliminate the Tribe from contention, and this weekend, they played like they had to win. If they continue to play conference opponents with a must-win mentality, there is no telling what this team can accomplish by the end of this season and into the next.