After opening the season by winning 14 of 17 games, the University of Richmond baseball team has recently found it harder to win, as the level of competition has increased and key players have been unable to play because of injuries or illness, coach Mark McQueen said.
The team dropped its first in-conference series to UNC Charlotte last weekend, winning only one of three games, without contributions from starters Bret Williams (first base) and Mike Small (shortstop), or from pitchers Jon de Marte and Ryan Cook.
Senior Williams missed the entire series after contracting mumps, which McQueen said was a big blow to the team’s offense, and junior Small played in only one game because of illness. Sophomores de Marte and Cook have been unavailable to pitch because of arm soreness, McQueen said.
Richmond lost 5-8 on Friday, won 4-3 on Saturday , behind strong pitching from junior Andrew Blum and sophomore James Lively, and lost 4-6 on Sunday in another late-innings decision.
Despite the temporary absence of de Marte and Cook, the Spiders gained a pitcher last week as junior Andrew Brockett made his 2013 home debut. Brockett could not pitch in the first half of the season because he was recovering from inflammation in his forearm and elbow, McQueen said.
Giving up four runs on five hits in the ninth inning on Friday to surrender Richmond’s lead and earn the loss was a rocky way to start Brockett’s season, but McQueen wasn’t worried that type of performance would become a trend for Brockett, he said.
“The same thing happened last year. In his first couple outings he got knocked around a little,” McQueen said. “He just needs action right now. This is like his preseason. Hopefully the more we get him out there, the sooner he’ll be back to his old form.”
Junior catcher JB Gadd felt it was important that the team not lose confidence in Brockett based on one outing, considering it was the first time this season he was on the mound in a high-pressure situation, he said.
“[Brockett is] a true competitor,” Gadd said. “This is going to keep him up at night for weeks, probably, but he’s going to work hard to make sure this never happens again.”
Watching the lead slip away in the ninth inning stung, Gadd said, and emotions started to take a toll on the team. However, he thought those emotions might help the team be hungrier and play harder for the win, knowing Charlotte could come back, he said.
Gadd’s prediction that Friday’s loss would fuel the team to win on Saturday was correct, but he was also right about not being able to count Charlotte out of the game, as the 49ers proved on Sunday, scoring a run in each of the final two innings to pull ahead of the Spiders for the win.
Freshman Tanner Stanley said he didn’t think the increased pressure of playing the first in-conference games had contributed to the loss of the series, but rather was a result of not performing well enough in the final innings of games.
Although the first game of the series felt much like the first game of the year for him and emotions ran high, once the first pitch was thrown, everything went back to normal, Stanley said.
“[Charlotte is] a good team but we need to learn how to close out games better because those are games that we should have won, no doubt,” Stanley said.
McQueen credited the 49ers with doing a better job of creating offense than the Spiders, and lamented some missed opportunities to score runs or make good pitches when they had the opportunity, he said.
“It was a very close series,” McQueen said. “We know Charlotte is a good team, and I was telling the guys that this is pretty much how the competition is going to be from here on. So hopefully we can learn from this and build on it.”
Winning conference games is more crucial, McQueen said, and although he felt the team had accomplished a lot up to this point in the season, he hoped to return soon to the healthy lineup he had at the beginning of the season so the team could win the higher-intensity conference games, he said.
The Spiders will travel to Philadelphia to face A-10 rival La Salle for a weekend series beginning Thursday. First pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m.
Contact staff writer Erin Flynn at email@example.com