VCU Baseball begins its 2014 season on Feb. 14 against Radford University. The Rams are looking to rebound from last year’s disappointing season, when they finished 28-26 and failed to qualify for the Atlantic 10 Tournament.
This season, VCU has the benefit of many of their key players coming back. Third baseman Joey Cujas returns for his senior year after leading the team in most offensive categories last season, including runs batted in (40), hits (72), doubles (16) and batting average (.333).
In addition to his offensive firepower, Cujas showed great discipline at the plate, drawing 15 walks against just 13 strikeouts on his way to a .407 on-base percentage.
The team leaders in runs, Bill Cullen (39), and homeruns Vimael Machin (four) are both listed as Baseball America’s top-10 prospects for the A-10 at No. 6 and No. 8 respectively. The leader in stolen bases, James Bunn (nine) also returns for the Rams.
On the other side of the rubber, junior starting pitcher Heath Dwyer returns after leading the Rams in wins (seven), and strikeouts (74). Dwyer also led the entire A-10 in innings pitched at 107. Dwyer is definitely the team’s ace going into the season, after pitching six-plus innings in all 14 of his starts last year. VCU’s ace also tossed four complete games a year ago.
Junior Matt Lees is expected to return as the team’s go-to closer after recording 11 saves last season and falling just one save short of tying the team record for saves in a season. Lees led the team in earned run average (1.22) while recording 33 strikeouts against 13 walks in 51-plus innings pitched.
Several new faces are expected to help make immediate impacts on the team as well.
Matt Blanchard, a transfer from Santa Ana College, comes with two seasons of experience that includes an 8-3 record and 109.2 innings pitched to the tune of a 1.86 ERA and 94 strikeouts, while holding opponents to a .164 batting average.
For the sake of comparison, Heath Dwyer led all VCU starters with a .256 average against.
Infielder Darian Carpenter comes fresh from Varina High School where he became the school’s all-time leader in homeruns and should be able to help bolster a VCU offense that finished in the bottom third of the A-10 in both slugging percentage and extra base hits.
Brett Hileman from Hollidaysburg High School in Pennsylvania has the ability to help the Rams on both sides of the ball, hitting .448 with eight doubles his senior year, while also posting a 0.52 ERA and five saves from the pitching mound.
VCU faces a tough challenge this season competing in a division that finished in a three-way tie between Saint Louis University, University of North Carolina-Charlotte and University of Rhode Island. The Rams also face two of Baseball America’s Top-25, including a home-and-home against No. 1 University of Virginia and a home game against No. 14 University of Louisiana-Lafayette.