Under head coach Shawn Stiffler, the VCU’s men’s baseball season got off to a great start defeating Georgetown University 6-3 in the first game of the season.
Senior pitcher Heath Dwyer had a strong start, giving up three runs in six innings to go along with four strikeouts and only one walk to earn the win. Junior catcher Walker Haymaker hit his first career home run in the second inning while junior outfielder Cody Acker, sophomore infielder Matt Davis and junior infielder Cooper Mickelson each had two hits. Senior pitcher Daniel Concepcion pitched three innings of scoreless relief to earn the save.
The strong pitching performance by the seniors was not surprising for head coach Shawn Stiffler. He said he is impressed with the overall leadership of the senior class, which includes starting shortstop Vimael Machin and feels that it will benefit the team throughout the season.
“Just having those guys and having that experience throughout your club, it makes it nice as a head coach,” Stiffler said. “When those guys are able to take some of these younger guys and these new guys and really explain to them how we want things done, how to do things, how to prepare themselves week in and week out for the grind of the Atlantic 10 (A-10) schedule,” Stiffler said.
The game against Georgetown was the first of three that the Rams would play in the Wake Forest Tournament this past weekend in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The Rams played two games on Saturday, Feb. 14. Senior pitcher JoJo Howie started the first matchup on Saturday against Wake Forest University.
The final game was started by senior pitcher Matt Blanchard against the University of Delaware, a former Colonial Athletics Association (CAA) rival.
VCU was originally scheduled to play a different team because the Blue Hens will play a three-game series against the Rams Feb. 20- 22, but due to weather changes the additional matchup was added.
While it is unusual to play a new team every day instead of a series, Stiffler embraced the unique format.
“It’s a little bit different,” Stiffler said. “You’re not making adjustment game to game necessarily on your opponent, you are making adjustments game to game on who you are.”
Stiffler said he likes playing different teams early because it provides different looks.
“One day you could be playing a team with speed and great pitching, the next day you could be playing a team with great power and all left-handed bats in the lineup,” Stiffler said. “So I like it from that standpoint because it gives us a good feel of all the different types of things we may see throughout the year.”
Stiffler, a former pitcher for George Mason University, was promoted to head coach after he led the Rams to a 12-9 record in an interim role to close the 2012 season. With Stiffler at the helm, the team has more than tripled their regular season win total from 12 wins in 2012 to 37 wins in 2014.
After finishing fourth overall in last year’s tournament, the Rams were picked to finish second in the A-10 preseason coaches’ poll. Saint Louis University was picked first and received six first place votes, while VCU received five. Despite being close to being picked first, Stiffler doesn’t put much stock into the preseason rankings.
“It’s nice to be liked by other people but at the end of the day it’s really about us continuing to get better as a team and continuing to work hard on what we can control,” Stiffler said. “We’re not really focused on where we start. We have more concentration on where we finish and getting better throughout the season.”
Next up for the Rams is a trip to Charlottesville, Virginia Tuesday night, Feb. 17 to take on the University of Virginia, who are ranked second nationally by the National Collegiate Baseball Writer’s Association. Then, Ramnation will get their first glimpse of the 2015 men’s baseball roster as the Rams’ home opener series against UDel starts Friday, Feb. 20 at 3 p.m. at Sports Backers Stadium.