Baseball ready to hit the mound

VCU baseball head coach Shawn Stiffler. Photo courtesy of VCU Athletics
VCU baseball head coach Shawn Stiffler. Photo from youtube.
VCU baseball head coach Shawn Stiffler. Photo courtesy of VCU Athletics
VCU baseball head coach Shawn Stiffler. Photo from youtube.

VCU baseball’s 2015 season was a thing of beauty; ultimately concluding with the program’s deepest post-season run after a second-half surge propelled them to their most successful spring to date.

“Consistent growth is not just championships and super-regional appearances,” said Head Coach Shawn Stiffler. “I think those things are what people see, but the program has been growing and trending in the right direction for years now.”   

The 2016 season is now underway, with loads of talent returning from the squad that coasted through the Atlantic 10 Tournament last season finishing 40-25.

The real turnover from 2015 will be evident in the pitching staff. The Rams graduated eight seniors last year and apart from former VCU star shortstop Vimael Machin, all were pitchers. Heath Dwyer and JoJo Howie led VCU in wins last year with 10 and eight — both are gone. There is not a single senior arm on the 2016 roster.

Center fielder and all-around stud Logan Farrar clinched VCU’s first A-10 Championship with a jaw-dropping, diving catch still accumulating views on YouTube.

Power-hitting third baseman Matt Davis wowed fans all season with his consistency at the plate; the then sophomore had a .312 batting average and .457 slugging percentage. Freshman-phenom and pitching staff ace Sean Thompson went 6-3 with a 3.48 ERA, and came up clutch in pressure filled innings down the stretch.

A Dallas Regional title and subsequent trip to the super-regional round of the NCAA tournament capped off a dream season for the Rams. One might say expectations are high at The Diamond this spring.

Meanwhile, Stiffler has no mind for last year, as the team prepares for the quickly-approaching 2016 season.

“It’s not the job of this year’s team to replicate what we did last season,” Stiffler said. “They are their own individuals and I think that’s the first thing this team has to figure out; their own identity.”

Returning stars such as Farrar and Davis will be the anchors of a veteran group of position players in 2016. Senior outfielders James Bunn and Jimmy Kerrigan led the Rams in on-base-percentage last year, and will aim to provide consistent production at the plate. Both Bunn and Kerrigan also boast blazing speed in the outfield and on the base-paths.

Junior slugger Darian Carpenter led the team with eight home runs in 2015. Senior outfielder Cody Acker caught fire down the stretch last season and could have a break-out spring. This group’s leadership may prove to be the key to VCU’s success in 2016.

“I’m excited for some of these older guys to take the team under their leadership, more so than I am about the numbers they put up,” Stiffler said.

As a result, much will be asked of sophomore Sean Thompson. The 6-foot-3, 190 pound right-hander can expect the amount of innings and Friday-night-starts warranted by a true college ace. Behind him, juniors Matt Jamer, Jonathan Ebersole, Sam Donko, Brooks Vial, Matt Oxner and Luke Crabb will be asked to share a significant innings load. Seven underclassman-arms could also contribute.

“I’m looking to see how the pitching staff shakes out and how roles fall into place,” Stiffler said. “Watching some of these young guys get an opportunity to pitch in big games is what I’m excited about.”

Four VCU players were signed to a major league organization last year and the team sported a 3.0 GPA this past fall. According to Stiffler, this type of growth is what his program focuses on more than wins and statistics.

“We’re more focused on our player’s growth as people, and we feel the wins will come from there,” Stiffler said. “It’s my job to make sure we are prepared, if we play well enough, to make a run like we did last year.”

Zach Joachim, Contributing Writer

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