Consistency will be the key to the baseball team's success as it starts its Atlantic 10 Conference play this Saturday against Fordham University.
In what coach Mark McQueen called one of its most challenging early seasons, the baseball team has played better than its record reflects, he said.
"We beat the teams we should have and played competitively against the higher-ranked teams," McQueen said.
The biggest challenges facing the team as it heads into A-10 conference play are consistency and finding the right pitching lineup. The team lost Brian Alas - a closing pitcher who set a save record for the university - and its starting pitcher, Stephen Owens, this season.
To make up for the loss of the two seniors, McQueen has been working on finding the right pitching staff in the team's early season. Matt Zielinski has been the most consistent starter up to this point, McQueen said, but seniors Ian Marshall and Matt Trent have also tried the position.
"In the early season, we tried different pitchers, positioned players differently and messed with the batting order," McQueen said. "The first month we've just been mainly gathering feedback and now we're looking for a more consistent lineup."
Even though the pitching staff lost two important players, the team has only four new freshmen this season, a relatively small turnover. As a result, the team unity and cohesiveness is strong, McQueen said.
Senior third baseman Cameron Brown said: "We've grown a lot over time, and I think this is the closest team I've been a part of since coming to Richmond. Everyone has gotten better and we have more experience as a whole."
Team unity will be important because with a sport like baseball, failure at bat is more common than success and how the team handles that failure depends on how well it will do, McQueen said.
The team will face nine of the 14 A-10 teams during the remainder of its season, with the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and the University of Rhode Island being specific challenges, McQueen said.
"It's a hard league to figure out from year to year," he said. "Most teams are pretty equal and it all comes down to good pitching and who makes the fewest amounts of mistakes."
One of the stronger players so far this season has been junior Billy Barber, who is leading the team with the highest batting average and is second for RBIs and stolen bases.
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Freshman Jacob Mayers stepped in at first base for sophomore Ryan Mallory, who has been out with an elbow injury for the first seven games.
"So far he's hit two home runs and is really stepping in and getting acclimated to college baseball," McQueen said.
After sophomore Matt Zink injured his shoulder during the third game of the season, junior Andrew Lowry stepped in as center fielder and is now third on the team in hitting, leading and getting on base, McQueen said.
"We've all been striving to maintain a level of consistency each day and I think if we stay on that track, we can surprise some people," Brown said.
The team will face Fordham in its first A-10 Conference game at Pitt Field on March 26.
Contact Collegian reporter Elise Reinemann at firstname.lastname@example.org
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