The Collegian
Wednesday, May 25, 2022

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Baseball hits the diamond again

The University of Richmond baseball team will begin its season this Friday at Duke University, and head coach Mark McQueen said the team had a good chance of getting back to the Atlantic-10 Conference tournament for the first time in three years.

Unlike last year, when the team could not practice outdoors for the first three weeks because of a big snow storm, this year the weather has been favorable, allowing players to practice outside almost every day, McQueen said.

"The main thing about pre-season baseball is that hitters need to see live pitching," he said. "It's kinda hard to see that inside. You can do that in the cage, but it's not the same as being on the field."

McQueen said that the hitters would be ahead of where they were a year ago, as well as the pitchers, who had been able to practice in more of a game-like situation.

McQueen said that the strength of this year's team was the offensive line-up, which includes players such as Mike Mergenthaler, Bret Williams, Billy Barber and Chris Cowell.

"I feel like we have more depth up and down the line-up than we have had in the past," McQueen said. "We have got more hitters in the line-up that, I guess, people are gonna have to be afraid of than in the past."

Mergenthaler, a senior and team captain, hit .307 last year with 12 home runs and 12 doubles.

"It's tough for us because we always consider ourselves as one of the most talented teams in the A-10," Mergenthaler said. "But either injuries happen or something comes up and we just never get it done. We never get to the tournament. So, we have really high goals because we know we are talented enough to be the best at the Atlantic-10 tournament and go to the regionals, but we also have to keep in mind we haven't been to the tournament in three years."

He said that for the past three years, the pitching had not been as strong as they had wanted it to be, but things would be different this year because they had more leadership in the pitching staff.

"I think we will definitely make it to the A-10," he said.

Cowell, a junior catcher, hit 11 home runs during the last 25 games, and hit .311 overall for last year.

"We definitely have a lot of depth this year, which is good, because last year we had so many injuries by the end of the year," he said. "We basically didn't have any guys on the bench."

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He said that having a lot of freshmen coming in would also make a difference for this year's team, as they could bring a new perspective into the team and prevent the elder players from being "sucked into the daily routine and go into the motions."

As for the pitching, McQueen said that Matt Trent, Jake Mayers and Williams were the three players who were distancing themselves from others at this point.

Williams redshirted at Xavier University in 2009, transferred to Patrick Henry Community College for the 2010 season and now comes to Richmond this year as a pitcher and a position player.

"The goal right now is to reach the A-10 tournament," he said. "But really in my mind is to win the A-10 tournament and go to the regional. I don't want to just get in the tournament. I want to win."

He said he felt that this year's team was far better than Xavier in 2009, which he belonged to and won the A-10 tournament. He said the team had a good shot at winning the tournament this year.

In addition to the experienced seniors, another weapon of this year's team is the group of talented freshmen. Some of these freshmen are competing for starting positions, including Chris Bates, Andrew Brockett and Mike Small.

Bates, a freshman pitcher, was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers but decided to come to Richmond. He said that he chose Richmond instead of the major leagues because he did not want to abandon his academic career, and he wanted to put his "best foot forward" in baseball.

"Trust me, it was really hard not to sign that contract," he said. "Playing baseball for a living, that's what everyone wants to do."

He said that the team had players with such a high level of talent that there was no choice but to perform well this season.

"There is a lot of pride in this program," McQueen said. "There have been a lot of past successes. And the players understand that. And they understand that they ought to prove that this group belongs ... in the same sentence as some of the past groups.

"They want to make that mark. Some of the kids haven't been to the Atlantic 10 tournament yet. And they want to be that group that starts that run again - the start in getting this program in the tournament consistently."

Contact reporter Milos Jovanovic at milos.jovanovic@richmond.edu

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