Spider baseball opened its out-of-conference schedule against Duke University on Feb. 18, finishing the weekend with two losses and a win. Team members said they would use the next few weeks to prepare for the conference series, which would begin on April 1.
Several members of the team and head coach Mark McQueen agreed that spring semester was exciting because it was the first time of the year they got to compete against other schools. Fall semester was spent strengthening and playing intrasquad games -- scrimmages in which teammates play one another.
"It's good at the beginning," McQueen said. "But it gets redundant."
With time, McQueen said, each man could predict what the other would do with the ball in certain situations. McQueen said out-of-conference play was important because it prepared the team for conference, allowed him to see what different players could do and allowed the players to "get in the groove."
Senior pitcher Matt Trent said he had been impressed by this year's out-of-conference schedule, and he believed it would pay off during conference play.
"Out-of-conference is a time to define rules and get the freshmen acclimated to college baseball," Trent said. "It is basically used as a tune-up for the rigors of A-10 play."
Junior shortstop Adam McConnell said: "We want to go into conference with confidence. We're definitely going to win a lot more games than past seasons."
McConnell is currently recovering from a hip labrum tear, an injury that occurs when cartilage around the hip socket starts to degenerate from repetitive use, but said he hoped to start playing halfway through the season.
Eager to play again, McConnell said, "By taking a step back, I've had time to learn what I can improve on and how to correct it."
If the team had a successful out-of-conference schedule, it would establish a lot of momentum, Trent said. Results from the next few weeks mixed with results from the conference play can lead to a higher or lower seeding in the A-10 Tournament at the end of the year.
Several team members and McQueen said they were expecting a winning season. McQueen also said he thought this year's freshman lineup was one of the best he had seen during his four years as Richmond's head coach.
Freshman shortstop Mike Small, who is playing in McConnell's position, did not hesitate to say that his goal for the team was to make it to the conference and regional tournaments.
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"Our offense has been hitting the ball well, and our pitching has been really good," Small said. "We could have come out with two wins at Duke, but overall I was pleased and think everyone played handsomely."
McQueen said defense was definitely the team's strength, but that he was "still trying to figure out how to piece our bullpen together." He also said that several players' injuries and illnesses had made it difficult to put his best team forward.
Trent said that the team could use more consistency with middle relief -- the stretch of a game when pitchers go in who are neither starters nor finishers. Lower pitch counts were also something Trent said he would like to see.
On team improvement, McConnell said: "Our problem last year was closing the door. We have a lot of leadership this year, a collective group that knows what we need to do. We are night and day from last year."
Team members said the camaraderie they shared was helping the season run smoothly. Small said the relationships on the team were strong and that his teammates were friends on and off the field. McQueen agreed, saying the personalities of the different players seemed to "mesh well."
McConnell said, "You get so close to 40 guys -- it's like a fraternity, only we are competing together."
Trent said, "I'm looking forward to a successful season and reaching our ultimate goal of the A-10 Tournament, NCAA Tournament and team development."
The Spiders will play 21 out-of-conference games before they open the conference season against St. Bonaventure University at Pitt Field on April 1.
Contact reporter Markie Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org
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