Goodbye is never easy. Goodbye on the heels of a devastating loss is much, much harder.
The Richmond baseball team was forced to say goodbye to their seniors after a 7-2 loss to George Washington halted their A-10 championship aspirations and put an end to a stellar season.
At the beginning of May, Richmond held a pregame ceremony to honor their graduating players in an event filled with accolades, hugs and smiles.
There were hugs, but there were no smiles in Friday’s senior send-off. Tears flowed openly down the faces of this team of 31 men, and there was certainly not a dry eye among the uniformed seniors as they stood in their postgame huddle to reflect on the game and the season that ended all too abruptly.
After Richmond beat George Washington on Wednesday, the Colonials battled back to beat Fordham in an elimination game Wednesday night. Richmond was tasked with besting them again. Only this time the Colonials were the ones left to celebrate.
Over the first three innings, Richmond scored two runs and George Washington scored three. After just 2 2/3 innings, the Richmond hitters chased George Washington’s starting pitcher, Robbie Metz, from the game, usually a good omen for a team’s chances to win. But the relief pitchers proceeded to shut out the Spiders over the final 6 1/3, despite their notable hit total of 12.
Third baseman Matt Dacey went 3-for-5, but what player can be happy about his own accomplishments when his team’s heart is breaking? With tears pooling in his eyes and spilling freely onto his cheeks, Dacey praised his teammates for their efforts in the tournament.
“I felt like these past two days we played well enough to win,” Dacey said. “We swung the bats like we’ve been swinging them all year, but none of the balls fell down. I guess that just happens sometimes, but I’m so incredibly proud of our guys.”
Though they couldn’t deliver a championship to send the seniors off past their collegiate baseball careers, Dacey said watching each remaining senior pitcher take the mound for the last time was a great moment in a disappointing game.
Senior James Lively struck out his man on five pitches in his forceful goodbye to end the seventh inning. For the eighth, Richmond turned to one of its senior stars, Zak Sterling, who (somewhat controversially) was not chosen to start Friday morning’s game.
Woodson said his plan was to save Sterling for the second game Friday, when they would have played No. 4 Davidson if they had beaten George Washington. When it became apparent that they would not have that opportunity, Woodson called on Sterling to pitch in relief so he could stand on the mound one last time.
Sterling needed only nine pitches to get two quick outs before Woodson pulled him in favor of senior Ray Harron allowing him to end his college career on a better note after surrendering the winning run to Rhode Island on Thursday. As Harron approached the mound and Sterling stepped off, the four-year roommates embraced, a display of brotherhood marking their baseball finale.
"It's been a fun ride," Harron said. "You're my best friend. I love you, man."
"I love you too. Enjoy it," Sterling responded.
Harron threw just one pitch. The GW shortstop grounded out to second, and the pitcher’s career was over.
And with just three outs left for the Richmond hitters to mount a six-run comeback, it looked like the game was over too. Despite having the bases loaded twice, they never got “the big hit,” head coach Tracy Woodson said, and without it GW’s four-run sixth inning became the nail in Richmond’s coffin.
Though the hitters weren’t able to support the pitchers with runs, they showed their support and appreciation after the game with handshakes, hugs and huddled speeches.
“This is the best group of guys I’ve ever played with,” Dacey said. “I look up to every single one of those guys [seniors]. Each and every one of them should be inducted to the Spider Hall of Fame in my opinion.”
The Hall of Fame induction will be left up to Richmond officials, but their contribution to a team that finished tied for second in the A-10 with a conference record of 15-9 is undeniable. The graduating players – including Ryan Cook who pitched Friday’s game, Dylan Stoops who pitched Saturday, and Chris Bates – pitched for a 3.33 ERA with a combined record of 21-10. Their dominating last outings were indicative of their skill, even if the end result of the game was not.
“It stinks,” Dacey said. “But at the same time, it was a fantastic year for us.”
Contact reporter Erin Flynn at email@example.com