The University of Richmond Spiders baseball team begins the 2023 season against the University of Alabama at 4 p.m. this Friday at Sewell-Thomas Stadium.
The Spiders ended their previous seasons with a 30-26 winning record and a run leading to the championship game in the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament. The Spiders will begin the season with a three-game series in Tuscaloosa.
Head coach Tracy Woodson will begin his 10th season with the Spiders and feels that this is a closer team than other years, he said.
“The team is definitely tighter,” Woodson said. “In the last few years, since covid, the chemistry is a whole lot better.”
UR had multiple players graduate after the 2022 spring season. However, Woodson is confident that the Spiders will be able to fill the hole the recently-graduated players left, he said.
“We’re gonna have plenty of people to fill that [offensive] spot,” Woodson said. “We will move guys around.”
Junior infielder Jared Sprague-Lott is preparing to enter his third season with UR and feels more prepared to enter the field as a player with more seniority, he said.
“I’m really excited for the season, obviously, having that experience under my belt,” Sprague-Lott said. “I feel like we have a pretty old team this year with a lot of experience.”
Sprague-Lott had a stand-out rookie season in 2021, leading the A10 conference with a .413 batting average in his 26 games, according to his biography. He continued to be a crucial player in the 2022 season, starting in all 56 games played by the Spiders.
Sprague-Lott will fill the gap left by the graduated former third baseman and offensive powerhouse Dominic Toso, Woodson said.
Despite the strong batting presence on the team, over his professional playing and coaching careers, Woodson has learned that pitching is extremely important, he said.
“I know how important pitching is when we recruit,” he said. “Pitching is going to be key and trying to keep everybody healthy. I think over a period of time, if you don’t have pitching, you’re not going to win.”
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Junior right-handed pitcher Josh Willitts demonstrates the focus he and many other players have for this season. Willitts has done many things to ensure a successful season, ranging from taking up yoga for increased flexibility to beginning his offseason training earlier.
“I started my offseason throwing a lot earlier,” Willitts said. “I was able to get a lot more reps in before the season started. Also, I started training a lot more, like stretching a lot more.”
However, Willitts and Sprague-Lott’s success does not come without certain rituals. Sprague-Lott said that he needed to get treatment on his hips and legs before games to feel ready.
“If I just sit in the locker room and think about it, I get all worked up,” Willitts said. “I just try to keep everything the same when I’m pitching.”
Redshirt junior Alden Mathes is also gearing up for a strong season with his return to UR after being drafted by the Baltimore Orioles this summer. Mathes said he made the decision to complete his final year with the Spiders because he felt they had work to do.
“The fact that we came in second last year, I feel like we have some unfinished business,” Mathes said. “We have some guys that I wanted to play with and some more successes and championships that I really wanted to win.”
Mathes hopes to reenter the Major League Baseball draft following this season.
“I was betting on myself,” he said. “I feel like if I play better this year, I’ll be able to up my stock and get drafted a little sooner.”
The Spiders are geared up for a strong season with goals of winning lots of games and competing in the A10 conference tournament, according to both Sprague-Lott and Willitts.
“We love each other and love being around each other each day,” Sprague-Lott said. “Ultimately, we’re just trying to win a championship.”
Contact sports writer Lucia Helmers at firstname.lastname@example.org
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