WILLIAMSBURG — Signs of William and Mary's remarkable 2013 baseball season are evident throughout the program, but what's unseen will keep the Tribe competitive on regional and even national levels.
Players and coaches talk about a culture change that occurred last season, when William and Mary set a school record for wins, earned an NCAA tournament berth and won NCAA games.
"We've got a lot of people coming back that were a big part of what we accomplished," senior Ryan Lindemuth said. "Expectations might be changed, compared to last year, but it's something we can live up to."
William and Mary opens the 2014 season Friday with a three-game home series versus Army at Plumeri Park, weather permitting.
"We're anxious to get the first one underway and we're excited about that," junior Michael Katz said. "The season kind of slows down once you hit conference play because there's so many games. Baseball works against you if you get charged up. We want to control what we can control and see where that takes us."
Lindemuth and Katz are two of the leaders from last year's team that finished 39-24 and earned the program's first NCAA at-large berth. The biggest change is new head coach Brian Murphy, who was elevated to the top spot when Jamie Pinzino left in early December to become the pitching coach at Oklahoma.
Murphy, who spent last season as Pinzino's top assistant, helped implement the culture change that took William and Mary from CAA afterthought to contender. The Tribe was picked to finish third in the conference, behind UNC Wilmington and newcomer College of Charleston.
"Up to this point, it's been a pretty good transition," Murphy said. "Knowing the guys already has really helped. Being familiar with the school has helped. I couldn't have asked for a better group to transition with, especially in a mid-year situation."
"I don't think it's as big of a transition as everyone makes it out to be," Lindemuth said. "Coach Murphy is an extension of Coach Pinzino. They're from the same stock. Coach Murphy believes in a lot of the same stuff Coach Pinzino does. The transition really hasn't been difficult. All the players are confident in Coach Murphy and the staff."
Success breeds confidence. The Tribe last season was 10-3 in one-run games, 16-9 in games decided by one or two runs.
"We were good at winning tight games," Murphy said. "Guys have a comfort level that from the seventh inning on, we would find a way to get it done. We have guys who have come to the plate and gotten hits, we have pitchers who've thrown tough pitches in those situations."
Where last year's team often relied on pitching and timely hitting, this year's team appears to have greater offensive depth and more options. Besides Katz (.358), Lindemuth (.351), catcher Ryan Hissey (.281) and Willie Shaw (.293), projected leadoff hitter Kevin Nutter returns. He batted .329 before a shoulder injury shelved him last season.
W&M also added a pair of experienced transfers: graduate student Kevin Casey played three years at Lafayette College, where he batted .330 and was second-team All-Patriot League last season; junior Nick Thompson enrolled in January after playing two seasons at East Carolina. The former Gatorade state Player of the Year from Western Branch High hit .303 and had a .432 on-base percentage in 28 games last season for the Pirates.
The Tribe lost several quality pitchers, but return a handful of arms that must assume different roles. Junior lefthander Jason Inghram (9-6, 3.36 ERA, 99 strikeouts), who beat Ole Miss in last year's NCAA opener, is the No. 1 starter.
Senior John Sheehan and sophomore Mitchell Aker, relievers last season, will assume starting roles to begin the season. Sophs J.T. Castner (Jamestown) and Aaron Fernandez figure into the rotation, and freshmen Tim Hoehn, Dan Powers and Nick Brown will get chances, as well.
Murphy makes no predictions in his first season as a head coach. He demands maximum effort from his players. He wants to continue the culture begun last season that will make players want to deliver maximum effort.
"My goal at the beginning of every year is to play in postseason," Murphy said. "If you play important games at the end of the season, if you establish yourself as one of the top teams in the CAA, that's what we're aiming for. If you solidify yourself as one of the better teams in the conference, the other things will take care of themselves."
Fairbank can be reached by phone at 757-247-4637.