W&M baseball 'learning how to win' entering CAA play

Senior right-handed pitcher Daniel Powers' gem against VMI Wednesday typifies the pitching depth that can help make William and Mary a dangerous team during this year's Colonial Athletic Association season, which began Friday.

Powers, who earned second team All-CAA honors last season, flourished in his mid-week role, tossing seven shutout innings in the 7-0 win over VMI with 11 strikeouts. It was Powers' first win in four starts and best performance since a no-decision early in the season against Rhode Island.

With all three weekend rotation guys back from last year, including Powers, pitching depth figured to be a strength for the Tribe (12-8), which opened CAA play Friday at preseason league-favorite UNC Wilmington (9-10).

"We've been OK," William and Mary coach Brian Murphy said Thursday. "I think we've been competitive against some of the marquee teams and left some wins out there, maybe. I think we're learning how to win. Our starting rotation on the weekend is pretty good. Our veteran lineup guys have been good. Cullen (Large) and Ryan (Hall) — those guys that have been through it before. We need some other guys to step up."

What better test to start league play than against the Seahawks, who were one of the best hitting teams in the country last season and returned most of their top players including preseason player of the year Nick Feight, a junior catcher and Prince William County product.

William and Mary, picked to finish second in the league, beat UNC Wilmington twice last season to win the CAA tournament in Charleston, S.C. One of those tourney tilts was a 12-inning marathon that took more than 24 hours to finish after rain delayed action on a Sunday night in May.

Five of the Seahawks' losses this season came to nationally ranked teams including an early-season sweep at Ole Miss. They have won five of their last six, though, with a sweep of VCU and two-game split with Maryland.

Last year, the Tribe lost all three regular season games to UNC Wilmington at Plumeri Park.

"They're a measuring stick team," Murphy said. "They have been for a long time in this league. They've never not been in the CAA tournament. They're historically the best baseball program in the league. I think they are excited to see us, too."

Some of that excitement probably stems from what happened last season in Charleston.

But William and Mary, which finished with a .500 record last season, has shown signs of rounding into form. The Tribe has won most of the games it was "supposed to," while six of the losses came to ACC (Virginia, Maryland, Virginia Tech) or SEC (Florida) opponents.

Powers has at least temporarily been supplanted in the weekend rotation by redshirt sophomore left-hander Nick Raquet, a North Carolina transfer who sat out last season. Raquet (0-1) leads the CAA in ERA (1.31) and will start in Sunday's series finale against the Seahawks after senior right-hander Nick Brown (2-1) and sophomore southpaw Bodie Sheehan (4-1), respectively.

Brown has been good and Sheehan has been terrific, Murphy said, while Raquet has transitioned from long reliever into a starting role that had been anticipated once his pitch count elevated enough. As a freshman at North Carolina in 2015, he sported a 1.42 ERA in 6.1 innings.

Nick's freshman brother, Brandon, has also been a mainstay in left field for the Tribe and is fourth in batting (.316) with two home runs and 11 RBIs.

"They've been a huge part of what we've been doing so far this year," Sheehan said. "Nick has been dominant on the mound and then Brandon has been starting from day one in left field."

As Murphy alluded to, juniors Hall and Large have been stellar atop the lineup. Large, the second baseman, leads the league in hits and is third in RBIs with 22 while Hall, the right fielder, is second in the CAA in batting at .406 and second in team RBIs with 14.

Senior center fielder Charles Ameer leads William and Mary with four home runs and preseason all-CAA selection Ryder Miconi (.319, 3 HR , 13 RBI) has also provided a steady bat as the designated hitter.

The Tribe has seen some pleasant surprises, like the performance of redshirt freshman right-hander Chris Farrell (2.08 ERA) in relief, but mostly the same core from last year is leading the way, including closer Robert White, who has a league-best four saves.

Murphy hopes the Tribe can put together a better regular CAA season than last year to make an easier road come tournament time. And "figure out how to win."

"Top to bottom, it's good teams every week that will have to face," Sheehan said. "As a whole, the conference is looking pretty strong so especially on the pitching end, we're going to have to go out and compete every weekend to give ourselves a chance to win."

Around the CAA

Three players were batting .400 or better heading into Friday competition including William and Mary's Hall. The league leader is Delaware redshirt sophomore outfielder Kevin Mohollen (.414) to help the Blue Hens top the league in overall batting (.325). College of Charleston sophomore infielder Luke Manzo is third in the league, hitting .400.

James Madison senior first baseman Brett Johnson leads the league in home runs (8) and RBIs (26) while College of Charleston redshirt sophomore Logan McRae and UNC Wilmington outfielder Casey Golden each have seven home runs. McRae is also second in RBIs with 24.

The fastest man on the bases has been James Madison junior outfielder Adam Sisk with 11 steals, to go along with leading the CAA in runs scored and swinging 3.89.

Elon sophomore Ryan Conroy and Delaware sophomore Brandon Walter are the only other two pitchers behind Nick Raquet with an ERA less than 2.00 while James Madison senior Brandon Withers is 4-0 and is first in the league in strikeouts with 40 in five games. Walter, a left-hander, is the reigning CAA Pitcher of the Week and picked up Collegiate Baseball National Player of the Week honors are allowing one hit in eight shutout innings with 17 strikeouts in a win over Penn State last week.

Out of the bullpen, five players are tied for second in saves behind White.

William and Mary-UNC Wilmington is the most intriguing matchup of opening weekend. The other matchups are Delaware-James Madison, Hofstra-Charleston and Northeastern-Elon. Towson, the league leader in team pitching, dropped two games at Virginia this week and will play a three-game set at nationally-ranked East Carolina of the American Athletic Conference.

Holtzman can be reached by phone at 757-298-5830.

CAA standings (entering Friday)

School CAA Overall

James Madison 0-0 14-5

Delaware 0-0 11-7

William & Mary 0-0 12-8

Towson 0-0 8-7

UNCW 0-0 9-10

Elon 0-0 9-12

Northeastern 0-0 7-11

Charleston 0-0 8-13

Hofstra 0-0 5-14

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