Pitching paramount for CAA baseball tourney-bound William and Mary

WILLIAMSBURG – Tuesday morning before the team departed for the Colonial Athletic Association tourney, William and Mary baseball coach Brian Murphy recited an old baseball adage about if having to choose between offensive and pitching/defensive efficiency come postseason time, pitching and defense is the answer.

The logic behind that goes: Manufacture a run, two or three and get out with a win.

Fortunate for the Tribe (25-28), which opens the tournament Thursday in Charleston, S.C., its pitching and defense caught up with its offense after a slow start to the season.

“Our pitching staff has taken a total 180 from the first half of the season to the second half of the season,” William and Mary senior first baseman and former catcher Charley Gould said. “And I guess that was probably our biggest concern at the beginning of the season. Our offense has been pretty good all along and I think we’ve proven to ourselves that we can hit good pitching and that’s what you’re going to have to do in conference tournaments.”

Second-seeded William and Mary, making its fourth-consecutive CAA tourney, will face the winner of No. 3 Elon against No. 6 College of Charleston.

Top-seeded UNC Wilmington (37-15), which won the league by three games, will enter as the favorite although it could be a wide-open tournament, one the Tribe must win to get back to the NCAA Tournament after a two-year absence.

UNC-Wilmington will meet the winner of No. 4 James Madison vs. No. 5 Northeastern.

“I think it’s kind of up in the air about who is going to come out on top,” William and Mary junior right-handed pitcher Dan Powers said, “which should make it an interesting tournament for everybody and give everybody a good chance to go in there and play their best, so we’re looking forward to that opportunity.”

Joining Powers (7-5, 4.29 ERA) in the Tribe’s starting rotation are junior right-hander Nick Brown (7-5, 4.29) and freshman southpaw Bodie Sheehan (4-4, 4.73).

Sheehan, a Virginia Beach product, was inserted in the rotation in the Georgetown series in early April and has held down a starting spot since.

“He was a midweek guy at the beginning of the year and he struggled a little bit,” said Powers, an All-CAA Third Team selection, “but I think that was good for him. I think it taught him that he just needs to stay working hard at it… He has grown so much throughout the season. It’s pretty fun to watch.”

“He has shown that he can pretty much shut anyone down when he has a good day,” said Gould, who leads the team in batting (.342).

Sheehan earned All-CAA Rookie Team honors and picked up the lone win for the Tribe in the last series out against College of Charleston over the weekend, tossing seven innings and allowing three hits and no earned runs.

William and Mary closer Joseph Gaouette (9 saves) and Robert White (2.96 ERA) threw the last two innings of that one.

William and Mary headed back down to Charleston Tuesday expecting the quick travel turnaround not to be an issue. Having a first-round bye helps.

Murphy said tournament baseball is always crazy and expects any of the six teams to have a shot to emerge as champion.

It might all come down to pitching.

“A lot can happen when you get to the middle of that thing,” Murphy said. “Pitching gets a little thin and things can get wild.”

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

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