By WESLEY HOST
The Mary Washington baseball team came into the 2011 season looking to repeat as Capital Athletic Conference champions. Coming into the conference tournament, they were 21-13, and had a schedule full of strong, out of conference teams such as Christopher Newport University, Catholic University and Gettysburg College.
Last year’s senior heavyweights Will Wright, Nick Espinosa and Seamus Bergen graduated last spring, but a new a wave of freshmen joined the squad giving the Eagles depth in the lineup. Among the talented new faces were first baseman Beattie Southerland, right fielder Connor Finnerty and third baseman Mitchell Herringshaw.
In their first game against St. Mary’s College, in the double elimination conference tournament, the Eagles lost 8-2. Juniors Brent Steffey and Santino Rosanova led the Mary Washington offense with three hits apiece, but it wasn’t enough to spur on the Eagles’ offense. With the loss, UMW had to take on top-ranked Salisbury College.
Salisbury was the regular season CAC champions and finished their season with a 21-11 record. The Eagles went 1-2 against the Sea Gulls during the regular season, but the two hadn’t played since March 13. UMW sophomore Michael Straub couldn’t have picked a better day to have arguably the best game of his collegiate career. Straub allowed three runs (two earned) in his 7.2 innings and fanned 12 to record his fifth win of the season. When the final out was recorded, the score was 11-3 and allowed the Eagles to stay alive for another day. The offense came from senior Jackson Clement, who homered and doubled to rack up three RBI, while fellow senior Eric Rehbein doubled, singled and homered en route to his own three RBI game.
With the win the Eagles advanced to Saturday where they took on Wesley College. The Eagles again dominated the opposition, winning 11-7. Senior Parker Talbert toed the rubber for UMW and pitched 5.1 solid innings, surrendering five runs (four earned) and striking out three. Sophomore Torey Mancari was called on from the bullpen to close out the rest of the game, as he gave up one run in his 3.2 innings of work and fanned seven for the save. Clement was again a major offensive weapon for the Eagles, as he went 3-4 with four RBI and was a double shy of the cycle. Rehbein added a pair of hits and scored three runs in the Mary Washington victory.
By defeating Wesley, the Eagles advanced to the championship game, where they took on Frostburg State. It was the ninth time in the past 11 years that the UMW baseball team has made it to the CAC Championship game. In that time span the Eagles have only won the grand prize three times.
In the double elimination style tournament, Mary Washington had to win two games against the Bobcats, who had yet to lose a game, if they were going to be crowned tournament champions. In the first game, the Eagles’ bats came to life as they overwhelmed Frostburg State. UMW slugged 22 hits and scored 15 runs in their 15-6 rout of the Bobcats. Junior Brent Steffey hammered out five hits and Clement again came through with three hits and four RBI. Junior Shane Sixsmith and freshman Beattie Southerland also had three hits apiece, while junior Santino Rosanova drove in three runs.
Mary Washington came out strong once again in the second game. The Eagles drew first blood, leading 2-0 in the first inning, but Frostburg responded by scoring three runs in the second inning. The Eagles didn’t know it at the time, but they had seen their last lead of the game. Southerland, Rehbein, Steffey, and Herringshaw all had two hits, while Herringshaw also led UMW by driving in three runs. Mary Washington called on Rehbein to pitch on short rest, and he allowed five runs in 5.2 innings to take the loss.
Sophomore Joe Carleton used the simple analogy as running out of gas to justify the loss. The Eagles had played five games in four days during the tournament, which no doubt put an extra physical and mental strain on the players.
Even though the Eagles’ conference title chances are over this year, they still have a good portion of their season remaining. Mary Washington still has a chance for an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament if they can finish their season off strong against non-conference opponents such as Ferrum College, Johns Hopkins University and Randolph-Macon College. The next home game for the UMW baseball team will be on May 3, when they take on Newport News Apprentice School at 2 p.m.