Like his fellow underclassmen, freshman third baseman Ryan Williams is only getting better as he goes along.
Williams struggled with the transition from shortstop to third at the beginning of the season, especially in the series against LSU.
Now, he’s running into walls at North Carolina to catch foul balls, hitting game tying home runs against the no. 1 team in the country, and playing with a confidence that helped the Tribe go 4-1 last week.
“I’m just trying to have a lot more fun,” Williams said. “I came back from LSU frustrated with my swing, and I just wanted to get back to the basics and fundamentals and have some fun while doing it.”
Williams, who came into Tuesday batting .296, had two hits against the Tar Heels, singling twice in the Tribe’s 3-0 victory. He had two hits the next day as well, going two-for-four Wednesday against Virginia, the top-ranked team in the country, including a solo home run to left-center field in the sixth inning that tied the game at 6-6.
“Coach had said scoot up on the plate a little bit and make the adjustment,” Williams said. “My approach was down, my timing was right and I got all of it.”
It was a shot reminiscent of former Tribe standout third basemen Tyler Stampone ’09 and Greg Sexton ‘07.
“We think he’s a terrific player. We thought he was a hell of an athlete. He has a great body, a great third baseman’s body. We saw a lot of things from him we really like,” Head Coach Frank Leoni said. “I think he’s the most athletic third baseman we’ve had here so far, and you know who we had here before.”
Not to be outdone, freshman starter Brett Koehler held Virginia to one run through the first five innings, allowing three hits and striking out six in an eventual 12-6 loss to the Cavaliers.
“Koehler did a great job. He threw the ball exceptionally well. I don’t think you can ask for much more than what he gave us,” Leoni said. “I don’t know what else to say. He’s going to be awfully good.”
As good as Koehler was Wednesday, sophomore starter Cole Shain was better Tuesday. Shain held North Carolina scoreless through five innings in Chapel Hill, getting the victory in the Tribe’s 3-0 win against a team that has made four straight College World Series appearances.
“It’s mostly about location,” Shain said. “We were mixing up our pitches, working both sides of the plate, keeping hitters off balance. We had a really good plan back there.”
The weekend belonged to another talented underclassman, as freshman starter Brett Goodloe, taking the mound after the Tribe defeated Quinnipiac 11-4 and 12-3 in a doubleheader Friday, pitched a complete game shutout Sunday against the Bearcats en route to a 10-0 victory.
Goodloe was nearly perfect, allowing neither a hit nor a walk until a single with one down in the fifth. Goodloe only allowed four total hits on the day, but found himself in a jam in the bottom of the ninth with one out and the bases loaded.
Seeing his pitcher—and roommate—in trouble, Williams headed to the mound to talk to Goodloe.
“I just told him not to get frustrated. He had pitched a great game so far, and he just wanted to finish up what he wanted to do,” Williams said. “He wasn’t happy with his last couple outings, but he pitched a great game.”
Goodloe induced a comebacker to the mound and fired the ball to sophomore catcher Sean Aiken, who threw it to sophomore first baseman Tadd Bower for the game-ending double play.
And once again, the Tribe underclassmen helped secure another victory.
“Coach said it already: this is a talented group with a freshman class that has a lot of talent,” Williams said. “We all just want to win, and we all play hard.”