In late April, as the last classes wound down in the picturesque setting of Colonial Williamsburg, students overcame the temptations to sprawl out on the Sunken Gardens’ greenery under the evening sun and instead cracked open the books for the grueling final stretch. After a brief interval of pain in the first weeks of May, summer — a time of opportunity and excitement — lay ahead, prime for the taking.
For William and Mary baseball, May marked the culmination of two seasons of dedicated work — the academic year and the Colonial Athletic Association tournament.
However, the 2015 edition of Tribe baseball achieved little outside the classroom in the final stretch of the season. The team lost six of its last nine regular season games en route to elimination from the Colonial Athletic Association playoffs in just two games. The Tribe was outscored 53-32 over that 3-8 stretch.
The College (22-30, 10-14 CAA) stumbled into its worst finish since the 1990s, yet still managed to stagger into the CAA playoffs as the sixth seed in a particularly weak year for the conference.
In the past, the Tribe had missed postseason play with records at least five wins stronger, including a 27-24 effort in 2010 and a 34-22 record in 2014 which saw the Tribe fall in the conference finals.
As May began, the College of Charleston (45-15, 21-3 CAA) entered Plumeri Park and swept the College in three games, including a 15-2 thrashing. The Tribe bounced back from the brutal defeat on May 8 with a 3-1 win over Northeastern (25-30, 14-10 CAA) prior to dropping the subsequent two contests to the Huskies, losing the first 2-1 in 11 innings and the final game by a distant 8-2.
Despite the 1-5 record in those six games, the College found something to celebrate as senior left-handed starting pitcher Jason Inghram tied the school record for wins when he claimed the Tribe’s lone victory in the first week of May. Inghram dominated on the mound in the 3-1 victory over Northeastern, striking out 13 batters while surrendering only two hits.
After a largely disappointing senior campaign, Inghram’s eleventh-hour surge lifted the Tribe over George Washington (32-22, 13-10 Atlantic 10) in Arlington, Va., by an 8-2 score on May 14, as the rapturous batting of senior third-baseman Willie Shaw carried the College offense. Inghram broke the College’s record for pitching career wins with 25, although the game marked only his fourth victory of the season. Shaw crushed a homer in both the first and second innings.
However, the Tribe’s bullpen rotations fell short as the end of the season loomed near. Three pitchers started in the narrow 2-1 escape against George Washington later that evening in what proved to be the last College victory of the season. The Colonials finally secured a win in the series by a 5-4 margin May 15.
Although the Tribe’s 2015 regular season performance had been dismal in comparison to previous seasons (CAA Regular season Champions in 2014, NCAA regional qualifier in 2013), the playoff spot offered the College an opportunity for redemption, as well as a legitimate chance at the conference title considering the tournament format. A single game determines which team advances, and with little firepower in the bullpen behind the resurgent Inghram, the Tribe was determined to come through in the clutch.
The College first faced third-seeded Northeastern, which held a losing record during the regular season. Northeastern’s unusually high seed underlined a conference power dynamic where two Carolina teams run the tables: No. 1 College of Charleston and No. 2 (and eventual CAA champion) University of North Carolina-Wilmington at 41-18.
Simply put, the Tribe found itself in a remarkably favorable position given a poor season, with a chance to slip by a weak three-seed
Northeastern had different plans. On May 21, a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth knocked the Tribe out of the champion’s bracket in an emotional 3-2 defeat. Freshman second-baseman Cullen Large crossed home first for the College, as Shaw plated the run in the first inning. The Huskies tied the game at one in the bottom of the second.
A blown opportunity in the fifth inning likely sealed the game, as a bases-loaded opportunity with just one out slipped away from the Tribe before it could add any runs. Instead, the Huskies took a 2-1 lead in the back half of the fifth inning.
Sophomore outfielder Matthew Tilley brought sophomore infielder Ryder Miconi home for the tying score in the sixth. With no scoring through the seventh and eighth, the stage was set for the dramatic victory by the No. 3 Huskies.
In the loser’s bracket, the College faced elimination and once again came up short, falling 1-3 to No. 5 Delaware on May 21. The Blue Hens (26-24, 14-15 CAA) scored two before finally relenting on the Tribe batters, as junior outfielder Josh Smith smashed a triple in the top of the seventh, bringing senior catcher Devin White home.
However, the Tribe bats remained silent for the remainder of the contest, and to nail the coffin shut, the Tribe surrendered an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth to close out the year.
While the Tribe likely had more than 22 wins in mind, slipping into the playoffs provided an unexpected bright spot, despite the Tribe’s lack of productivity during its two postseason games. However, outstanding plays by younger stars, namely Cullen Large, provide ample reason to expect the Tribe to improve significantly from its low win total and make the 2015 season a distant memory.