It may not seem like it when walking out into the chill currently laying siege to Williamsburg, but spring is officially here, which translates to baseball season for sports fans. While the 2018 Major League Baseball season is set to begin in less than a week, William and Mary has been in action since February, starting its season just as cold as the frigid weather outside.
Two years removed from winning the Colonial Athletic Association title, the Tribe has dropped 16 of its first 24 games, including getting swept by Charleston in its first conference series this weekend. The College has particularly struggled on the road, winning just one of its first 10 games away from Plumeri Park.
While not necessarily the sole factor in the Tribe’s lackluster start, the team’s performance at the plate so far this season certainly has not matched the offensive output of previous years. The College lineup has usually included multiple hitters with at least a .300 batting average, getting solid production from several spots in the batting order.
Approaching the midway point of the 2018 campaign, however, the Tribe roster has only one player batting at least .300: junior shortstop Zach Pearson, who is hitting .302. As a team, the College possesses a pedestrian .215 batting average, by far the worst such mark in the CAA. The Tribe ranks in the bottom half of the conference in other offensive categories as well, matching Northeastern for the fewest home runs with seven and recording a meager 79 runs batted in, the second-lowest total in the CAA.
For various reasons, a number of players have not lived up to preseason expectations offensively. Sophomore outfielder Brandon Raquet, a preseason All-CAA selection, has missed the majority of the season so far, playing in just eight games. Meanwhile, the two Tribe players who received preseason All-CAA honorable mentions, junior catcher Hunter Smith and senior outfielder Ryan Hall, have not had the offensive impact College fans hoped for, hitting .242 and .200, respectively.
With the offense failing to score on a consistent basis, the Tribe has found it especially difficult to fight its way back into games after falling behind. The College holds a 1-13 record in games in which the opposing team scores first, and when the opponent holds a lead after six innings, the Tribe is 0-12. In fact, the Tribe has yet to win when trailing after just one inning, a discouraging 0-7 in such scenarios.
If the Tribe wants to turn its season around, the team will have to show more resiliency than it has thus far, finding ways to manufacture runs when trailing and in clutch situations.
A prime example of the College’s need for improvement came in the Tribe’s home game March 17 against East Tennessee State. The Tribe held a slim 2-1 lead heading into the eighth inning, but the Buccaneers tied the game in the top half of the frame. The College offense failed to score again, ETSU eventually inching another run across in the 10th inning to win the game in extras.
“We just don’t give ourselves any margin for error the way we score runs at the moment,” head coach Brian Murphy told Tribe Athletics after the tough loss. “Eventually, against a team like this, they’re going to create some chances and they beat us with two-out hits.”
With a healthy majority of the conference slate left to play, the Tribe has time to turn this season around and challenge the top teams in the CAA. Baseball is a game of ups and downs, and the hope is that players like Smith and Hall begin to hit their strides in conference play, and that Raquet can feature in the starting lineup on a more consistent basis. But as the temperature (hopefully) begins to rise in Williamsburg, the Tribe bats will have to get hot if the College wants to compete for another CAA championship.