When senior pitcher Chris Keiper struck out Muhlenberg's Eric Pomroy to finish off a 9-5 win in the first game of a double-header on Aprl 24th, the Washington College baseball team did what few thought possible prior to the start of the season by clinching a berth in the Centennial Conference Tournament for the first time ever.
It would have been hard to blame the skeptics. After all, the Shoremen had not posted a winning record since the 2005 campaign and headed into 2010 with a roster featuring just four seniors and one junior; the rest of the squad was filled out by freshmen and sophomores. The team had the potential of being good in the future, but in 2010? This was supposed to be a building year.
Certainly, the Centennial Conference's head coaches believed that; the Shoremen were picked to finsh ninth in the 10-team league in the conference's preseason poll.
Even the expectations of the Shoremen's own coaching staff were tempered. “When our coaching staff conferred in October after fall ball, we were all hoping for a .500 season, but still thought we were a little too young to make the playoffs,” noted head coach Al Streelman.
At season's end, the Shoremen had outperformed everyone's expectations – finishing the year with 17 wins and placing fourth in the Centennial Conference standings, good enough to reach the postseason for the first time since the 1984 Middle Atlantic Conference Tournament.
A trio of All-Centennial Conference hurlers - sophomore Shane Mattingly and seniors Keiper and Chris Smith - elevated the Shoremen's pitching staff to one of the best in the region, while a quartet of .300 hitters at the top of the line-up – sophomore shortstop Ryan Normoyle, sophomore catcher John Rolewicz, freshman center fielder Sean Connole, and senior third baseman Matt Boucher – provided offensive punch.
The Shoremen may have also gotten a little help from a former coach and lifelong friend looking on from the great dugout in the sky. Long-time coach and Athletic Directory Ed Athey '47 - the man whose name is on the Shoremen's home field – passed away at the end of February.
Streelman, who both played for and coached under Athey, reflected, “Many of the players did not know Coach Athey but had heard me speak of him and of course, they knew from accounts just how much he had to do with their field renovation and the baseball program in general. They were very pleased to make the playoffs and have such a good season around the time that Coach passed away.”
“Personally, it was very gratifying to me. I know Coach would have been so very proud of this team for working so hard to help take our program to the next level.”
While Streelman and his assistants may not have expected his team to reach that “next level” in the fall, it didn't take long for his Shoremen to start winning them over once the season began.
On March 7th, just a week after Coach Athey passed away and in just the second game of the season, the Shoremen gritted out a 3-2, 13-inning win over Moravian during the team's annual Spring Break trek south. The Greyhounds took a 2-1 lead in the top of the 13th, but Connole led off the bottom of the frame with a triple and scored on a wild pitch to even the score in the bottom of the frame before Rolewicz drove in Boucher with a single to win the game. That victory was the first of many clutch performances to come for the Shoremen, who went 8-4 in games decided by one run.
“The Moravian game in Florida showed me just how 'gutsy' this team was and just how much fire they had burning within them. Once we swept F&M, and then split with Haverford, going 3-1 against two routine playoff teams, gave us a pretty good feeling about possibly making playoffs.”
A slew of personal accolades followed the season. Mattingly, a transfer from CCBC-Catonsville, was named to the All-Centennial Conference first team after going 5-2 with a 2.85 ERA. Keiper emerged as the dominant closer in the conference and was named to the second team, posting a conference record-tying eight saves with a 2.00 ERA, while Smith earned honorable mention after walking just five batters in 55 innings on the mound. Normoyle, who hit .392 with four home runs and 16 stolen bases, and Rolewicz, who hit .379 with four home runs, were both named to the All-Centennial second team. Boucher landed on the Centennial Conference Academic Honor Roll for the third straight year and was named the male winner of the college's Eldridge Eliason Award.
Despite the graduation of Keiper, Smith, Boucher, and outfielder Brian Kramer, the Shoremen are poised to remain near the top of the conference next season. “The entire team and coaching staff are very excited about our prospects for 2011; having 19 players returning combined with 22 incoming freshmen has buoyed everyone's attitudes,” noted Streelman. “The players now know that they can win big games and can play with anyone.”
“Personally, I just can't wait to get them all together on the field in September so we can see how all the pieces come together.”
No doubt Coach Athey can't wait either. Word is he has already renewed his season tickets.