RICHMOND, Va. – There’s no mystery about what the next two weeks mean to the VCU Baseball team. The Rams’ season boils down to six final Atlantic 10 Conference games, of which VCU will have to win the majority of to keep its season alive.
Seven teams will qualify for the A-10 Tournament May 22-25 in Charlotte. VCU (23-23, 8-10 A-10) is currently 10th, three games out of a conference tournament berth.
“Obviously, we understand completely what we’ve got to do,” said VCU Coach Shawn Stiffler. “The funny thing is that it’s not that far off of what we did last year. The only difference is…there’s a lot more teams in the league.”
In 2012, VCU started 7-12 in CAA play, but finished by winning seven of its final 10 conference games to capture that league’s No. 5 seed. The Rams eventually advanced within a game of the CAA Championship round.
If the Rams want to repeat that performance, now is the time to do it. The good news for VCU is that it will face two teams directly above the Rams in the A-10 standings. The Rams will travel to George Washington for three games May 10-12. The Colonials are 10-8 in the league and in eighth place. VCU will conclude the regular season at The Diamond May 16-18 with three games against rival Richmond. The Spiders are 11-7 in the A-10 and are tied with Saint Joseph’s and Xavier for one of the three final conference tournament slots.
The Rams know their backs are against the wall, but they’re not getting ahead of themselves. They can’t win six games at once.
“You can’t look at it as we’ve got to win five out of six,” Stiffler said. “You can’t look at it that way. We’re just kind of approaching it from the standpoint of, we know every game could be our last really, really important game, but two, that you’ve got to win today.”
Sophomore Heath Dwyer, recently named A-10 Co-Pitcher of the Week, says the Rams will follow Stiffler’s lead.
“We all know what we have to do, and we know the work that’s ahead of us,” said Dwyer, who is 6-5 with a 2.88 ERA this year. “But we’re taking it one game at a time, one win at a time, and even less than that, one inning at a time. And we’re going to win every pitch.”
The Rams know their margin for error at this stage is thin, but it’s nothing they’re not already used to. Their season is a couple of bounces or clutch hits away from taking a different shape. Half of VCU’s conference games have been decided by one run, and the Rams are 4-5 in those contests.
But last weekend, in a three-game set with first place Saint Louis, the Rams won two of three. All three games were decided by one run. In the series opener, Dwyer set the tone with a five-hit, 10-strikeout complete game in a 1-0 VCU victory.
“We know every game we play is going to be close, and we know that every game comes down to one or two plays,” Stiffler said. “We’ve said continuously said from the beginning that we’re going to work to be the best team we can be in May and June, and if we are, we’ll have a good opportunity to play in the tournament.”
2013 ATLANTIC 10 BASEBALL STANDINGS