VIDEO: VCU BASEBALL MEDIA DAY

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VCU Baseball season is right around the corner. YOUR defending Atlantic 10 and Dallas Regional Champions open the 2016 season on Feb. 19 (Yes, February. College baseball is a different animal) at Kennesaw State. The Rams are scheduled to host their first home game on Feb. 24 against Maryland. This week, Coach Shawn Stiffler, as well as players James Bunn, Logan Farrar and Sean Thompson met with the media to discuss the upcoming campaign.

 

BASEBALL’S RAMSANITY

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Welcome to VCU Baseball’s annual “Ramsanity” challenge. It’s an opportunity each year for our strength and conditioning staff to have the guys do cool stuff like push cars at dusk. I think I also want to get my hands on one of those t-shirts.

HALLOWEEN BATTING PRACTICE

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Because you’ve always wanted to watch somebody rip line drives while dressed as a polar bear.

SAFARIS, SMARTS AND SQUATS

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"I love VCU Soccer. I ain't lion."

“I love VCU Soccer. I ain’t lion.”

If you’re a follower of VCU Athletics over at the DOT com site, you may have caught this great interview between Rams’ Baseball Coach Shawn Stiffler and Men’s Soccer Coach Dave Giffard. Well, these guys are pretty chatty, so something was bound to get left on the cutting room floor. That leads us to this. Giffard does as much international recruiting as any VCU coach, which is how he ended up fearing of his life on an African safari.

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Hey, we’re not all safaris and sportsball trophies over here. You can see games and championship celebrations. But it’s important for us to reiterate that academics are the cornerstone of this department. We want to prepare these men and women for the rest of their lives, not just four years of games.

This week, VCU Athletic Director Ed McLaughlin hosted an ice cream social for student-athletes who achieved a 3.5 grade point average last semester. A record 81 VCU student-athletes qualified.

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Also this week, spring-loaded VCU outside hitter Jessica Young, an A-10 All-Rookie Team pick last year, sat down with ESPN 950s Greg Burton. During the interview, Young discussed one of the secrets to her early success, her commitment to weight training. There’s a great chance Young can outlift you. And outjump you. And outrun you. Have a listen.

HEY, THOSE GUYS LOOK FAMILIAR

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Former VCU star Lanto Griffin (-12) won the Delta Dental Virginia State Open this weekend.

Former VCU star Lanto Griffin (-12) won the Delta Dental Virginia State Open this weekend.

We’ve officially reached summer’s angry phase in Richmond. The heat index is a billion right now, and my lawn melting. Local weathermen and women are warning people with beards – there are a healthy number of bearded folks in this town – against spending time outdoors, due to the high risk of spontaneous beard brush fires.

But it’s not all bad. As I hunkered down inside and reclined on a couch I fashioned from blocks of ice, I was able to follow the exploits of a handful of VCU alums who killed it this weekend.

First and foremost, Lanto Griffin, a former CAA Golfer of the Year for the Rams, ran away with the Virginia State Open Championship by six strokes this weekend. For his efforts Griffin (-12), who turned pro after graduating from VCU in 2010, pockets $6,300. Griffin opened the tournament with back-to-back rounds of 66 and 68 and took a 5-stroke advantage into Saturday’s final round. Griffin briefly saw his lead cut to three strokes Saturday, but recovered to win going away.

Meanwhile, former VCU Soccer standout Nate Shiffman enjoyed possibly the best moment of his young pro career Sunday when he scored the Richmond Kickers’ lone goal in the 84th minute against West Bromwich Albion from the English Premier League. Shiffman’s strike briefly tied the match, but West Brom answered in the 88th minute to secure a 2-1 win.

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Treveon Graham. You’ve heard of him, right? The Rams’ great continues to plug away for the Spurs in NBA Summer League action in Las Vegas. Playing time in summer league games can be all over the map, and Graham’s burn is no exception, but he did pick up 20+plus minutes in back-to-back games this weekend. On Sunday, Graham pumped in 12 points and corralled five rebounds in a summer league semifinal victory over Atlanta.

Graham is still trying to find the range from NBA 3-point range (shooting 22 percent), but his other metrics this summer have been pretty good. He’s averaging 6.2 points and 2.8 boards and shooting 42 percent overall for the Spurs in nine contests. Graham and the Spurs will play in the Las Vegas Summer League Championship Game against Phoenix Monday at 9 p.m. on NBATV.

THE RAM REPORT IS OUT NOW!
The latest edition of the Ram Report is online now! Check out a feature on VCU Basketball Coach Will Wade, not to mention stories on Olivia Sutton, the first lacrosse player in VCU history, and baseball’s connection to Puerto Rico. READ HERE.

CAP TIP TO BASEBALL & CATCHING UP WITH FORMER RAMS

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Lefty Heath Dwyer was 10-3 with a 3.01 ERA for VCU this season.

Lefty Heath Dwyer was 10-3 with a 3.01 ERA for VCU this season.

In case you missed it, VCU Baseball saw its season come to an end over the weekend after dropping a pair of games to No. 5 Miami in the NCAA Super Regionals. It was a heckuva ride, and we enjoyed every minute of it. The Rams went on a late-season tear – winning 13 straight games at one point – to win their first conference title since 2010 and reached the Super Regionals for the first time.

Looking ahead to next season, the Rams return nearly all of their starting lineup in the field, save starting shortstop Vimael Machin, who hit .339. The pitching staff, which posted an outstanding 2.92 ERA, will look completely different next season. Heath Dwyer, JoJo Howie, Matt Lees, Matt Blanchard, Daniel Concepcion, Tyler Buckley and Thomas Gill – seven of VCU’s most-used eight arms – all graduate. Look for right-hander Sean Thompson, who was outstanding as a freshman this year, to anchor that staff next season.

But your opportunity to cheer for some of those seniors may not be over. The 2015 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft begins tonight. The first and second rounds, plus compensation picks, will be held Monday beginning at 7 p.m. Although no Rams are expected to be called tonight, Tuesday’s action will include rounds 3-10, and Wednesday will include rounds 11-40. Hopefully a number of these guys will spend the rest of their summer playing Rookie ball somewhere.

ELSEWHERE…
Speaking of VCU Baseball players continuing their careers in the minors, keep your eye on former Ram Kyle Haynes. A 20th-round pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates organization in 2012, Haynes, now a member of the Yankees’ system, is throwing very well at Double-A Trenton. As of this writing, he’s dealing to the tune of a 1.82 ERA in 18 appearances. Trenton will be visiting the Richmond Flying Squirrels at The Diamond June 23-26.

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BASEBALL NOTES: RAMS CONFIDENT FOR MIAMI; KEYES LINEAGE A PART OF VCU RUN

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VCU, which boasts the nation's 12th-best ERA, is set to face Miami, the country's highest-scoring offense, in Super Regional play.

VCU, which boasts the nation’s 12th-best ERA, is set to face Miami, the country’s highest-scoring offense, in Super Regional play.

RICHMOND, Va. – VCU says it won’t be intimidated when the Rams meet storied Miami Friday in Coral Gables. It’s not for a lack of qualifications on Miami’s part. The Hurricanes (47-15) are the NCAA Tournament’s No. 5 overall seed and have reached the postseason 42 consecutive years.

But VCU, riding a wave of confidence, has won 14 of 15 games. The Rams are fresh off upsets, as the No. 4 seed, of top-seeded Dallas Baptist and Oregon State in the regional round. VCU players say they’re ready to keep the program’s historic run alive.

“Our confidence is as high as it’s been throughout the year,” says VCU third baseman Matt Davis. “We feel like we can compete against any team in the nation.”

The Hurricanes will certainly test that notion. In addition to hosting this weekend’s Super Regional at Mark Light Field, the Hurricanes boast an offense that includes David Thompson, who leads the nation in both home runs (19) and RBIs (85). As a team, the Hurricanes are scoring an NCAA-best 8.5 runs per game and rank fifth nationally in batting average (.314).

Miami’s offense will be an intriguing test for VCU’s dynamic pitching staff, which ranks 12th nationally in ERA (2.86).

“[Miami’s] reputation kind of does speak for itself. We know the numbers down there. We know they were a one-seed, hosting a regional,” says left-handed pitcher Heath Dwyer, who is 10-2 with 2.85 ERA. “But we’ve been an underdog through this whole NCAA Tournament. We beat the No. 1 seed [in our region] Dallas Baptist. We beat them twice, and we really feel like we can beat anybody, and we’re ready to play Miami. We’re not scared. We’re just as competitive of a team, and I think we’re ready to embrace the challenge.

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VIDEO: VCU BASEBALL SET FOR MIAMI SUPER REGIONAL

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The VCU Baseball team was back in town about 24 hours before embarking for Miami and the NCAA Super Regionals. But that was more than enough time for us to get them to talk in front of a camera.

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By now, VCU’s late-season resurgence is common knowledge. But how did the Rams, 26-22 at one point, rip off 14 wins in 15 games?

 

CASTOFF KERRIGAN FIGHTS FOR TOMORROW AT VCU

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Former Temple outfielder Jimmy Kerrigan is batting .290 with 22 RBIs for VCU this season.

Former Temple outfielder Jimmy Kerrigan is batting .290 with 22 RBIs for VCU this season.

RICHMOND, Va. – Jimmy Kerrigan is in a good place.

The chaotic terminals of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, one of the world’s busiest, cannot dampen the mood of the VCU outfielder. This time tomorrow, he’ll be in Miami, preparing for the Rams’ unprecedented NCAA Super Regional appearance.

“We’re confident as ever,” he coos in his South Philadelphia brogue.

The source of Kerrigan’s confidence is the aligned arc of his and VCU’s seasons, which have reached historic levels. As he’s found comfort as a Ram, so too has this team, which has won 14 of 15 games to capture both the Atlantic 10 Championship and an NCAA Regional for the first time.

Kerrigan certainly played his part in VCU’s stunning turnaround. The junior transfer is batting .290 this season with three home runs and 22 RBIs. He leads the team in on-base-percentage (.429) and has cemented himself as the team’s starting right fielder. He batted .417 (5-of-12) in four games to help spur VCU to the Dallas Regional crown.

A month ago, Kerrigan wondered if the Rams would even qualify for the A-10 Tournament before summoning a 13-game win streak. But that’s nothing compared to how Kerrigan felt last December, when a red balance sheet and a shift in philosophy killed the first Division I program to believe in him.

Kerrigan grew up within walking distance of the South Philadelphia Sports Complex, a concrete sprawl that hugs Route 95 and serves as home to the city’s holy quartet of professional teams, the Phillies, Eagles, Flyers and Sixers.

Although a hard-nosed standout for Neumann-Goretti High School, Kerrigan was lightly recruited. When new Temple Head Coach Ryan Wheeler dangled a scholarship, Kerrigan’s only Division I offer, he was happy to accept. A home-cooked meal was only 20 minutes from campus.

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VCU BASEBALL: JUST SUPER

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VCU is just the fifth No. 4 seed to win a regional.

VCU is just the fifth No. 4 seed to win a regional.

VCU is where busting brackets happen.

In case you’ve been under a rock the last 48 hours, VCU Baseball captured its first NCAA Regional Championship Monday night with a 3-1 win over top-seeded Dallas Baptist in Dallas. The Rams are just the fifth No. 4 seed to advance to the Super Regionals. This is, in effect, NCAA Baseball’s “Sweet 16”.

VCU (40-23) will head to Coral Gables, where it will meet the Miami Hurricanes (47-15), the fifth overall seed in the tournament. The teams will play a best-of-3 series Friday, Saturday and, if necessary, Sunday. The winner will head to Omaha for the College World Series. All games are scheduled for noon. Friday and Saturday’s games will be televised on ESPNU. Sunday’s possible game would be broadcast on ESPN2.

This is crazy. All of it. On May 5, VCU was 26-22 following a loss to Norfolk State. The Rams needed to win their final six conference games just to make the Atlantic 10 Tournament. Now, they’re writing history every time they take the field. Some fun facts about this postseason:

  • Since May 7, VCU is 14-1.
  • VCU has not allowed more than three runs in any of those 15 games.
  • The Rams allowed a total of five runs in four Dallas Regional games.
  • Shortstop Vimael Machin batted 8-of-14 (.571) in the regional.
  • Senior lefty Matt Lees appeared in three of four regional games and threw 7 1/3 innings of 3-hit ball. He earned the save in Monday’s clinching victory with 3 2/3 innings of 1-hit relief.
  • Lees broke VCU’s career mark for appearances (120) Monday. His ERA this season is an absurd 0.76.

CLIPPINGS
A handful of stories on VCU’s historic win:

Plus, there’s stuff like this:

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