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:

KEYES’ INFLUENCE WRITTEN INTO VCU CHAMPIONSHIP BLUEPRINT

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Paul Keyes was 603-428-1 at VCU from 1995-2012 and led the Rams to eight NCAA appearances.

Paul Keyes was 603-428-1 at VCU from 1995-2012 and led the Rams to eight NCAA appearances.

RICHMOND, Va. – Working for Paul Keyes was not like Shawn Stiffler envisioned.

Keyes was already something of a legend in Virginia when Stiffler jumped from his alma mater, George Mason, to join the VCU coaching staff 2006. From 1998-2005, Keyes guided VCU to six NCAA Regional appearances and three CAA Tournament crowns. At 26 years old, Stiffler was eager to soak up strategy from one of the games’ most-respected voices.

But Keyes’ approach initially jarred Stiffler.

“It was day one. He would constantly talk to me about, ‘you’ve got to make this decision like you’re the head coach.’ As a young 26 year old I showed up here because I wanted to work for Paul Keyes. I wanted him to tell me what to do. But that wasn’t it at all,” says Stiffler.

Keyes didn’t want to give people around him the answers to their questions. He wanted them to find their own.

“It wasn’t easy for me. Coach Keyes is not a guy if you work for him who told you, ‘go up there and do X, Y and Z.’ If I said, ‘Coach we have nowhere to practice today.’ He’d say, ‘figure it out.’ But now I know how to do that. He just was one of those guys who would push you to push yourself. He stretched you every day. You had to be prepared for it. He did not believe in a routine.”

Keyes, a fierce competitor, savvy baseball mind, from-the-gut strategist, avid golfer and gregarious laugher, died in 2012 following a bout with melanoma. He won a school-record 603 games and directed VCU to eight NCAA bids in 18 seasons. His loss left a crater-sized void in the program.

On May 23, using more than a few of the foundational lessons he gleaned from six years under Keyes’ wing, with the vestiges of the longtime coach’s final recruiting class, Stiffler steered VCU to its first Atlantic 10 Tournament Championship.

It was Stiffler’s first conference crown as head coach, but in some ways, it felt like one final trophy for Keyes’ mantle.

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PARTY DOWN SOUTH: RAMS LOOK TO SHAKE UP DALLAS

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As you likely know by now, the VCU Baseball team is headed to Dallas for the NCAA Regionals. The Rams, making their first regional appearance since 2010, will take on Dallas Baptist in a region that also features Texas and Oregon State.

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If you ask the Rams, they’ll likely tell you their incredible late-season run, which has included 11 straight wins, has been influenced by Monty, the team’s good-luck charm. We’ve discussed Monty’s power before, which is why Logan Farrar confirmed Monday that VCU’s good-luck tiki would definitely be traveling to Texas.

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Friday’s game against Dallas Baptist will be televised on ESPN3. Here’s to hoping for some screen time for Monty.

VCU BASEBALL – ATLANTIC 10 CHAMPIONS

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Screen Shot 2015-05-24 at 10.42.42 AMA few weeks ago, VCU looked like it might not even make the Atlantic 10 Tournament. The Rams had just been swept at league-leader Saint Louis and were sitting 11th in the A-10 standings, albeit amid a tight race.

Yesterday, VCU capped its incredible turnaround by defeating Rhode Island 5-3 for the A-10 title in Arlington, Virginia. VCU has won 11 straight games and the Rams outscored their opponents 38-8 in the four-game A-10 Tournament. Now VCU will play in its 11th NCAA Tournament.

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Meanwhile, check out Logan Farrar’s tournament-clinching catch in centerfield. It made SportsCenter’s Top 10.

BASEBALL CHASING A-10 CHAMPIONSHIP

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The VCU Baseball team appears to be hitting its stride at the right time. The Rams are riding a seven-game win streak as they prep for the Atlantic 10 Tournament this week in Arlington, Virginia. VCU, the five seed, will open with fourth-seeded Davidson on Wednesday.

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One of the big reasons for VCU’s success this year is senior Heath Dwyer and his hair. Dwyer’s been terrific for VCU his entire four-year career – his 26 wins rank second in school history – but he’s been particularly splendid in 2015. In 15 starts, he’s 8-2 with a 2.90 ERA. I think it has something to do with the Thor-like mane he’s been growing out. The photo on the left is from a couple of years ago; the one on the right is from this week. Draw your own conclusions.

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