VCU IS UP – IN ARMS – AGAIN

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Junior college transfer Brooks Vial is 3-2 with a 3.83 ERA . He is one of a number of newcomers who have bolstered VCU’s reworked pitching staff this season.

A year ago Sean Thompson was “the kid” on VCU’s staff, a freshman with a live arm who was trying to keep pace with a host of seniors. But that was last year. Today, he owns more Division I experience than any pitcher on VCU’s roster.

Thompson, who started and earned the victory in VCU’s historic regional championship game against Dallas Baptist last season, has taken his newfound veteran status in stride. In the meantime, the new guys, the players Thompson is being asked to lead, haven’t missed a beat.

Although there was no piece of equipment more valuable to the VCU pitching staff this fall than nametags, the Rams have the look of a team primed to defend their Atlantic 10 title and make a run toward a second straight NCAA appearance in large part due to their work on the mound. VCU is 19-10 this season and defeated defending National Champion Virginia on April 5. Despite shaky early performances, the Rams have carved out a 4.45 team ERA. In six A-10 games, VCU’s ERA is 2.21.

Despite some early concern, Thompson, who added 30 pounds to his frame in the offseason in order to shoulder an increased workload this year, says he could see potential in VCU’s new pitching staff during fall ball.

“I felt like in the fall I saw a lot of things people could do well. It just takes a good mindset and preparation to get people out at this level,” he said. We recruited them here because they had the ability, now it’s just harnessing that at this level.”

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BASEBALL TAKES DOWN DEFENDING CHAMPS

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VCU Baseball scored a nice win Tuesday before more than 3,000 at The Diamond. The Rams topped defending National Champion Virginia 7-5 behind a Darian Carpenter 3-run homer and five strong innings from Jonathan Ebersole. Have a look at some of the sights and sounds from the win. The Rams are now 19-10.

VIDEO: RAMS KEEP HOME IN ORDER WITH SWEEP

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VCU Baseball is rolling right now. The Rams have won four in a row and 10 of their last 12. VCU earned a sweep of St. Bonaventure this weekend at the Diamond and will now turn its attention to this week’s home-and-home series with Maryland, as well as a three-game set with Dayton this weekend.

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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