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VCU Rams1

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.





VCU Rams1

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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Sophomore Heath Dwyer is 6-5 with a 2.88 ERA for VCU this season.

Sophomore Heath Dwyer is 6-5 with a 2.88 ERA for VCU this season.

RICHMOND, Va. – The son of two part-time actors, VCU sophomore Heath Dwyer appears to have inherited a flair for the dramatic.

Dwyer, who nearly majored in theater at VCU, has played the part of a hero of late, delivering a handful of potentially season-saving performances. In his last three starts, the left-handed pitcher has thrown three complete games and is 2-1 with a 1.73 ERA.

He should’ve taken a bow after his last effort. On May 4 against first-place Saint Louis, Dwyer outdueled Alex Alemann, one of the Atlantic 10’s top pitchers, spinning a five-hit, 10-strikeout, complete-game shutout. The win helped the Rams take two of three from the Billikens and kept VCU’s A-10 Tournament hopes alive. Gutty and important as Dwyer’s gem was to VCU, especially for a sophomore, it did not catch Rams’ Coach Shawn Stiffler by surprise.

“I’ve never looked up and thought, this occasion is too big for him,” Stiffler said. “[He has] a maturity level of, you can drop him in New York with a quarter, and he can get home.”



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Sunday at The Diamond, the Richmond Flying Squirrels honored late VCU Baseball Coach Paul Keyes in a pregame ceremony. The Squirrels also wore special black and gold jerseys and patches with Keyes’ jersey number, five. Appropriately, on May 5 (5/5), the Squirrels won 5-1.



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VCU senior pitcher Ryan Farrar is 4-4 this season with a 3.73 ERA in 10 starts.

VCU senior pitcher Ryan Farrar is 4-4 this season with a 3.73 ERA in 10 starts.

RICHMOND, Va. – Ryan Farrar needed some time to think. His professional baseball dream was dangling in front of him like a carrot on a string, and he had a potentially life-changing decision to make. He walked out of his parents’ kitchen and onto the front porch and buried his head in his hands.

The Pittsburgh Pirates had called in 11th round of last year’s amateur draft and made the VCU left-handed pitcher an offer. It wasn’t run-out-and-get-a-Rolls money. It wasn’t even what Farrar had mentally set as his minimum requirement, but it was a chance to play baseball for a living. On the other hand, Farrar still had one year of eligibility remaining, another year of college, another year to polish his skills.

A lot of players would spring out of their cleats for a shot at pro ball. But Farrar was waging an inner war.

“It was awful,” he says. “I just sat on my front porch by myself. I didn’t want to be around anyone, and I was pulling my hair out of my head and thinking, ‘How can I turn down this kind of money to go play baseball?’”

Farrar looked his boyhood dream in the eyes and said, “No thanks.”

He told the Pirates it was about the money, but Farrar says that was a convenient excuse, his “out pitch”, if you will.



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Last night, following the first Key Dog Strikeout Cancer Classic (won 5-4 by VCU), both VCU and Old Dominion had their heads shaved to raise cancer awareness:

P.S.: Check out the sweet breakdancing moves by VCU junior infielder Tom Crimi at the end.



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Tuesday at War Memorial Stadium in Hampton, VCU and Old Dominion will wage a battle against cancer. The Rams and Monarchs will play at 7 p.m. in the first Key Dog Strikeout Cancer Classic, named for late VCU Baseball Coach Paul Keyes, who passed away in November after a battle with cancer. Proceeds will be donated to Keyes’ family.

Afterwards, both teams will be shaving their heads at home plate to raise cancer awareness.


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Mick Mattaliano was a member of two CAA Championship teams.

By Mick Mattaliano

This is an article no one wants to write and is more painful for its audience to read. This weekend, the VCU athletic community lost one of its leaders in Coach Paul Keyes. Many of us who had an opportunity to play for him, lost much more. It is hard to describe the influence Coach had on all our lives, and rather than speak for others, I’d rather just tell what impact he had on my life. I am certain it’s a story that many former players, coaches and anyone who had the chance to spend time with Coach Keyes would echo.

When I arrived as a freshman walk-on in 2004, Coach hardly took notice of me. While being young, I assumed it was because he didn’t like me. That was never the case with coach and freshmen; you had to earn his respect. As I wallowed on the bench for a year, I wondered if I had what it took to be a Division I baseball player, but more importantly, how was I going to make Coach take notice of me and think of me as a contributor.

My sophomore year, after resisting the temptation to transfer, I was determined to prove to Coach Keyes that I could be someone he could rely upon. Sure enough, halfway through the season I worked my way into being the No. 1 option out of the bullpen. After one dismal weekend performance at UNC Wilmington, Coach Keyes went on one of his epic rants, ripping the team. Every player knows these meetings well, because Coach would do it once a year, where he would basically go down the entire roster and find fault with something you were or were not doing.




Paul Keyes 1962-2012

For the second time in less than six months, VCU Athletics has lost one of its own far too soon. In June, it was men’s soccer player Yoram Mwila. Saturday, it was longtime baseball coach Paul Keyes.

Although we knew Keyes was facing long odds – the last couple of status reports hadn’t sounded encouraging – we clung to hope. We prayed for one final ninth-inning comeback. It was not to be. Paul Keyes was an all-too-young 50 years old when he passed away. Damn cancer.

Keyes took a leave of absence in April to concentrate on fighting the disease. But after baseball season, he returned to the office a few days a week. He was noticeably thinner, and he talked a little softer, but overall, he seemed healthy and refreshed. There was a positive energy I hadn’t seen in him before. He seemed to appreciate the little stuff more.

I ran into “Keydog” early in the summer in the mailroom. He had been gone for a few months, fighting the damn cancer. I had been out of the office as well. My son was born three months premature and had spent more than 100 days in the hospital. I wanted to ask Keyes how he was doing and tell him that I was happy to see him in the office. But the only thing he wanted to talk about was my son. I appreciated that.

“How’s the little one?” he wanted to know. It wasn’t a long conversation, but after a few minutes, he offered simple, but undeniably true, words of encouragement. “Just love, man.” He delivered them with a warm smile. The good ones always seem to know the right thing to say.

We will miss him greatly, and I cannot begin to imagine the loss his wife, Trisha, and their three children, Paul Jr., MacKenzie and Kyle, are feeling right now. I hope they find peace in knowing Paul’s impact on others. He was a good man, and I hope someday it makes them smile.

Coaches, administrators, sports information guys, we don’t always choose to work in college athletics to help others. Sometimes we just want to find a way to pay the bills. But I can tell you this, helping others, impacting the lives of young people, it’s why everybody stays in college athletics.

Paul Keyes was the baseball coach at VCU for 18 years, not including his time as an assistant. He won a ton of games (603) and lifted VCU Baseball to unprecedented heights. But for all the trophies he won, for all the games he managed, none of it carried the weight of the lives he impacted.

We like to point out that 36 Paul Keyes’ players signed professional baseball contracts. That’s 36 guys living their boyhood dream, including major leaguers Sean Marshall, Brandon Inge, Scott Sizemore, Cla Meredith, Cody Eppley and Jason DuBois. But for every kid that Keyes helped become a pro baseball player, there were 20 more who became teachers, bankers, businessmen, firemen, you name it. Lives changed. Hundreds of 18-year-old high school kids walked out onto the field at The Diamond with wide eyes, but left four years later as men. That’s one hell of a legacy.

There’s a school of thought that the best way to preserve the legacy of loved ones lost, to keep them alive in our hearts, is to talk about them frequently and share their wisdom. A man only lives so long. An idea lives forever. With that in mind, I offer my memory of Keyes that I hope endures: Just love, man.


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by Scott Day, VCU Assistant AD for Athletic Communications

March 9, 2007. I can remember it like yesterday. I was a 23-year-old who was just 13 games into his career as the Assistant Director of Athletic Communications with the VCU Baseball team.

It was a beautiful Friday night at Brooks Field in Wilmington, N.C. and the Rams had just opened up a critical CAA series against the Seahawks by pounding them, 13-3. I was headed to the bus ready to enjoy a happy coaching staff postgame.

As I walked onto the bus and handed the boxscores to Coach Keyes, Coach Stiffler and Coach Haynes, I was greeted with, “Why are we bringing you along if you’re not going to fight for our players?”

I must have looked like a deer in headlights to Coach Keyes. I was shocked. We just won 13-3 against the one of the favorites to win the league, why is he so upset?

Let’s rewind a bit… VCU went into the bottom of the ninth with a 13-1 lead. The leadoff hitter for the Seahawks, Jonathan Batts, hit a ball up the middle that a young, freshman by the name of Richard Gonzalez got to, but was unable to make a play on. The initial ruling in the pressbox was an error on Gonzalez. UNCW Sports Info guru Tom Riordan had discussed the play with a few of us in the pressbox and that was the majority vote. (I never admitted it to Coach Keyes, but I saw the play, but wasn’t paying full attention because I was too busy trying to finish up my game story since the game was already out of hand.)

Fast forward to the bus and there I was having no clue how to respond to Coach Keyes. He challenged me to fight for our guys on every play, that’s what my job was. At that moment, I had no clue what he meant.

(Sidenote: After discussion with both coaching staffs the next day, the play was changed to a single. Gonzalez went on to have an all-conference career and played on the Puerto Rican National Team this year.)

Nearly six years later, I look back and see that moment as one that played a critical role in who I’ve become today as a member of Ram Nation.

It was one of a million lessons that I learned from Coach Keyes. He sometimes had a different style of dealing with life, but he was incredibly insightful, caring and tremendous friend. He had an undeniable passion for baseball, his players and VCU Athletics as a whole. The only thing he loved more than those three things was his family.

As I became better acquainted with Keydog, I saw the softer side of him, particularly when I had my first in May of 2011 and Coach Stiffler had his son a couple months later in September of 2011. I can remember having Connor, my son, in the office and Coach Keyes making him laugh and I remember a specific conversation later when he was telling me about having Coach Stiffler and his wife, Jen, over to the house for dinner and how great their son, Wade, was during it. He may not have known it, but he was teaching me how to be a better father, showing me not to take for granted every moment I have with my family.

Coach Keyes had a lot of similarities with my college coach at York College of Pennsylvania. They did things in a matter that as 18-22 year olds we hated. We didn’t understand all these rules and never understand the things that we said or the things we did. But yet, years later, so many former players look back and everything makes sense.

Keydog loved to compete and was willing to do whatever it took to win. He always got the most out of his players, finding just the right buttons to push at the right time.

There are so many good coaches that affect the lives of all of their student-athletes, but it’s the truly great ones that affect the lives of everyone that they come in contact with. That was Paul Keyes. A coach, not only on the baseball field, but in life.

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