THEY’VE DONE IT! After making the CAA Championship 3 out of the last 4 years without winning it, William & Mary has defeated UNCW and WON the CAA Baseball CHAMPIONSHIP! LET’S GO TRIBE. This is the FIRST time W&M Baseball has won the CAA since 2001. This is also the first time in CAA Tournament history that a team coming out of the loser’s bracket has won the championship! To say this is an amazing story would be an understatement. Going into the regular season, UNCW finished atop the preseason rankings. The College of Charleston, the CAA regular season champs in 2015, was picked to finish second. Finally, William & Mary was picked to finish a mere #5 according to the preseason polls. So much for that.
W&M finished the regular season 25-28, and 14-9 in the CAA. Despite the somewhat mediocre overall record, the Green and Gold actually finished with the second best record in the CAA. The UNCW Seahawks were far and away the best team in the regular season, finishing with an impressive 37-14, 16-6 in the CAA. The two teams played each other three times during the regular season, all three in Williamsburg. The Tribe would fall in all three contests, by scores of 1-2, 4-7, and 1-6.
To end the season, the Tribe went 5-5 in its last ten games and 1-5 in its last six. No one would say that they were coming into the CAA “hot” by any definition of the word. You might even say that the Tribe was limping in. But no matter. None of that means anything when it comes to Tournament play. Given a #2 seed and the opportunity to take the league by storm and secure an auto-bid to the NCAA Tournament, W&M took full advantage.
Perhaps more impressive than the CAA Championship game itself is how the Tribe got there. The way the CAA Baseball Tournament works is, teams are eliminated after they lose two games. In a round robin fashion, W&M opened the Tournament with a 2-7 loss to Charleston, the team that beat the Tribe 2 out of 3 times to end the season. However, the Tribe would quickly rally. The Green and Gold quickly turned around and beat #5 Northeastern, and then gained revenge on #6 Charleston, knocking them out 10-3.
After the pair of wins, the only two teams that remained were the #1 seeded UNCW Seahawks and the #2 seeded Tribe. With the odds stacked against them, W&M was tasked with beating the top team in the CAA two times in a row to take the CAA Championship; UNCW only had to beat the Tribe once to secure an automatic berth in the NCAA Baseball Tournament. In the first game, it looked like W&M’s season would assuredly end. W&M quickly found themselves down 0-6 in the third inning, and going into the 9th inning, W&M was down 1-8. But the Tribe wasn’t done yet.
In a spectacular, and we’d go so far as to say miraculous showing, the Tribe rallied to score SEVEN RUNS in the 9th inning, and tie the game 8-8! Do you believe in miracles? W&M was fueled by steady hitting, a big double by senior slugger Charley Gould, and two W&M hitters who were hit by a pitch to bring them back. Wow. But immediately after W&M tied it up, the weather turned, and the game was postponed until today at 4 PM. How’s that for suspense? If the Tribe were to win, the team would face UNCW in a one-game-take-all CAA Championship contest at 6:30 PM. And the Tribe would deliver. In the top of the 12th inning, sophomore Cullen Large went yard with a solo home run, putting the Tribe up 9-8; W&M would hold on in the bottom of the 12th, forcing the one-game CAA Championship matchup. Talk about amazing.
In addition to Gould and Large, several players turned in incredible performances in the elimination game, including senior Josh Smith (3 for 5 hitting, 1 run), junior Charles Ameer (4 for 5, 1 RBI, 1 Run, 1 base on balls), and sophomore pitcher Charlie Fletcher (2 innings pitched, 5 strikeouts). Without these strong performances, especially in the 9th inning, W&M’s season would surely have ended yesterday. With the victory, the Tribe found themselves on a 3-game winning streak just one game away from its first CAA Championship victory in 15 years.
The Championship game began with some fireworks, as the score was already 3-2 UNCW at the end of the first inning. It would foreshadow things to come in this high-scoring affair; W&M would however turn the tide with a 5-run outburst in the third inning. In the 3rd, senior Josh Smith doubled to center field bringing in two runs. Charles Ameer would then single and drive in another run. Before all was said and done, W&M found itself up 7-4 at the end of the fifth inning. In the fourth inning, the two teams scored two runs apiece, as W&M continued to lead 9-6. But the CAA regular season champions weren’t done yet, as the Seahawks roared back.
The Seahawks would begin to chip away at the Tribe’s lead behind strong pitching from its redshirt freshman Clay Lockamon, as the Seahawks scored runs in the 6th, 7th, and 8th innings, while shutting the Tribe out. After 8 innings, UNCW had tied it up, 9-9. The momentum was undoubtedly in their favor, and the Tribe needed an answer. And they GOT IT! In the bottom of the 8th inning, UNCW pulled Lockamon in favor of sophomore Austin Easter. With Easter in, the Tribe loaded the bases. With two outs, a hot Josh Smith came to the plate, having doubled earlier in the game. This time, Smith would do himself one better, as he not only delivered a hit, but also a CRUSHING homer over the high wall in left field– a GRAND SLAM! After 8 innings, the Tribe led 13-9. Check out the incredible moment below. It’ll go down in Tribe history.
But the Tribe wasn’t done yet! With none on and 2 outs following Smith’s grand slam, W&M continued to eat away at UNCW’s Austin Easter. With runners on the corner, freshman Zach Pearson singled, bringing Kyle Wrighte home. At the end of a huge 8th inning, the Tribe led 14-9. And that would be the FINAL score, as the Tribe took care of business in the 9th. The cardiac kids, W&M’s chosen team, whatever you want to call them, they put together an amazing CAA Tournament to bring the Green and Gold to the promised land. Bravo.
Moving forward, W&M will learn its NCAA Tournament opponent tomorrow at 12 PM Eastern Time on ESPNU. Be on the lookout, as we’ll assuredly be following our boys moving forward. LET’S GO TRIBE!!!