CAA title in hand, Tribe preps to face UVA in national tourney

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William & Mary baseball players take batting practice during media day. (Photos courtesy of Ty Hodges/WYDaily)
William & Mary baseball players take batting practice Wednesday. (Staff photos by Ty Hodges)

Ahead of Friday’s game against the University of Virginia in the Charlottesville Regional of the NCAA Division I Baseball Tournament, William & Mary players and coaches took time Wednesday to reflect on the whirlwind of last weekend that resulted in the Tribe winning an improbable Colonial Athletic Association championship.

Thanks to their unlikely weekend performance, the Tribe enters the national tournament with a 29-29 record. When they take on UVA at 1 p.m. Friday in the opening game of the Charlottesville regional, they will be facing the defending national champions, the No. 1 seed in the regional, and a team that so far this season has compiled a record of 37-20.

During a special media session Wednesday, Tribe Head Coach Brian Murphy spoke at length about his team’s seven-run, ninth-inning comeback on Saturday in a 9-8 conference tourney victory over UNC-Wilmington.

Saturday’s comeback allowed William & Mary to face the Seahawks again on Sunday, this time with the CAA title at stake. Again the Tribe used late-game heroics — in this case a five-run eighth inning that included a grand slam by senior Josh Smith — to win 14-9 and clinch their first conference championship since 2001.

Charley Gould leads the Tribe in batting average this season.
Charley Gould leads the Tribe in batting average this season.

“I don’t think any of us saw this set of circumstances unfolding,” said Murphy, who is in his third year as William & Mary’s head coach. “We’re really proud of the guys, and we’re excited to keep playing.”

The Tribe had less than 24 hours to let their unlikely conference championship sink in before learning Monday that they will travel to Charlottesville for NCAA Tournament regional play. In just their fourth Division I tourney appearance, the Tribe will be joined by UVA and talented teams from East Carolina University and Bryant University in the four-team, double-elimination regional tournament.

In light of such a crazy finish to the CAA Tournament, maintaining focus has been a major challenge this week for William & Mary players and coaches alike.

Senior first baseman Charley Gould, who leads the Tribe with a .332 batting average and 51 runs scored, said that simply riding the momentum of the CAA championship won’t be enough to advance out of NCAA regional play.

“Coach [Murphy] has been stressing to us to soak it all in and enjoy it, but at the same time we can’t really be happy to be there,” Gould said. “We have to appreciate what happened. We can look back on it eventually, but right now we still have to show up and play our best baseball to win games.”

Matthew Keane had a dramatic postseason win last year as a senior at Lafayette.
Matthew Keane had a dramatic postseason win last year as a senior at Lafayette High School.

While playing against some of the best teams in the nation will be a difficult task for William & Mary, freshman catcher Matthew Keane, who last year helped lead Williamsburg’s Lafayette High School to its first baseball state championship, said drawing an NCAA regional bracket so close to home will be a major advantage for the Tribe.

William & Mary is familiar with UVA’s Davenport Field, having played there in a 16-8 regular-season loss to the Cavaliers. “We know what the field is like, so I think that is an advantage,” Keane said.

And the proximity of the regional should allow William & Mary supporters to attend the game relatively easily. Roughly a two-hour drive from Williamsburg and located in the center of the state, Charlottesville is within driving distance for Tribe fans from all corners of the state.

“We’ll probably get more hometown people,” Keane said “We should have a pretty good turnout of our own crowd.”

Tickets to the Charlottesville Regional are on sale now and can be purchased here through William & Mary. While their availability is extremely limited, tickets are being offered on a first-come, first-served basis.