Baseball team uses criticism to fuel end of season success

Picked in the preseason to finish ninth in the ODAC and to miss the playoffs, the baseball team played this season with determination to prove the doubters wrong


Pitcher Tommy Concklin, ‘17, was on the All-ODAC first team and the ODAC scholar athlete of the year after going 8-0 with a 1.03 ERA. Photo courtesy of W&L Sports Info.

Mac Trammell

On a whiteboard in the Washington and Lee baseball locker room there’s a bevy of scribbled notes that have accumulated as the year has progressed. Inspirational quotes posted by coaches; banter posted by players; a schedule with a surprisingly large amount of check marks next to every win. But what has maintained, unaltered in its blue ink since the preseason, is a quotation from a skeptical critic: “W&L will try to contend for a final playoff spot.”

The meaning was not lost on the players. This was no encouraging bit of baseball parlance; it was a backhanded compliment. To be written off as a bottom feeder for the top dogs to feast on rankled some of the players.

Certainly they knew they were coming off a poor season, going 8-16 overall, 6-14 in conference, and missing the playoffs completely. But there was a sense that the down year was an anomaly, not indicative of the team’s potential.

“Last year, we look at it like [it was] a fluke,” said captain and outfielder Luke Myer, ‘16. “We knew we had a lot more talent than our record showed, and we never really put it together. Playing-wise, we probably had one game where we played up to our talent level.”

17 players returned to this year’s team, so to expect more of the same wasn’t an erroneous assumption for an armchair critic to make. But factors that an observer at home couldn’t account for, like coaching, chemistry and the important play of the ten freshmen who joined the team in the summer, made monumental differences for the team.

Head coach Lucas Jones took over the team after coach Jeff Stickley’s 28-year run as the head coach came to an end with his retirement last year. Despite grumblings in the fall and winter about an increase in the amount of practices and workouts, players rallied around Jones’ fresh methods and love of the game.

“There’s definitely been a huge culture shift,” Myer said. “Coach Jones has brought a level of intensity that has really been a nice change of pace.”

In addition to Coach Jones, players have lauded the job assistant coach Ted White has done, especially with the pitching staff where an enormous 2.38 points were shaved off last season’s team ERA (it dropped from 5.34 to 2.96). W&L leads the ODAC in team ERA and is the only team to maintain a sub-3.00 ERA.

As a result, starting pitcher Tommy Conklin, ’17, was named first-team All-ODAC after going 8-0 with a conference-best 1.03 ERA. Closer Danny Devereux, ‘19, was named to the second-team after recording eight saves—a W&L single-season record—and a 1.83 ERA.

Third baseman Ryan Weston, ‘17, was also named to the second team, and catcher Cory Paton, ‘17, earned a third-team spot as well as an academic All-American nod with a perfect GPA.

And, after turning the team around, finishing 26-12, 13-7 in conference, and finishing with the third overall seed in the ODAC tournament—obliterating preseason projections—Coach Jones was awarded Coach of the Year honors.

Back in the winter months, when players were still getting used to Jones’ routine, he wrote that condescending quotation up on the board with a blue marker. He knew already that his team was better than the public opinion. He wanted to motivate his guys to a greater level of excellence, even in the chilly preseason.

“It was definitely something in January and February, before the season started up, when we had our practices, we saw that and it fired us up,” Paton said. “We know that if we play our game we can compete with anyone in the conference right now… We’ve proved that to ourselves over the course of the season, and we believed that, out of the gates, we would have a good year this year.”