Sports

Photograph courtesy Richmond Athletics

You might think Richmond baseball’s 32 wins in the 2018 season earned the players the right to some satisfaction. Spider pitchers struck out a school-record 471 hitters, the batters ranked in the top half of every Atlantic 10 offensive category, and the team landed the No. 4 seed in the conference tournament.

Their reward? An even harder 2019 season.

The Spiders will play eight games against teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference and seven games against teams that qualified for the NCAA Tournament a season ago. Opponents include Duke, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Princeton, and Florida State.

The home opener is Feb. 20 against James Madison University, and 31 of the 55 games will be played at Pitt Field. Twenty-four of the games will come against eight Atlantic 10 opponents.

“If I had to go back to last year, Duke is the only team that overwhelmed us,” said sixth-year head coach Tracy Woodson. “Nobody else did. We want to be in every game.”

The challenging 2019 schedule “shows our guys where they need to be, what it really takes to be a [Division I] player,” Woodson said. “When we play Georgia Tech on our opening weekend, our guys will see somebody throwing 90–94” mph.

Most of the key players who got Richmond to 32 wins last season are back. Closer Layne Looney, who was drafted by the Chicago Cubs but elected to return for his senior season, finished 2018 with a 0.60 ERA and didn’t give up a single run in the final 10 weeks of the season. “When he came in, the game was over,” Woodson said.

Most of the pitching staff’s other big arms also return, and Woodson expects team defense to be strong.

“I’ve got four guys in the outfield who can run anything down,” he said.

The tough 2019 out-of-conference schedule should help the Spiders prepare for conference play, which they’ll open at Davidson March 8. Because of a scheduling anomaly, the teams will get a two-week jump on everyone else in the A-10. If all goes well, Richmond could sit with a 3-0 or 2-1 conference record for a couple of weeks.

“I really like this team,” Woodson said. “This could be a really good year for us.”