Conference baseball reign comes to abrupt end

Rams senior center fielder Jason Baytop hit .400 in four CIAA tournament games.

Conference baseball reign comes to abrupt end
May 05
04:30 2016

Photo by Craig T. Greenlee



The familiar phrase, “It’s not how you start, but how you finish,” is so appropriate for what happened to Winston-Salem State in the finals of the CIAA baseball tournament last Saturday.

For the first two days of tournament play, it looked like the five-time champs were all set to celebrate winning the title for the sixth year in a row. The Rams got off to a good start with convincing wins over Virginia State (6-2) and Saint Augustine’s (16-0).

The tournament’s final round, though, produced a vastly different story. Winston-Salem State’s half-a-decade reign as CIAA baseball kings came to a shocking end with back-to-back losses to Chowan. In retrospect, the way the Rams stumbled in the late innings was somewhat surprising.

In both games, WSSU had problems pushing runs across the plate. In the decisive second game, Chowan scored five unearned runs in the eighth inning in a 7-2 victory which assured that a new CIAA baseball champion would be crowned. Offensively, the Rams were stymied by their inability to move runners. For that game, 12 runners were left on base. It didn’t help matters that in the two games that mattered most, WSSU allowed 13 unearned runs.

The events that transpired in the CIAA final proved to be one of the concerns that coach Kevin Ritsche talked about entering the final month of the season. At that juncture, the Rams had issues generating offense on a consistent basis. Those very same issues came back to haunt Winston-Salem State at the conference tournament.

“It’s tough on your defense when you’re only scoring two or three runs a game,” Ritsche told Chronicle SportsWeek at that time. “It puts a lot of pressure on our pitching staff.”

The opening game of the final round proved to be a bad omen of what was yet to come. WSSU pitching was hammered for 15 hits in a one-sided 11-2 loss. Since the Rams were undefeated in the tournament, losing that first game forced a second game in this double-elimination event.

Considering how well the Rams had played in the weeks leading up to the tournament, their downfall was unexpected. They had won nine of their last 10 games and appeared to be rounding into championship form. At the same time, there are no guarantees in the world of sports. Winning championships is not an everlasting occurrence.

Although WSSU fell short in its quest to continue its dominance, there is a bright side to consider. The season is not a done deal just yet. The Rams (29-21) have four regular season games left to play. And there’s still a possibility that they could make the post-season scene as an at-large entry in the NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional.

Whether that happens or not is anyone’s guess. Entering the CIAA tournament, WSSU was ranked ninth in the Atlantic Region. But of the top nine, the Rams had the most regional losses, which could hinder their post-season chances. Pairings for the regional tournaments are scheduled to be announced on May 15 during an NCAA selection show.

WSSU’s CIAA All-Tournament picks

Michael McNamara, catcher

Landon Steiner, first base

Willie McRae, Jr., rightfield

Randy Norris, second base

Justin Norton, pitcher

About Author

Craig Greenlee

Craig Greenlee

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