ODU Arms vs. VCU Bats in Colonial Athletic Association
By Andrew Finley
for CAA coaches' survey results
One has two of the elite
pitchers in the conference. The other has two of the better bats
– and a recent supremacy to make other league teams envious.
The Colonial Athletic
Association is deep and balanced, but much of the early buzz
centers on Old Dominion University and Virginia Commonwealth
Old Dominion enters the
2008 season as the favorite. A year ago, the Monarchs won the
regular-season crown – four teams tied atop the conference with
18-11 records – but fell in the conference tournament. ODU
received nine of 11 votes in a preseason poll of the coaches.
VCU won the conference
tournament in 2007 in dramatic fashion, beating Delaware in 13
innings in the championship. It was the Rams’ fourth title in
the past six years and the 12th straight season the
Rams won at least 30 games.
The Monarchs boast an
experienced squad, headlined by a pair of right-handed pitchers
who would make alum Justin Verlander proud: Anthony Shawler and
Dan Hudson. Shawler, a junior, received All-American recognition
a year ago when he posted an 11-2 record and a 2.20 ERA with 130
strikeouts in 114.2 innings. In addition he hit .341 in CAA play
and .305 overall as the club's regular first baseman in giving
the Monarchs a dual threat reminiscent of Maika Symmonds and Ron
Walker of the mid-to-late 1990s.
(pictured right) is the Friday night starter. The junior is a
model of consistency; he has been in the rotation since arrived.
He made 15 starts a year ago and pitched into the seventh in all
but two of his starts. He was second in the CAA to Shawler in
strikeouts and innings with 109 and 106.2 and finished 8-5 with
a 3.46 ERA.
“I'm kind of like the
guinea pig,” Hudson said of a typical weekend series.
After starting the series
opener, Hudson gives Shawler tips on how to attack hitters for
the second game. Shawler credits Hudson’s help with making him a
“My biggest strength is
how competitive I am,” Hudson said.
“Competitive, that’s really the bottom line.”
ODU’s staff has one of the
best pitching minds in college baseball in head coach Jerry
Meyers, a four-year starting pitcher at Iowa State who spent
eight seasons as pitching coach at South Carolina before winning
74 games in his first two seasons in Norfolk.
“He taught me how to
pitch,” said Shawler, who limited hitters to a .224 average as a
“He’s such a pitching
guru, he always knows what to fix,” Hudson said.
Meyers has guided his
pitching staff to a sub-4.00 ERA each his two seasons (both tops
in the CAA). As a result of his success, Meyers has been
selected as the pitching coach for the 2008 USA National team.
"I was a little bit
shocked it happened so fast," said Meyers, who also coached the
Monarchs' pitchers in 1996. "It's been invaluable from a pure
baseball standpoint and reaping the benefits for our program."
Old Dominion plays a tough
early schedule that includes three games against the Big East’s
Rutgers to open the season, followed by a trip to play North
Carolina and Virginia.
“It’s going to be a tough
task,” Meyers said. “With this condensed schedule, we’re going
to have to go deeper into the pitching staff.”
The offense will be
bolstered by the return of centerfielder and leadoff hitter
Jimmy Miles. The senior missed all of last season after hurting
his kneecap during the season opener. In 2006, he hit .348 and
stole 39 bases. Also returning from injury will be first baseman
Bryan Cipolla, who also missed all of last season. Cipolla is a
three-year starter who hit .318 in 2006 and has 142 RBI in his
college career. They will join senior designated hitter David
Burns, who hit .309 last season with 61 RBI, tied for most on
VCU might not have the
elite arms of its rival two hours to the east, but it should
have a strong offense, led by two of the league’s best hitters
in Jared Bolden (pictured left) and Chris Jackson.
Bolden, a junior first
baseman who will see some time in the outfield in 2008, hit .383
last year with a .573 slugging percentage and 17 stolen bases.
This year, he hopes to continue doing what he has been doing and
setting an example for the younger players who will have to
contribute for the Rams to achieve their goal: “To get back to
the Regionals and another CAA championship if possible.”
Jackson, a junior third
baseman, hit .341 with 25 extra-base hits and 57 RBI while
starting all 60 games. Jackson, a Richmonder who stayed in town
to play for the Rams, said he hopes “to go out and have the same
kind of season as last year” and be a leader on a relatively
young team. According to Jackson, the Rams have a tradition of
getting to the field early and taking extra batting practice –
he plans on leading his younger teammates by doing those things
to set a good example.
Jackson said one young
player he is expecting to emerge as a team leader is Richard
Gonzalez, who started 57 games as a freshman as the team's
second baseman and hit .271.
One challenger to the
Monarchs and Rams is Delaware, which finished in that four-team
logjam atop the CAA standings in 2007.
The Blue Hens are led by
perhaps the most dangerous hitter in the conference, Alex
Buchholz. Buchholz has received first team All-American
recognition from Louisville Slugger after hitting .387 with 27
doubles and 11 home runs, good for a .689 slugging percentage.
That followed a freshman season in which he hit .378 with 18