A long, quick season for former Saint

Published 10:36 pm Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Former Nansemond-Suffolk pitcher Matt Davenport is a starting pitcher as a junior at William and Mary. The Tribe is in a tight race to make the CAA Tournament, with a 13-11 conference mark, with three weeks left in the regular season.

William and Mary’s baseball season has included road trips to two of the best and biggest college programs in the nation.

The Tribe opened back in mid-February with four games at nationally-ranked (then No. 5 and now No. 13) Oklahoma. In early March, the Tribe visited Charlottesville to take on current No. 1 Virginia.

According to the national rankings, those were the biggest games of the season for William and Mary and former Nansemond-Suffolk standout pitcher, now a Tribe junior, Matt Davenport.

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More accurately though, facing the Sooners and Cavaliers, against whom the Tribe went 0-5, was preparation for what’s ahead of the Tribe now. Davenport and his teammates have at least three weeks to go and are striving to play longer than that.

Coming off of winning two of three games on a road trip to Boston’s Northeastern last weekend, the Tribe (23-23, 13-11) is sixth of the 11-team Colonial. The Tribe’s on the bubble, holding the last safe spot for making the CAA Tournament.

Last spring, Davenport, a lean 6-foot-8 righty, was a first-team All-Colonial selection and named All-Region by Rawlings with an 8-2 record and a 1.96 ERA.

That led to being a team captain as a junior and Preseason All-American honors by College Baseball Lineup.

Davenport started the season as the Tribe’s “Friday starter.” The pitcher who goes on Fridays opens most conference series for a college squad. It’s up to him to set the momentum for all three games and, more tangibly, make sure the bullpen stays in good shape for the rest of the weekend.

“You’re the first guy to put the team in position to win the series,” Davenport said. “Going into conference play, the conference series become the most important thing.”

With a 2-6 record, Davenport’s lost his Friday starter spot in the rotation, yet knows he still must uphold his role as a captain and experienced vet.

“Our team has a lot of talent and we’re trying to make sure we’re reaching our potential, especially at this time of the year,” Davenport said.

As a freshman and sophomore, the transition from pitching against Tidewater Conference hitters to CAA, and even ACC, Big 12 and SEC lineups, seemed simple for Davenport.

“One of the biggest things a pitcher needs at this level is an incredible ability to control every pitch,” Davenport said.

Pitching in high school, even a good opponent has only a few guys who can really hurt a pitcher if he makes a rare mistake. At the next level, all nine spots in a lineup are dangerous.

“It’s hard to explain just how fast-paced everything moves in college compared to playing in high school,” he said.

The fast pace even applies aside from game days during the season. Keeping up academically would be difficult enough. Davenport said he became prepared for 56 games in three months only after going through it for the first time. The Tribe’s current slate makes five games in a week routine.

“It’s a mix of using your time both to do your work that has to get done while also relaxing, at least now and then,” Davenport said.

On the road, to spots such as Norman, Okla., Boston and Wilmington, N.C., even game days include study halls.

“We meet in conference rooms for usually 2-3 hours getting our work done, usually before a game, sometimes it has to be after,” he said.

“The coaches know we need our time and they make sure the time’s being set aside. It can be a rigorous process,” Davenport, who started out thinking he’d major in English but is now a kinesiology major.

The Tribe’s last home stand of the year is highlighted by three games against conference foe Georgia State May 12-14. The Tribe travels to Baltimore for three games with Towson, currently in seventh place and a half-game behind William and Mary, May 20-22. The CAA Tournament, with or without the Tribe, is the following week.