George Mason Baseball Soars to New Heights

By Kathy Orton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 8, 2009

In his 32 years at George Mason, baseball coach Bill Brown has been a part of some very good teams. There were the 39-win teams, the Colonial Athletic Association and Eastern College Athletic Conference title teams, and the NCAA tournament teams. And though he would never put one team ahead of all the others, Brown acknowledges that this Patriots team is unlike any that have come before it.

"This group can be incredibly special," Brown said. "The sky's the limit. It's an absolutely special group. It has the chemistry. It has the intangibles, and it certainly has the ability."

Last month, after sweeping UNC Wilmington for the first time in 10 years, George Mason (38-9, 17-4 CAA) earned the program's first national ranking. Now ranked No. 27 by the National College Baseball Writers Association, the Patriots clinched the fourth CAA regular season title in program history last weekend after their three-game sweep of Northeastern. They are tied for the Division I lead in wins and reached 30 victories faster than any George Mason team. Their 25-2 home record is the best in school history.

George Mason's success, though not unexpected, has been greater than anticipated. Few college teams can keep top prospects for long; most leave early to play professionally. But the Patriots, who have had at least one player drafted in nine of the last 14 years, have held on to their best players. The two who were drafted last year -- pitchers Jordan Flasher and Mike Modica -- returned to college rather than sign professional contracts.

"Well, I figured that because I only threw in one game [last season because of an elbow injury] that if I came back and had a good year like my sophomore year I'd get drafted higher," said Flasher, a junior who was picked by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 39th round even though he was given a medical redshirt in 2008. "But after this season, I wouldn't have wanted to miss this for the world. That's pretty awesome that we're doing this this year."

As a result, George Mason fields a veteran lineup. Third baseman Dan Palumbo (Spalding), a third-year sophomore who also redshirted last season, is the least experienced starter. The rest of the starting lineup is a mix of seniors and juniors.

Over the years, George Mason has been known for its potent offense. This season, however, the Patriots have succeeded because of pitching. Starters Modica and Kevin Crum (O'Connell) both have earned CAA pitcher of the week honors this season. Modica (9-1, 4.06 ERA), a senior left-hander, leads the league in wins and the team in strikeouts (58). Crum (7-3, 3.93 ERA), a fourth-year junior right-hander, is second in strikeouts (45).

But it's been the bullpen that's really come through for the Patriots. The relievers are 13-3 on the year with 15 saves and a 3.21 ERA. Opponents are batting .263 against them.

"The bullpen on the whole has been fantastic," Brown said. "They've gotten us to where we are right now."

Flasher (Osbourn Park), who tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow in his first appearance of the 2008 season and underwent ligament replacement surgery, is the team's closer. Despite the injury, the right-hander has six saves this season, making him the school's all-time leader and ranking him in the top five in CAA history.

Right-hander Ben Reade (Robinson) was a serendipitous addition to the bullpen. The senior walk-on began his college career at Air Force, transferred to Virginia Tech and coached high school baseball for a time before joining George Mason this season. He is 3-1 with a 2.93 ERA.

"I feel lucky to be a part of this," said Reade, who turns 24 next week. "Everybody on this team is so motivated to win."

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