March 7 - It certainly hasn’t taken Zach Tsakounis long to adjust to college hitters.
The freshman left-hander from Arlington, a two-time first-team All-WCAC selection at St. John’s (D.C.), improved to 3-0 after striking out eight over five scoreless innings on Tuesday as William & Mary blitzed host Norfolk State, 17-2, for its sixth consecutive victory.
Tsakounis is carrying a 0.56 ERA through his first three appearances with the Tribe (9-1), who are off to their best start since winning 10 of their first 11 games in 2004. The southpaw was named the Colonial Athletic Association’s Rookie of the Week after limiting Virginia to one run in 6.1 innings in emergency relief during a 9-3 win in Charlottesville on Feb. 26, and he’s compiled 17 strikeouts to just three walks in 16 innings.
“Zach’s been good in all three [outings] and obviously against UVA he was very, very good,” William & Mary coach Brian Murphy said. “He just gives the hitters a lot to think about, he commands multiple pitches. He certainly hasn’t looked intimidated by anything we’ve thrown at him at this point, and he’s been composed every time he’s been out there.”
In Tuesday’s win, Tsakounis had plenty of support from a William & Mary lineup that banged out 18 hits, including four by second baseman Matt McDermott, the reigning CAA Player of the Week. Three local natives - freshman center fielder Jack Cone (South County), redshirt senior shortstop Kyle Wrighte (Freedom-South Riding) and senior Jason Waldman (Fairfax) - combined for seven hits and nine RBI.
Cone, Wrighte and Waldman have taken interesting paths to their current roles.
Cone, a two-way recruit who set the Stallions’ school record by hitting .493 last year, won the starting nod in center field during the preseason. The Tribe haven’t lost since he was penciled into the leadoff spot by Murphy prior to their 12-3 win over Sacred Heart on Feb. 24, and he tied a program record by scoring five runs in Tuesday’s game. “He hasn’t pitched yet, and part of that has been how our schedule has played out,” Murphy said. “He definitely will pitch, and he’s been really good in center field. He’s done everything we’ve asked so far.”
After starting at shortstop in 118 of the team’s 119 games in 2016-17, Wrighte didn’t play last season for undisclosed reasons. He’s returned to his post this spring and he has begun to heat up at the plate, going 8-for-14 over the past three games. “Kyle’s a really good player, he does a ton to help you win,” Murphy said.
Waldman, like Cone, was recruited as a two-way player and tossed two scoreless innings in the 2016 CAA championship game against UNC-Wilmington. But he suffered an arm injury that fall, missed the 2017 season after having Tommy John Surgery and is unlikely to throw another pitch for the Tribe, now utilized as a pinch hitter and first baseman.
Tsakounis and Cone aren’t the only freshmen from Northern Virginia contributing to the Tribe’s quick turnaround after going 15-39 last year. Matt Thomas (Lake Braddock) has become the regular right fielder and is hitting .269 with a .406 on-base percentage.
Meanwhile, Thomas’ former high school teammate, junior Wade Strain, is 1-0 with a 2.93 ERA in 15 innings as the team’s Friday starter - he’ll get the ball when William & Mary opens a home series with defending Big South champion Campbell tomorrow - and redshirt junior closer Chris Farrell (Flint Hill) has yet to allow a run. Two additional relievers, junior Jamie Sara (West Potomac) and sophomore Randy Prosperi (W.T. Woodson), have combined for seven appearances.
Senior outfielder Owen Socher (Madison), who slumped to .234 in 43 games last year after hitting .323 in 39 games in 2017, has seen limited playing time but remains an experienced option and will likely see more time once Cone is worked into the pitching rotation.
“We have found some ways to win,” Murphy said. “It’s been a good start, for sure.”
Photo of Zach Tsakounis courtesy of William & Mary Athletics