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The Radford University baseball team, barring some sort of cataclysmic disaster, is on pace to have the best year in program history. The Highlanders, who sit at 10-5 in the Big South conference with a 24-15 record overall, are on a six-game conference winning streak and have won eight out of their last 10 overall.
Junior closer Abram Williams has been a big part of that effort throughout the first half of the season, as he’s already broken the program’s single-season record for most saves in a season with a month still left to go. Williams is also closing in on the all-time saves record, currently held by former RU closer Brett Lieberman.
Williams’ bid to become the best closer in RU history has taken a long and bumpy road. For one, this is the first year in quite a while that the Highs have been competitive in the Big South; Head Coach Joe Raccuia has since breathed new life into a program that had finished below the .500 mark seven consecutive years before he came into the job. Needless to say, save situations for Williams were few and far between before the Highs caught fire last year and have built on that success this year; the team owns a .563 win percentage in that time.
“The most exciting thing is that we still have a lot more games left,” Williams said. “We’re on pace to break the school record, and do a whole lot more than what we’ve done in the past. This year, we’re beating good teams and we’re beating them on a regular basis.”
Williams has a valid point; the Highs beat Auburn University and East Tennessee State University earlier this year, and both teams were nationally ranked when RU beat them. The team is experiencing a phenomenon that has been missing in recent years; they’re not just beating good teams, they’re beating great ones.
“No one on this team is planning on ending the season in the middle of May,” Williams said. “We want to still be playing baseball on into June. That’s our goal, the NCAA tournament and Super Regionals.”
In spite of the records that he’s setting, Williams was sure to emphasize the importance of finishing strong and keeping the focus on the team.
When he set the record for most saves in a season with two in the same day on a doubleheader day against Winthrop University, Williams said that “Honestly, I’m not even worried about records. I’m just happy that we’re winning and hopefully we’ll continue doing what we need to do. I just hope we can build on all of this.”
Williams, who was raised in Radford and attended Radford High School, was redshirted in his freshman year after an elbow injury in 2008 sidelined him for the rest of the season. It was later revealed that the up-and-coming pitcher’s arm would require Tommy John surgery, a procedure that has a notoriously bleak recovery outlook. Many professionals who undergo Tommy John are never the same afterward, and too many collegiate and high school pitchers never throw another inning of competitive baseball as a result of throwing out their arm.
“After I had my surgery, I basically said to myself ‘I am going to do whatever it takes to get back,’” Williams said. “When it happened, I really didn’t think I was going to be able to come back as good or better than what I had been.”
Williams did recover, though. Ten months later he was back on the mound, throwing harder and faster than ever. The 2009 season saw Williams throw 12 consecutive scoreless innings, including an eight-inning shutout against UNC Asheville. Williams was back, and he wasn’t going away.
Since his return from his injury, Williams has moved into more of a relief role, taking the mound only after starters like senior Bobby Bolling, junior Mark Peterson and sophomore Eddie Butler have been knocked out of the game. It’s then up to Williams to take the mound, and mow down the competition.
“I’m glad I decided to come back, definitely,” Williams said. “Playing for coach [Raccuia] has been a great experience. He came in the same year that I came in, and I’m glad I can be a part of his vision for the team. Hopefully we can just keep on winning games, and break the school record because there’s still so much more to be done.”