William and Mary's Ryan Lindemuth was a standout third baseman, an emerging team leader and one of the Colonial Athletic Association's best players after his first two years.
But when new head coach Jamie Pinzino approached him at the end of last season about switching to second base for his junior year, Lindemuth didn't hesitate.
One year later, Lindemuth is an all-conference second baseman, an improving defensive player, and one of the leaders of the Tribe's breakthrough NCAA tournament season.
"I don't think the transition was really that big a deal," Lindemuth said, as W&M prepared to compete in the Raleigh, N.C., regional this week. "Coach Pinzino talks about getting the best nine guys on the field, and me moving over gave us the best chance to win."
Lindemuth in the everyday lineup increases William and Mary's chances of winning. The 6-foot, 200-pound junior from Burke hit .363 in a team-high 237 at-bats. He led the Tribe in hits (86), total bases (114) and tied for the lead in runs batted in (47). He was second in runs (58) and slugging percentage (.481) and third in on-base percentage (.442).
"A lot of factors go into why he's successful," Pinzino said, "but first and foremost, he's the best practicer that we have on the team. We have a handful of guys that practice very well, and that's helped kind of transform the culture within the program, but 'Lindy's' right up there with the best. He shows up the same way every day. He competes at everything he does. He works to get better in every drill and everything we do. His practice habits set an example for everybody else."
Lindemuth was named second-team all-conference as the Tribe (37-22) tied the school record for overall wins and set the record for CAA wins (17), finishing second to UNC Wilmington. W&M earned its first NCAA at-large bid and first postseason bid since the 2001 team won the CAA tournament.
The Tribe is the No. 3 seed in the Raleigh regional and opens against Ole Miss (37-22) on Friday at 2 p.m. Host N.C. State (44-14) faces Binghamton (30-23) at 7 p.m. in the other game.
"I really think paying attention to detail was the biggest difference" between this season and last, Lindemuth said. "In the fall, everybody was on the same page and we emphasized doing little things the right way and tried to change the culture within the program."
The Tribe hadn't even qualified for the CAA tournament since 2008 — only the top six teams make the conference tournament — though not for lack of effort or production from Lindemuth. As a sophomore, he finished in the top 10 in batting average, slugging, on-base percentage, runs, hits, RBI and total bases as the Tribe won 31 games.
After the season, Pinzino talked to Lindemuth about moving to second base because it provided more lineup flexibility and a way to get more productive bats in the lineup.
"He said, whatever's best for the team," Pinzino said. "He's a super kid. He really does whatever the coaches ask. He's one of those guys you really enjoy coaching. Guys like him fire you up to come to the ballpark every day."
Lindemuth's stats are actually down slightly from last season, but by all accounts he's a better player.
"The team's done better," he said. "We have a lot of players on the team that contribute and that makes it a lot easier to just go out and play. There's not as much pressure on me and just a few of the guys to produce."
Pinzino countered that he thinks Lindemuth had more pressure on him this season, not necessarily to produce, but as a team leader after the Tribe graduated a handful of seniors in 2012.
"Even though he's only a junior," Pinzino said, "it was clear entering the fall that he was a guy that everybody looked up to."
Lindemuth is as disciplined off the field as he is at the plate, where he struck out only 17 times this season and nearly always makes contact. He is a kinesiology major, with a pre-med concentration. He plans to go to medical school and lists his dream job as team doctor for a professional sports franchise.
"I'm doing pretty well with my academics," he said. "It's one of those things where if I had a little more time, I know I could do a little better. But playing baseball has given me the chance to get an education, so I have to balance the two. All the guys on the team have the same kind of challenges."
Lindemuth was lightly recruited coming out of Lake Braddock High, though he was first-team all-state and All-Met in the Washington D.C. area, where he batted .544 as a senior. Only George Mason and William and Mary offered aid. He decided that W&M's combination of academics and athletics, as well as the chance to get away from home, provided the best opportunity.
He started 54 of 55 games as a freshman, when he hit .255. His batting average jumped more than 100 points as a sophomore, when he hit .376 and was named third-team All-CAA.
Lindemuth played some of his best ball last weekend at the CAA tournament, where in four games he hit .647, with 11 hits, 12 RBI, four doubles and two home runs.
"He carried us for part of the tournament," Pinzino said. "There were a lot of offensive numbers, but he was the one guy who really seemed locked in all weekend. It almost seemed like regardless of what he saw or who he faced, he had answers."
Lindemuth's best at-bat last week might have been in the bottom of the ninth of the Tribe's opening 20-19 win over JMU. W&M trailed 19-17 and he came up with the bases loaded and two outs. Against a 1-2 count, he fouled off a handful of pitches before singling through the left side to tie the score. Ryan Hissey drove in the game-winner in the next at-bat.
"When you get in those kind of streaks, you don't think a whole lot," Lindemuth said. "Everything's working for you and you just let the game come to you. Hopefully, I can keep it up a while longer."Copyright © 2015, CT Now