Head baseball coach Marlin Ikenberry, the winningest coach in VMI history, completed a decade at the Institute with the conclusion of the 2013 season.
It was a historic season, as outfielder Rob Dickinson chased .400 throughout the spring before coming up just one hit shy and going on to become VMI's first conference player of the year in baseball. Ikenberry protege Matt Winn also had a banner year, becoming one of the top defensive catchers in the region, earning Second Team All-Big South honors and becoming Dickinson's protection in the lineup for the final two months of the season. The Keydets also took 2 of 3 from VCU, and dating back to 2012, had taken 3 of 4 from the Rams at one point - That nearly matched the total number of VMI wins over VCU in series history entering that stretch, a series dating back to the mid-70's.
In 2012, the highlights of the year included a season-ending win over VCU at the Diamond, as well as outfielder Jacob Morley earning Second Team All-Big South laurels and Coby Cowgill and Adam Lopez being selected in June's MLB draft. That was the seventh straight year the Keydets had at least one player chosen in the draft.
In 2011, Ikenberry won his 200th career game on March 5 against Bucknell, and closed the season with 221 career victories. That total is the fifth-most in Big South history, and makes him the winningest coach not only in VMI baseball annals, but in the history of the Institute. VMI would go on to post a winning season for the fifth time in seven years, expanding the best run in program history. Two of those wins broke long skids, as VMI defeated William & Mary in Williamsburg for the first time since 1996, and also beat James Madison in Harrisonburg for the first time since the 1976 campaign.The Keydets also hosted the first postseason baseball games in Institute history, welcoming the 2011 Big South Baseball Championship to Gray-Minor Stadium. Finally, the team beat a ranked opponent (JMU) for the sixth time in the last eight seasons, and won the Big South Sportsmanship Award for the sixth straight year.
The historic season saw Sam Roberts be named a semifinalist for the Brooks Wallace Award, given to the nation's top shortstop, as he completed a year that saw him finish in VMI's career top-10 in 12 different categories. That included finishing first in hits, walks and runs scored, and his strong 2011 campaign saw Roberts be one of two Keydets named First Team All-Big South, joining catcher Alex Haitsuka. That marked the first time since 2005 that VMI had posted multiple players on the Big South's First Team. Roberts went on to be taken in the 26th round of the MLB draft by Oakland.
Outfielder Graham Sullivan, meanwhile, led the team in hitting and cracked the program's top-10 list in hits, batting average and total bases en route to Second Team All-Conference laurels. As a whole, the squad posted its fifth-best batting average ever and had the sixth-most hits in program history. On the mound, the team posted its fourth-lowest ERA in the aluminum bat era (4.61), as well as the fourth-most strikeouts (377), second-most saves (15) and tied for the second-most shutouts in school history (4).
Ikenberry became the Institute's head baseball coach on July 22, 2003, after former head coach (and current Yankee hitting coordinator) Tom Slater '90 departed VMI to accept a coaching position at the University of Florida. Ikenberry, who had been Slater's recruiting coordinator and top assistant for three years prior to the promotion, saw immediate strong results. After winning 23 games in his first year and 27 contests in his second season, historic ground was broken in 2006, when the Keydets won 30 games for the first time in program history, while also marking the first time in 41 years that the program posted a winning record. That success continued in 2007, as Ikenberry guided his squad to a 34-21 record, knocking off a pair teams ranked in the top 10 nationally for the first time in program history. As a result, VMI Baseball earned its first-ever national ranking, being tabbed 30th in the country by Collegiate Baseball in back-to-back weeks while also receiving votes in the Writers' Poll.
2008 saw another near-30 win season, as VMI won 29 games and saw pitchers Michael Bowman and Trey Barham selected in the MLB draft. 2009, despite being a down year overall, did bring about VMI's first win in the Big South Championship, as #8 VMI defeated #5 Gardner-Webb in one of the tournament's play-in games. Left-handed pitcher Travis Smink was drafted by the Houston Astros at the conclusion of that season, while 2010 saw perhaps VMI's most notable regular season athletic win, a 12-3 win over then-#1 Virginia at Gray-Minor Stadium on April 14. It was the first Keydet win over a top-ranked opponent in Institute history. That year's team also set nine new school records, doing so for batting average (.325), slugging percentage (.529), hits (629), runs (414), doubles (133), home runs (78), RBIs (390), at bats (1933) and total bases (1022). On the mound, the staff's 441 strikeouts were tied for the most in school history, while the team's 8.26 strikeouts per nine innings rate is the third-best.
During his time at VMI, Ikenberry has been responsible for the signing of three Louisville Slugger Freshman All-Americans, a Southern Conference Freshman of the Year, five Big South First-Team All-Conference selections, the 2010 Big South Freshman of the Year and a 2003 All-SoCon Tournament player. He also accepted Dickinson initially as a walk-on from his alma mater, Douglas Freeman High School in Richmond. The team has also posted 17 all-conference selections.
Ikenberry, 40, served as VMI's recruiting coordinator and pitching and catching coach in 2003 and was vital in the staff's remarkable improvement that season. Working closely with the Keydet pitchers and catchers, Ikenberry helped guide the pitching staff to an improvement of nearly two runs in team earned run average from the previous season.
A 1995 graduate of VMI, Ikenberry played for the Keydets and was recruited by VMI Hall of Famer Chris Finwood '88, now head coach at Old Dominion. Ikenberry returned to his alma mater in the summer of 2000 after spending three years at the College of William and Mary as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator. While in Williamsburg, Ikenberry recruited two high school All-Americans and freshman All-Americans. In 2000, the Tribe of William and Mary finished with a school record 32 wins and placed third in the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament, followed by a CAA title and NCAA Regional berth the following year. During his time in Williamsburg, Ikenberry coached Major Leaguer Brendan Harris and recruited Major Leaguer Chris Ray. During his coaching career, Ikenberry has helped guide 30 players onto professional careers in baseball. In recent years, Ikenberry was instrumental in the development of pitchers Barham, Bowman, Smink, Cowgill, Lopez, Corey Bachman, Duke Acors, Jeremy Harper, Phil Hendrix and J.J. Hollenbeck as well as catchers Andy Barden and Mike Roberts and infielders Matt Smith, Chad Rice, Kelly Sweppenhiser, Tanner Biagini, Jordan Ballard and most recently, Sam Roberts.
As a cadet, Ikenberry was a four-year starting catcher for the Keydets. While playing, he developed a reputation for his excellent defensive skills and his handling of the pitching staff. He also caught for former VMI and major league pitcher Ryan Glynn. He played on VMI's 1993 squad that advanced to the Southern Conference Championship game and ranked third in the nation in defense. In 1994, he helped the Keydets in setting a then school record for wins along with a third place finish in the Southern Conference Tournament.
While playing, he developed a reputation for his excellent defensive skills and his handling of the pitching staff. He also caught for former VMI and major league pitcher Ryan Glynn. He played on VMI's 1993 squad that advanced to the Southern Conference Championship game and ranked third in the nation in defense. In 1994, he helped the Keydets in setting a then school record for wins along with a third place finish in the Southern Conference Tournament.
A native of Richmond, Va., Ikenberry has two brothers who both attended VMI. Twin brother Merlin Ikenberry was a teammate as a pitcher and designated hitter while his oldest brother Steve Ikenberry is an alum of the class of 1980. He married the former Shannon Marshall in August 2000, and their son, Owen, was born in November 2010.
What They're Saying About Marlin Ikenberry:
"Playing for Coach Ike was a tremendous and unforgettable experience. Under his direction, I not only matured as a cadet and baseball player, but also as a leader and a man. If I was able to do it all over again, I would choose my unique VMI experience every time, due to Coach Ikenberry." - J.J. Hollenbeck
"Coach Ike developed the committed, disciplined, and competitive person I am today. Learning how to play the game of baseball the right way with an optimistic attitude and a competitive drive everyday made me a better ball player, but most of all, a more well-rounded individual." - Travis Smink
"Coach Ikenberry has done a wonderful job at VMI, because he has the energy and passion needed to be successful at this level. He is one of the best recruiters in the state, and he is a coach that a parent can trust." - Sam Roberts
"Coach Ikenberry is one of the best, most enthusiastic coaches I've ever played for. He knows the game of baseball and knows what it takes to win at a high level. More importantly though, he's also one of the best people I've ever met." - Mike Roberts