Despite recent weather, the irrepressible man-made sounds of spring are all over Hanover County. It’s baseball season. There is also plenty of optimism at all four high schools as opening day approaches.
Hanover High School (18-4 in 2012): Long-time head coach Charlie Dragum begins play with, arguably the best player tandem this side of the James River. Shortstop Andrew Knizner, who will play collegiately next year at perennial ACC powerhouse N.C. State, anchors the infield and the offense (.430 batting average in 2012, 5 HR). The pitching rotation is topped by junior ace Derek Casey, a commit to the University of Virginia. Casey was 5-0 last season, with 50 strikeouts and only four walks in 41 innings of work.
Joining Casey is fellow junior Trevor Denton, a VMI commit, who averaged a strikeout per inning of work last year. With four other junior pitchers listed on the varsity roster, contributions from all of them will allow Casey and Denton to work fresh come May and the postseason.
Catcher Keith Searles is ready to return to work with the hurlers, and to give the Hawks offense more pop, coming off a .328 batting average a year ago. Senior starters Jeffery Decker (1B) and Chris Gilliam (OF) also return, while junior Josh Shepherd will be counted on at the plate, but more importantly defensively in the infield.
Dragum pulls no punches when looking at his forecast for the Hawks’ season.
“We should be a very solid team with steady pitching and defense, returning our entire infield. The pitching staff should be deep. This team is looking to compete for a regional championship and move on to state play,” Dragum noted.
A quick exit in round one of last year’s Central Region Tournament to Matoaca in the quarterfinals should provide ample reminders of a taste of disappointment that Hanover wants no part of again.
Lee-Davis High School (14-7 In 2012): Though Hanover lost Capital District Player of the Year Chris Childress to graduation, it can be argued the team that suffered the single biggest loss to the cap and gown was the Confederates. Their ace, and the fulcrum of last year’s team, Michael Thomas, now plays at The Diamond for VCU, one of four Lee-Davis players now into their collegiate forays.
Make no mistake, though, there’s plenty of talent and firepower returning to the diamond so close to Lee-Davis Road motorists must spend springtime dodging foul balls.
Haiden Lamb returns to center field. Patrick Holler and Josh Lam are back for work both in the infield and on the mound. Other returnees include Sean King, Kevin France and Evan Hockensmith.
There’s an air of confidence surrounding the new blood arriving to the varsity roster, including catcher Adam Boyle, shortstop Brett Langhorne, and the fivesome of Justin Sorokowski, Andrew Sergant, Joey Pride, Cody Powers and Taylor Campbell, all of whom can deal from the mound as well as play other positions.
Kenny Lewis begins his 20th season at the helm in Mechanicsville, and sees the chances at Confederate success in 2013 as being twofold.
“We’ve got to get our new faces up to speed, and we must get quality innings out of our pitching staff,” Lewis said.
With a predominantly young team, this could be one of Lewis’ more challenging springs at Lee-Davis. But an optimist looks at the talent roster and knows if chemistry comes together, the enthusiasm of a young team can carry you farther than you think.
Atlee High School (14-9 in 2012): It’s not every team that can lose five starters among 11 graduating seniors and bounce back to be district title contenders the following season, but the Raiders are just that.
There will be talent returning all over the field combined with a healthy group of newcomers, which may actually position Atlee better for a regular season district crown in 2013.
An issue that Atlee, with all its talent, endured in 2012 was inconsistent performance, much from the mental aspect of the game. Little things like not resting on early leads, or the occasional clowning around in the dugout, belied some maturity issues that came back to hurt the team in a few games. Head coach Barry Burton recognizes those shortcomings and looks for them to disappear in 2013.
“Our focus this season is playing as a team, not being distracted,” Burton noted. “We must be fundamentally sound in all phases of the game.”
There is certainly the talent to accomplish that. Bridgewater College commit Kenner Berry will lead the outfield, as well as the Raider offense, joined in the grass by Steve Edmunds and Spencer Jefferson. Evan Swecker, a recent commit to Ferrum College, gets the nod at first base, with David Graubacs at second, Caleb Myers at third, and the dependable Dalton Ruch at short.
Coaching the pitchers behind the plate is Roy Coates, and he’ll look to returning ace Luke Bolka to lead the way. Bolka has committed to East Carolina University.
The looming question is who will join Bolka in rotation and pitch the quality innings necessary to keep Bolka in shape for the homestretch in May, and possibly beyond. The finishing touches are still being placed on that formula.
Newcomers to keep an eye on include Collin Bazemore, Michael Field, Cody Thompson, Jordan Harris, David Baughan, Will Pritchett and Ryan Hooper.
The Raiders, too, know the taste of bitter defeat just short of a state playoff berth, losing in last year’s Central Region Quarterfinal to Dinwiddie. The 2013 Raiders have the talent to go deeper into the post-season. They must build a mindset through the season to do just that.
All three above schools are expected to compete for the final Capital District title, with Glen Allen looming as a large threat to take the crown out of Hanover County.
Patrick Henry High School (10-11 In 2012): One look at the Patriots’ dugout and you find a familiar face, as former long-time head coach Sam Hart has returned to the diamond after serving three years as head varsity football coach. Hart inherits a team with five returning starters, a prospective dominant ace on the hill, and an infusion of talent from the JV level.
The battery is sound, as ace lefty Kyle Palmer (3-3, 1.29 ERA with 62 strikeouts) returns, as does catcher Joe Bugas, a .316 hitter last season who was called “one of the top catchers in the Central Region” by Hart. Palmer has committed to Radford University, and is ready to lead Patrick Henry to the next level in the Colonial District.
Last season, the Patriots started strong, struggled late, but was competitive against top Colonial teams like Deep Run and Mills Godwin. Hart and his staff will look for ways to duplicate the start and avoid the downslide.
That starts with who is behind Palmer in the pitching rotation. As that answer works itself out, everyone on the mound will count on the men behind them. Sophomore Chesdin Harrington moves into the shortstop position and could become a lynchpin for this team. Tyler Starling completes the double play combo at second base, while Brandon Lloyd will be called on to replace the graduated Cody Crawley, now a member of Randolph-Macon’s baseball team.
Nathan Steele will be counted on to anchor the defense in the outfield, joined by Andrew Strong. Both players are competing for pitching slots behind Palmer, who will play first when he’s not on the mound.
Hart knows clearly what it will take for the Patriots to fight for position with the big boys of the Colonial District.
“Our success will depend on how well this team builds off the solid foundation laid last season. The other factor will be how fast this offense comes along,” Hart noted.
The Patriots must find a couple of consistent hitting threats to protect Bugas’ at-bats, thus generating runs. This threat keeps them in games. That threat will loom larger every time the opposing team watches Kyle Palmer walk to the mound.
Upcoming Games: Patrick Henry begins their season with a Colonial District matchup at Thomas Jefferson Tuesday at 4:30. Atlee’s opening game is also on the road, a non-district event at Clover Hill at 5 p.m. Lee-Davis begins 2013 against Colonial District favorite Deep Run on Thursday, March 14 at 6 p.m., while, earlier that day at 4:30 p.m., Hanover has the toughest first-game challenge of anyone, traveling to Cosby to face the defending Central Region champions.