Conference 29 baseball didn’t see much postseason success last year from local teams, but that could change this season with a plethora of returners across the area and a lot of experience on deck.
From the super junior class of Fort Defiance to the hard-hitting Stuarts Draft teams, Conference 29 features three squads, including Waynesboro, capable of surprising once the playoffs roll around.
The Indians’ junior class is one that has had their coaching staff excited for quite some time. And it may finally be paying dividends this season.
After a 10-10 record last year, the Indians, who feature 11 juniors on their roster, have just one-loss in 2015 and look like the team to beat in local baseball.
“They are a fairly quiet bunch who work hard,” Fort head coach Vic Spotts said. “They have ability and appear to be motivated. It’s a very fun group to be around.”
Returning at catcher is Haden Bragg, while Seth Carper and Tyler Allen will hold down second base and Forrest Ritchie at first.
At shortstop is Bryce Wood, while Jared Collins and Corey Colvin will each see time at third.
The outfield consists of Blaine Roberts, Bryce Miller and Brandon Roadcap.
The pitching staff features mostly Roadcap, Carper, Wood, Collins and Colvin.
“I expect all of my players, at least the ones who start or play, to help us be successful,” Spotts said.
The head coach says he sees Turner Ashby and Western Albemarle as the favorites in Conference 29, but has plenty of confidence in his young group.
“(Our goals are) to have a winning season,” Spotts said, “do well in conference tournament and to qualify for the regional tournament.”
With high expectations and plenty of energy around the program, the future is bright for Spotts and the Indians.
The Cougars are coming off a 6-14 record last season, but have already proven early this year that they are capable of hitting the ball well.
“At this time we are still trying to put together a lineup,” Draft head coach Josh Podgorski said. “With the weather, we have been doing a lot of inside work, and on a few occasions, we have been able to go outside and try to evaluate each player the best we can.”
At first base, two-year starter and reliable defender Zach Cook returns and will be backed up by junior Chandler Templeton and sophomore Evan Burgener.
Junior Tyler Robinson returns at second.
“Tyler is a student of the game and has improved upon the mental aspect of baseball,” Podgorski said.
At shortstop is sophomore Dalton McGann, whom Podgorski says is a reliable defender who has improved tremendously.
At third is senior Matthew Shover, who led the team in hitting last season.
Austin Gutt returns at catcher and will share time with junior Cooper Marion.
In the outfield, Garrett Campbell, Blake Burgener, Dylan Comer, and juniors Colton Stiltner and Marston Jones are all competing for time.
The pitching staff will consist of Shover, Cook and Burgener, while Robinson, Bryce Carter and McGann will provide depth.
“We expect all of our players to contribute this season and to perform to their roles to help us be successful,” Podgorski said.
The head coach sees Western Albemarle, Monticello and Turner Ashby as the favorites in Conference 29, but believes his team will be competitive.
“Our schedule is very tough and the Shenandoah District continues to put out quality, well-coached teams,” Podgorski said. “Our expectation is to compete and put ourselves in position to win games.”
The Little Giants are coming off a strong year in which they went 11-5.
The team features only two seniors on their roster, so while they are relatively young, they do have some experience.
Senior Jordan Marion returns at the catcher position and is expected to be a team leader.
In the infield, junior Chris Baker is back at third, while Wally Harris will be at second.
Baker “has a lot of power and consistence” according to coach Webber Payne, while Harris is a “guy you can count on.”
Payne says Caleb Brown will play first base for his team, while Wesley Reed, Garrett Broughman or Liam Kehoe will all rotate at the shortstop position.
In the outfield, juniors Cody Dawson and David Reed along with Kehoe or Nick Broughman will see time.
The team is expected to rely on a host of pitchers in Kehoe, Garrett Broughman, Reed, Brandon James, Baker, and Dylan Almarode.
The head coach says his team hasn’t had much time to get ready for the season so they are still working on figuring things out early in the season.
“With bad weather and no scrimmages, we are still trying to piece together where we are this early in the year,” Payne said.
Despite still figuring out their identity, Payne says he believes his team has a chance to be pretty special.
“Our goal is to be competitive each and every game,” he said. “To improve as the season progresses and make it to the regionals.”
With a youthful group that seems dedicated to the game, Payne has nothing but excitement for the future.
“There is a good group of young men coming through the system now,” he said, “and should improve and strengthen the program over the next couple years.”