There have been a couple of changes for baseball teams in the Shenandoah District.
Stuarts Draft, a Group 3A team last year, joins Wilson Memorial and Buffalo Gap at 2A and Conference 36. Riverheads, a 2A school in 2015, moves down to Group 1A and will play in Conference 44.
Following a 13-11 record last season, Wilson Memorial returns seven players, including six seniors this season.
Rodney Cullen, entering his eighth season as the head coach for the Green Hornets, said there is a lot of competition at positions. Among the position battles is first base where four players are hoping to hold down the spot. Seniors Ryan Wakefield and Joseph Rodriguez, junior Ryan Pierce and sophomore Derrick Sutton are competing for first base.
Junior John Garvey is in a battle with a pair of freshmen — Luke Jordan and Bryce Norman — for second base.
The other infield positions seem to be settled. Ben Corbin will be the catcher, while Wayne Pettry is the shortstop. Gage Wood and Jordan will pay short when Pettry pitches. When not backing up Pettry, Wood will be at third with Sutton and Norman filling in there when needed.
All-conference center fielder Ty Kauffman is back to lead the outfield. Preston Elkins will be in left when not pitching. When he is on the mound, Pierce will man left. Ty Hevener, Kaeleb Folks and Tanner Diehl are battling for the right field spot.
Wilson’s pitching staff includes Elkins, last year’s number two; Pettry, Wakefield and Pierce. Rodriguez will be the Hornets closer.
Cullen said the goals this season are to improve every day and mesh the seniors and underclassmen so Wilson is ready by tournament time.
Buffalo Gap was 7-14 last year, but with six returning starters Bison coach Chris Thompson is hoping to see improvement this season.
Lucas Wheeler returns to center field after finishing on the first team all-Shenandoah District team last year. He hit .394 last season and led the Bison in home runs and stolen bases.
Senior Wyatt Lotts returns behind the plate. He’s been a starter since his freshman season. Junior Seneca Graham will back up Lotts at the plate.
Second base will be handled by junior Matt Plotner after starting every game for the Bison last season. Senior Troy Hodge is back at third and will also be the number one pitcher for Buffalo Gap after pitching 29 innings last season. Jacob Gordon will play third when Hodge is pitching. Gordon is also Gap’s third or fourth pitcher. Dylan Hupman will see some time at third also.
Zach Sprouse started toward the end of last season and will be Gap’s first baseman. Danny Martin may also play some first and he’ll battle Gordon for the third pitcher spot. Brandon Vorgert also got some starts the second half of last year and returns to play left field, although he’ll battle Ben Coffey for the spot.
Sophomore Dylan Rankin has been playing shortstop so far this season and has impressed Thompson. He is able to field the ball cleanly and does what his coach wants everyone on the team to do — make the routine plays. Hodge can play short if needed.
“That’s something we haven’t done in a couple of years,” said Thompson. “If you make the routine plays, the fabulous plays will happen. Let’s take care of the small stuff.”
In right will be Adam Gregory. The sophomore has grown four inches and has improved arm strength over last season.
Freshman Jacob Matheney has been strong on the mound so far in relief. Junior Day Dula returns to baseball for the first time since his eighth-grade year.
Paden Gee and Austin Spradlin will battle for the designated hitter position. Gee will also pitch some.
Last season was a rough one for Stuarts Draft, finishing 7-14 and losing in the first round of the conference tournament, but eight returners this year and a move to 2A and Conference 36 could mean a much more successful season for the Cougars.
Bryce Carter returns at first. Coach Josh Podgorski called him a solid first baseman who is improving at the position. C.J. Dameron, Chandler Templeton, and Anthony Durham are vying for playing time at first as well.
At second, Tyler Robinson returns as a starter, with Walker Aldhizer also seeing some action at that position.
“Tyler is a two-year starter and we expect leadership from him this season,” said Podgorski.
Dalton McGann returns at shortstop and junior Garrett Campbell takes over at third this season. Cooper Marion will push Campbell for playing time at third after moving from catcher.
At catcher, two year starter Austin Gutt returns.
“He has improved every season with his blocking and arm strength and does a fantastic job of taking charge of the pitchers,” said Podgorski.
In the outfield, Draft returns one starter from last season — Evan Burgener. Others competing for the two remaining spots are sophomores Aldhizer, Trevor Craig, and Nick Lasam; junior Cameron Campbell; and senior Triston Saunders.
On the mound, Dameron returns after taking a few years off from baseball.
“C.J. will give our rotation a very good bump as he competes for one of our top spots this year,” said Podgorski.
Robinson, Carter, McGann, and Garrett Campbell all logged innings last season and are expected to contribute this season. Craig will also compete for action on the mound this season.
“Our main goal is to work hard, stay focused, and improve,” said Podgorski. “The rest of the stuff will take care of itself.”
Riverheads is coming off a 16-6-1 mark and the Conference 36 championship last season. The Gladiators fell to George Mason 3-2 in the 2A East quarterfinals. After being a local power in 2A in recent years, it will be interesting to see what the Gladiators do in 1A this season.
Riverheads returns three seniors and two juniors who started last season
The team’s starting catcher will be Taz Miller. The three-year starter has a strong and accurate arm, according to his coach, Rodney Painter.
Chase Armstrong returns, but will move from outfield to first this season. Keegan Oliver, who has quick hands and a strong arm, will handle second base. Shortstop is a two-man battle between junior Ryan Fitzgerald and sophomore Andrew Golladay. Ridge Stokes will be at third for the Gladiators.
The outfield will see a mixture of the following players: Colt Miller, Tyler Smith, Bradley Roberts, Zach Gray and Jackson Shover,
Riverheads’ pitching staff will include Colt Miller, Fitzgerald, Austin Craft, Golladay, and Oliver
“Our goals stay the same every year,” said Painter. “We continue to have high expectations.”