By Tommy Keeler Jr.
WOODSTOCK -- Entering his second season as Woodstock River Bandits manager, Phil Betterly had a better idea of what to expect from the Valley Baseball League. He also knew how important it was to get a strong pitching staff.
That's why this season Betterly expects a stronger and deeper pitching staff.
"That's what I'm real excited about," Betterly said of his pitching staff. "We got some guys that really got some significant amount of innings. That's what, going into the recruiting process, I really wanted to focus on -- guys that had some experience at their colleges. I think it's going to translate this summer. I want guys who have been thrown in the fire a little bit."
Joe Bocchino (Ave Maria University) will take the mound first for the River Bandits as he gets the start when the season opens Friday at Winchester.
Bocchino helped lead Ave Maria University to the NAIA regionals, and is being looked at by some professional scouts according to Betterly.
"I'm very honored to be that first guy," Bocchino said of Friday's start. "I'm excited. It's nice to get right back into it. My arm's still feeling pretty fresh.
"I'm really excited about this season," Bocchino said. "We've got a lot of live arms. The bullpen is strong. The starters are strong."
Ricky Winters (Delta State University) pitched in the D-II national championship game last year.
The River Bandits should also have a strong offense. Justin Weaver (Christopher Newport University) was a third team D-III All-American, and Brian Mauro (DeSales University) was a first team D-III All-American. Mauro hit .490 this past season for DeSales University.
Steve Karkenny (The Masters College) had 11 home runs this season, and Betterly said he will be hitting somewhere in the middle of the lineup.
"We're going to have a pretty good offense," Betterly said. "We have guys that can hit for power, guys that can hit for average. We're going to have a little speed."
The River Bandits have four players back from previous seasons. Weaver, Chris Thorsen (Marist) and Nick Walker played last year. Kyle Kennett (Rider) played on the team in 2011.
Also back with the River Bandits is former manager Donn Foltz. The Central head baseball coach will be an assistant coach this season. He was the River Bandits' manager for seven years.
"I'm happy to have Donn [Foltz] back," Betterly said. "He was here when it first started. He knows what the town expects. He knows how things should be run. He has a wealth of baseball knowledge. I'm looking forward to picking his brain this summer and just talking baseball with him."
The River Bandits also have a player who is very familiar with Woodstock on the team. Campbell Henkel is the son of the head master of Massanutten Millitary Academy Merle Henkel. Campbell Henkel (VMI) said he has lived in Woodstock part-time for a number of years and is very happy to be playing for the River Bandits.
"The last three summers I've come to a lot of Woodstock games," Henkel said. "It's a lot of fun. It's a great league.
"It's very competitive I'm really honored to be able to play for the River Bandits this summer."
Betterly said one of the things he likes most about the players is how competitive they are, and he feels that will help them win a lot of games this season.
"My first impression is guys that want to come to work and get better and that's exciting to see," Betterly said. "It makes my life pretty easy as a manager. They want to come out and win. And hopefully we can win a championship."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org