By Jeff Nations
Now three years into coaching the Front Royal Post 53 baseball team, Danny Wood knows you win some, you lose some -- or, in this case, you gain some and you lose some.
Wood is without three players he was hoping to have back from last season's team as Post 53 prepares to open its season on Thursday with a 7 p.m. home game against Ashburn Post 2001 at Bing Crosby Stadium. Sherando's Taylor Loudan, Justin Angel and Jeb Brown all asked for their release so they could play for Winchester Post 21 this season.
"We lost three kids from Sherando that technically could have been on our roster," Wood said. "Because Sherando is having such a good year, I guess they wanted to keep playing with their teammates [on Post 21]."
Front Royal could have used them, but the team did pick up some solid reinforcements as it aims to improve on last year's 8-12 season. Randolph-Macon Academy right-hander Neil Dutton, Strasburg righty Tyler Hott and Clarke County's Patrick McGrath join a group of solid holdovers and a large cast of newcomers on this year's squad.
Dutton, who's planning to play collegiately at Shenandoah University next season, was named the Delaney Athletic Conference Player of the Year and led the Yellow Jackets to the DAC tournament championship. Dutton also batted .460 as a shortstop with a pair of home runs and 23 RBIs.
Hott was a workhorse pitcher on another strong Strasburg squad, and struck out 55 batters in 45 2/3 innings on the way to earning second-team All-Bull Run District honors. At the plate, Hott produced a .455 batting average and drove in 25 runs.
McGrath also saw regular time on the mound for Clarke County, and hurled a complete-game, two-hit shutout against Handley during the regular season. Another newcomer, home-school student Kevin McGuirk, also adds depth.
They'll help a returning group that includes Skyline's Chaz Rutherford, Hunter Stewart and Sterling Jennings, and Warren County's Tyler Post, Joey Catalani and Heath Almarode.
"We're returning six, which is not quite as many as I'd like to have, but it is what it is," Wood said.
Rutherford, a first-team All-Northwestern District selection, heads a strong contingent of Hawks. A shortstop and pitcher, Rutherford drove in five runs and fanned 42 batters in 49 innings. Sterling Jennings, a second-team all-district selection at designated hitter (.308, 12 RBIs) also has plenty of pitching experience but has been slowed by a shoulder ailment. Hawks outfielder Hunter Stewart, another second-team all-district pick, batted .302 for Skyline. Joining them from Skyline are catcher Hunter Partlowe, pitcher/infielder Michael Burrola, infielder Jacob Sims, pitcher/infielder Joe Pingley and infielder/catcher Robert Presley.
Warren County is also well-represented, with first-team All-Evergreen District selection Tyler Post among the six-player group. Post, who played shortstop, batted .326 and swiped nine bases for the Wildcats. On the mound, he fanned 25 batters in 18 1/3 innings. Second-team all-district picks Julian Bussels (outfield), Heath Almarode (catcher) and Austin King (designated hitter) add some thump to the lineup. All three batted better than .300 for the Wildcats.
Joining them from Warren County are Catalani, a solid left-handed pitching option, pitcher/infielder John Reith and infielder Connor McMackin.
"Pitching-wise I feel like we'll be OK," Wood said. "I haven't seen them really throw in a game situation, but if they throw strikes, I think we'll be OK in that department.
"Hitting-wise, I'm still wondering how we'll do. We've got some guys who can hit the ball, but I'm not sure yet how they'll do against some of the strong pitching we typically see in American Legion."
Wood also added some coaching help after losing top assistant Pat Lightle, who took over as head coach at NCAA Division III Messiah following last season. This year, Butch Rutherford, Gary Denick and Brad Curl will help coach the squad.
"We'd certainly appreciate all the local fan support we can muster," Wood said. "We're going to go out there and play some good baseball and represent the town the right way."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>