By Tommy Keeler Jr.
This is the 10th year for the Woodstock River Bandits, and this year's team has made sure the regular season was one to remember.
The River Bandits have clinched the North Division title, the first in the franchise's history.
"I'm really proud of all the guys," Woodstock manager Phil Betterly said. "They've played hard all year. To win a division title -- that's something that's never been done in this organization before. And hopefully we'll make a deep run in the playoffs and win the championship."
While many teams are having to battle hard day in and day out down the stretch to make the playoffs, the River Bandits are not one of those teams.
Betterly said he is going to rest some of his players, which should allow the River Bandits to be fresh as they enter the Valley Baseball League playoffs on Sunday.
"I feel like we're in a really good place," Betterly said earlier this week. "[Clinching early] gives us a chance to get our pitching lineup set, and to rest some guys and give them a breather."
The River Bandits (25-14) have solid pitching and hitting. The pitching staff is led by Richard Winters (Delta State) and Campbell Henkel (VMI).
Winters has a 0.51 ERA, has 35 strikeouts to only five walks and a 4-0 record. He also threw a no-hitter last week. Henkel is 5-0 with 49.0 innings pitched and a 2.20 ERA. Matt Hockenberry (Temple) has also been strong for the River Bandits. He has a 1.77 ERA and a 2-1 record with 45.2 innings pitched.
As a team, the River Bandits are fifth in the league with a 3.36 ERA.
Nick Walker (Mt. St. Mary's) leads the River Bandits at the plate with a .306 batting average. The River Bandits have plenty of balance offensively. They have nine guys with at least 10 RBIs. Drew Cole (North Carolina-Pembroke) has a team-best 21 RBIs, while Steve Karkenny (The Masters) leads the team with five home runs.
The River Bandits are also fifth as a team in batting average at .251. However, they are first in home runs (21) and fourth in RBIs (162).
The playoffs begin on Sunday. Woodstock will host the No. 4 seed from the North Division at 7:30 p.m.
The River Bandits started off strong this season, racing out to an 11-2 record. They took early command of the North Division and haven't looked back.
They did hit a bad patch where they lost six straight and seven of eight games. However, they are finding their groove again late in the season. Entering Tuesday's game, the River Bandits have won six of their last eight games.
Betterly said going through the tough stretch has helped the team bond.
"I think every team battles adversity at some point," Betterly said. "I think the adversity has brought us closer together. When you're struggling, you just have to keep playing. And fortunately we've been able to turn things around over the last 10 games."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org