Male Athlete of the Week: France a key component of Wildcats’ pitching staff

Josh France

FRONT ROYAL – Warren County High School senior Josh France was a relatively unknown commodity for the Wildcats’ baseball team heading into the 2016 season.

Though a pitcher since Little League, France didn’t contribute much to Warren County’s pitching staff in his first varsity season last spring. His services weren’t needed on a team already full of talented arms. But graduation left some holes to be filled for the Wildcats heading into 2016, and as first-year head coach Michael Minch and assistant coach John Nicholson observed France during offseason workouts, the two came to a conclusion – the right-hander had a chance to do some special things on the mound in his final season at Warren County.

“We had to throw him in there and see if he can do it,” Minch said before practice Wednesday. “Definitely hasn’t disappointed.”

In France’s latest start last Friday, the right-hander controlled the game on the mound against Central in a Bull Run District matchup. France, The Northern Virginia Daily’s Male Athlete of the Week for April 11-17, tossed his first complete game at the varsity level while limiting the Falcons to just two hits in a 7-0 win.

France, who said Wednesday that his arm “just felt stronger that day,” realized early on in the start that the Falcons were susceptible to chasing the high fastball.

“That gets you going, makes you more aggressive,” France said. “You just start rolling.”

The senior, who also dealt one walk and hit a batter, racked up nine strikeouts over seven innings, six of which ended with a high fastball. Five different times the Falcons chased a fastball up and out of the zone for strike three, usually as the pitch rode up and in on the batters’ hands to right-handed hitters.

But while that pitch in that location was France’s go-to last Friday, he said it’s not his typical out pitch.

“My two-seam fastball on the outside, that’s great. That’s probably my best pitch,” France said. “Most of my strikeouts come from that, get a lot of rollover grounders and stuff like that.”

Last Friday’s start wasn’t the only gem France has thrown for the Wildcats this season. In Warren County’s second game of the season against Handley on March 29 – France’s first career varsity start – he threw a five-inning no-hitter as the Wildcats rolled to a 14-0 win.

“That was a big confidence booster,” France said. “Just going out and seeing myself do it, that was very helpful.”

Heading into Thursday’s Conference 28 matchup with cross-town rival Skyline, France was 2-1 with a 2.19 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 16 innings pitched. He’s allowed just six hits in three starts as opposing teams are batting a meager .107 against him.

“He definitely deserved everything that he’s gotten from Handley and Central, and really like he talked about the mentality of just attacking hitters, going after them, stepping on the mound and really just getting ahead, strike one, strike two,” Minch said. “Trusting your pitches, trusting what coaches are calling and Josh is doing a very good job of that right now.”

France’s senior season hasn’t gone entirely smooth, however. In his second start, he drew the tough assignment of trying to limit perennial Bull Run District/Conference 28 contender William Monroe and was tagged for five earned runs – the only ones he’s allowed this season – in an eventual 12-1 loss.

But France, who admitted he wasn’t as strong as he should’ve been with runners on base and was burned by a pair of walks and two-hit batters who all came around to score, said he’s better off after having that experience early in the season.

Warren County has eight regular-season games remaining – all against Bull Run District competition – and Minch knows France, as he already has, will be a key contributor down the stretch for the Wildcats and into the future as a role model for some of the team’s younger pitchers.

“I think it’s huge, especially for some younger guys that we expect to hand the ball to,” Minch said of France’s effectiveness in his first season of action. “They see it can be done, so hopefully he’s setting a good stepping stone there for those younger guys and they’re able to see you can come in and if you trust your stuff and work hard, good things are gonna happen.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com