Seniors serve as ‘cornerstones’ in Stonewall’s historic run

Stonewall Jackson senior Duncan Schroeder (5) takes a bat from teammate Cole Holsinger prior to the Generals' final at-bat of the VHSL Group 1A baseball state championship game against Auburn on Saturday at Radford University. Brad Fauber/Daily

RADFORD – Back in 2014, as Stonewall Jackson High School’s baseball team saw its season end in the Conference 35 tournament semifinals against Strasburg, head coach Mike Lenox was wrapping up what would be his final postgame interview of the season by mentioning the young talent he had on the roster.

He concluded by saying, “I’m looking forward to building on it.”

That “young talent” at the time included a trio of freshman starters – Cole Holsinger, Brett Jones and Dylan Vann. Flash forward three years and that group, alongside fellow seniors Wyatt Estep and Duncan Schroeder, provided the core for what will go down as Stonewall’s most accomplished team in the program’s history.

“Cole Holsinger’s name is gonna be remembered for a long time here,” Lenox said after the Generals fell to Auburn, 6-0, in the Virginia High School League Group 1A state championship game on Saturday at Radford University. “… The way Dylan Vann plays second base, that’s what I’m gonna refer to. When I talk about past games, I’m talking about Dylan Vann, Brett Jones, Duncan and all those guys. They’re cornerstones in this program that hasn’t really had a cornerstone since the early 90s. That’s meant a lot.”

None of Stonewall’s five seniors was satisfied with Saturday’s outcome in the moments that followed. It wasn’t enough that the Generals had defied expectations, took a losing record into the playoffs and pushed their 2017 season to the pinnacle of high school sports. In time, though, it likely will be.

Stonewall Jackson senior second baseman Dylan Vann awaits a pitch from Auburn starting pitcher Dylan Akers during the bottom of the first inning of the VHSL Group 1A baseball state championship game on Saturday at Radford University. Brad Fauber/Daily

Considering what those seniors endured for most of their careers, the 2017 season was nothing if not magical.

Stonewall’s 2014 season ended with eight wins, a number that before this season represented above-average success for a program not known for achieving much on the diamond in recent history. In 2015, the Generals mustered just three wins. Last year, Stonewall was 6-15 and was knocked out of the Conference 44 tournament semifinals by Riverheads.

Behind those five seniors, 2017 was different. The Generals reached their first regional tournament since 1995 earlier this postseason, and this past weekend’s trip to the state tournament was the first in program history.

“When we got into Stonewall, it was like there was no tradition. We were just used to losing,” said Schroeder, who missed most of the playoffs with a shoulder injury but returned as the Generals’ designated hitter for their final two games. “… Ever since we’ve really gotten here we’ve kind of changed the memo.

“We always knew that we have the talent to do this and I think we’ve changed the culture here, which is a good thing. The culture when we got there was just used to losing, go out and get slaughter-ruled and that was it. But now we expect to win.”

Each of Stonewall’s seniors admitted that they never would’ve predicted a trip to Radford would mark the end of their high school careers, at the start of the 2017 season or at any other point during the last four years. But they knew the potential for success was there.

“I knew when we came up as freshmen that we had a solid core of young talent,” Jones said. “It took a couple years to develop that talent but once we did get it developed we started to see success. We just came to practice, worked hard every day and trusted in what Coach told us. We had some success this year and I’m proud of what we’ve done.”

That success, if you ask the Generals, was centered on camaraderie, a trait of this year’s team that only grew stronger as Stonewall traveled to every corner of the state during their postseason push over the last two weeks. And that camaraderie began with the seniors.

“I’ve known those guys my whole life,” Jones said. “We grew up playing Little League together and we’ve just been inseparable, so coming to a state tournament with them and doing as well as we did, it’s something I’ll never forget.

“I don’t really have words for it. These past two weeks have been the most fun of my life. Just traveling the state and playing baseball with my friends, it’s not something that everyone gets to do and I’m so blessed to have been able to do this with my guys.”

Though the sting of Saturday’s loss was clearly present, the Generals’ five seniors – who got to graduate on the field at Calfee Park in Pulaski following their state semifinal win on Friday – went out enjoying the ride to the very end.

“I’m already missing it as it is,” Estep said.

“Like Lenox always told us, just having fun no matter what. We still did that, I believe. It’s just the state championship is a big game and losing’s gonna be rough, especially for us seniors, being our last baseball game. But definitely a fun ride and I learned that no matter what, if it’s not going your way, sports is always fun.”