A more confident pitcher: Somers has emerged as Stonewall’s ace this season

Stonewall Jackson senior Tyler Somers has taken over as the team's No. 1 pitching option and leads the Generals in ERA and strikeouts this season. Brad Fauber/Daily

NEW MARKET – Stonewall Jackson catcher David Moomaw can see it from his front-row seat behind home plate; senior right-hander Tyler Somers is a mentally stronger pitcher than he was a season ago.

It’s a shift that’s come partly due to the confidence Somers gained during the Generals’ run to the VHSL Group 1A state championship game in 2017, a historic march during which Somers played a prominent role on the mound and at the plate.

Somers also wanted to make sure he won the mental battle in 2018, focusing his effort on staying positive, keeping things in perspective and preventing  mistakes from piling onto each other whenever he was called to take the mound in his final high school season.

So far, Moomaw said, following a win over Luray last Friday, Somers has indeed looked like a different pitcher.

“Last year when Tyler was playing and when his mind got to him, he kind of struggled a little bit,” Moomaw said. “This season when something goes wrong, Tyler really bears down and comes back ready to fight. He throws harder and he’s more accurate when things aren’t going right.”

Somers has emerged as Stonewall’s ace as a result, and the fact that he’s considered as such came as a bit of a surprise to the right-hander.

Somers, also the Generals’ third baseman, made the occasional start on the mound last season but often was the third option behind Cole Holsinger (who has since graduated) and classmate Nick Dotson, though Somers was called upon to start the Region 1B championship game – he took a hard-luck 2-0 loss to Windsor while Stonewall was held to one hit – and he tossed five innings of relief in the Generals’ 6-0 loss to Auburn in the state title game.

For first-year head coach Jeremy Knight, however, it was expected that Somers would slot into the top of Stonewall’s pitching staff, and Somers has looked the part of the Generals’ No. 1 through the first half of the 2018 season.

Though he’s coming off one of his worst starts of the season in Monday’s 6-2 loss to Shenandoah District frontrunner Page County – a game in which he allowed six runs (four earned) on 10 hits while striking out eight over six innings – Somers’ season-long stats are still remarkable.

In six starts spanning 31 2/3 innings, Somers has a 2.43 ERA, a 1.07 WHIP (walks and hits per inning) and 43 strikeouts, and he’s the team leader in each category. He entered Monday’s game with a WHIP of less than 1.00 and has only allowed three walks.

“(I’m) going up there not trying to blow it by (hitters),” Somers said of his success, which he credited to the mental growth he’s made on the mound, “but give them my best stuff and see what they can do with it, and let the guys behind me make plays.”

Stonewall’s defense struggled to support Somers early in the season – the Generals committed 23 errors in their first four games – but things came together for the senior at Stuarts Draft on April 3. Somers limited the Cougars to one hit in Stonewall’s 3-1 win, and Dotson called the performance one of the best games he’s ever seen a teammate throw.

It was the first victory of the season for the Generals and Somers’ first varsity win as a pitcher.

“That was real big,” Somers said. “That was a big district win. That was our first district win this year. Especially after a few sloppy games, that really helped us get the focus back turned around.

“It was nice knowing your stuff works,” he added of the 11-strikeout performance. “They’re probably one of the better teams we usually play against, so being able to work there and be effective, it gives you a lot of confidence for the rest of the season.”

Somers’ strikeout rate has increased from 0.9 per inning in 2017 to 1.4 per inning this spring. He said he’s added nearly five miles per hour to his fastball after getting into the weight room more often and keeping himself in better shape.

“He’s in the low 80s at times,” Knight said, “and the one thing that me and (Stonewall assistant coach Brian) Murphy talk about all the time, the later he goes, the harder he gets. He’s one of those guys where the fourth or fifth inning, he’s shoving. It’s up there 82, 83, and then his out pitch is that curveball. It’s a little bit more of a slider than a curveball but it’s got a ton of break. When he’s on and when he’s fooling batters, it’s tough.”

Moomaw added that Somers has learned how to throw his curveball with more effectiveness.

“He’s using that in the ways he needs to,” Moomaw said. “He’s being smart with his off-speed. He knows when he has to throw it across the plate versus when he’s gotta get people chasing. And that was the thing, I don’t know if it was mental last year, like if he didn’t know, or if he was just physically missing (his spots), but last year that was a little bit of a struggle. But now he’s finding it. He knows what he needs to do and he puts it there.”

Somers is thriving at the plate as well. The left-handed-hitting senior leads the team in batting average (.333, 13-for-39), slugging percentage (.487) and doubles (four), and ranks second in RBIs (eight).

Knight called Somers the Generals’ “do-it-all” player.

“Tyler’s a good leader,” said Knight, who previously served as Stonewall’s junior varsity coach. “He’s not always a vocal one. He can get quiet from time to time, but I think last year he kind of just fell into his role behind Cole and (then-senior Dylan) Vann. … Those two guys were kind of the vocal leaders and he just handled his own business last year. This year he knew coming in that it was him and Dotson’s ball team. Those are our go-to guys right now.

“He’s been lights out,” Knight added. “I think it is confidence and I think he just knows this is his team, his year.”

Whether Stonewall can put together another lengthy playoff run in 2018 is yet to be determined. The Generals are just 4-9 overall, but they proved last season that regular-season records might not mean much once the postseason begins, as they were a game below .500 before starting their playoff run to the program’s first state championship game appearance.

“I’d like to get back to states this year, there’s no doubt about that,” Somers said. “Even if not, just knowing that we give 110 percent every time we step on the field is good enough for me.”