Rebels’ resolve culminates in first Valley League title in 16 years
NEW MARKET – Throughout New Market’s surge during the season’s second half, manager Zac Cole repeatedly spoke of his team’s determination to win ballgames. That determination ultimately propelled the Rebels to the top of the Valley Baseball League.
New Market’s resolve was on display Tuesday night, as the Rebels rallied from a three-run deficit to complete the two-game sweep of defending champ Charlottesville in the VBL championship series with an 8-5 victory at Rebel Park. The win gave New Market its first Valley League title since 2002 and its fourth overall.
Tuesday night’s achievement carried a little more weight for some than it did for others.
Rebels third baseman Chase Sudduth, a senior at North Georgia College and State University, made an 11th-hour decision earlier this summer to return to New Market after helping the club make the playoffs for the first time in four seasons in 2017. While his teammates passed around the Jim Lineweaver Cup on the infield following Tuesday’s win, Sudduth weaved his way through the celebratory mass of players, coaches, fans and host families and shared hugs with several organization members, including team vice president Katie Getz.
“A lot of people, after their one summer, they’re ready to go. But for me, spending two (in New Market), I wouldn’t have it any other way,” said Sudduth, one of three second-year Rebels players alongside outfielder Austin Bogart and pitcher Nicholas Cottone, New Market’s Game 2 starter. “This town deserves it. I see the same fans every single night, the same fans talking to me around the community and stuff. I just think they all deserve it, so I think it’s been a blast.”
Right fielder Adan Fernandez (Florida International University), the hero of the night for the Rebels, delivered the biggest blast against the Tom Sox in the championship-clincher. Stepping to the plate with two outs, the bases loaded and his team trailing 5-4 in the bottom of the seventh inning, Fernandez unloaded on the first pitch he saw from Charlottesville right-hander Antonio Menendez and delivered the go-ahead grand slam.
“There’s no word to explain that feeling,” Fernandez said of the moment he saw the ball sail over the right-center field fence. “I was so happy for my team, especially all the things we’ve been through. Just helping my team out makes me happy.”
Fernandez’s heroics overshadowed a dominant relief effort from Rebels righty Peyton Millirons (Wallace Community College), who struck out eight of the first 10 batters he faced and allowed just one baserunner in 3 1/3 shutout innings. Millirons was pulled after dealing a one-out walk in the top of the ninth, and Trevin Eubanks (University of Southern Mississippi) sealed the win by inducing a pop out and striking out Tom Sox shortstop Zac Ching.
“He was electric. He was unbelievable,” Cole said of Millirons after the victory. “… I keep using this word: he was determined. He wanted to be out there. He wanted the baseball. He wanted to win, and it was unbelievable. Those kind of performances are what you need to win a championship game, and we got that out of him tonight.”
New Market’s Game 2 victory over Charlottesville capped an impressive run through the second half of the Valley League season. Tuesday’s win was the Rebels’ 13th in a row to end the season, and their offense averaged 9.8 runs per game in six playoff victories.
Not even a four-day layoff between games as New Market awaited its championship series opponent cooled off the Rebels, who took Game 1 from Charlottesville by a score of 16-4 on Monday night.
The Rebels have now won four Valley League titles (the others came in 1989, 1994 and 2002) in their last six trips to the championship series after coming up empty in 10 tries between 1933 and 1985. New Market last made an appearance in the championship series in 2005.
“It probably hasn’t even sunk in yet,” Cole said. “My preparation tonight was more making sure I thanked everybody I wanted to thank. I have to say that going into my third year, this organization has shown so much confidence in me, wanting me to be here and supporting me in my coaching career and kind of what we wanted to do here. And I couldn’t do it by myself. I mean it’s our staff. It’s our coaches. It’s our players. It’s the people that send the players here. All that stuff is why today was possible. It’s just one of those moments you never forget.”
Like Sudduth, who shares a special bond with his host family (Will and Keisha Gangwer and their three children), Cole said New Market’s latest Valley League title holds more significance with 2018 being his third season with the organization.
“Every year I tried to get better and try to find ways to improve what we were doing. And part of that is getting better players but the other part of that is us improving as a coaching staff in what we’re trying to do, and I feel like we’ve done that,” Cole said. “It’s just rewarding for everything we’ve done to pay off and finally break through and win one. That part of it, I’m just thankful for these guys. And this was an unbelievably special group of guys. They came together probably like no team I’ve coached before. They were great teammates, and they supported each other, and they believed in what we were doing, and they were dedicated. And biggest of all they were determined to win this thing, and that plays such a huge factor in summer baseball.”