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Posted June 5, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Opening night for Valley League: Cardinals optimistic

By Tommy Keeler Jr. and Jeremy Stafford -- sports@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- For first-year Valley League head coach Joe Scarano, this season could be the one in which the Front Royal Cardinals change their losing ways.

With the signing of local products Jesse Henry and Greg Van Sickler, both fresh off a three-game stint in the D-3 College World Series with the Shenandoah Hornets, Scarano's predictions may prove accurate.

"There's no doubt that players from winning programs help create a winning environment, that's for sure," Scarano said of Henry and Van Sickler. "Those guys come from a winning program, so they will help contribute to a winning culture."

In the short time that Scarano has seen Henry and Van Sickler, he's already noticed the potential for their winning ways to rub off on a team that went 12-31 last year.

"With Jesse and Greg, they're hard workers, they really know the game -- it's obvious that [Shenandoah coach Kevin] Anderson teaches the game and they respect the game," Scarano said. "They're unselfish players, they care more about the team than they care about themselves, it's very obvious."

Scarano said that Front Royal president Donna Settle recommended that Van Sickler, a D-3 All-America selection, fill one of the Cardinals' final roster openings.

Henry and pitcher Dan Rossignol are the team's lone returning players.

Scarano began his head coaching career at Fordham College, where he spent three seasons before becoming an assistant coach for the Niagara Power in the New York Collegiate Baseball League, a league that Scarano said resembles the Valley League.

Now Scarano is an assistant at the University of Tennessee-Martin, and he's brought fellow Skyhawk assistants Jake Weghorst and Travis Webb with him to Front Royal.

To begin the season, Henry will play first base and bat second in the lineup, while Van Sickler will DH as the Cardinals' sixth batter.

But Scarano was sure to point out that the two Shenandoah standouts won't be the only players who had successful collegiate seasons.

Jordan Westra and Peter Goudeau (Sam Houston State) are coming off of a stint in the D-1 Regional tournament, as is pitcher Ross Speed (Baylor).

"I guarantee that we will make positive strides, I guarantee that we will have success," Scarano said. "I can't guarantee that we're gonna win a championship, but I can guarantee that this group will work hard, and I can guarantee that they will play hard."

New Market

Coach: Lucas Jones (first season)

Last year's record: 16-28

Division: Central

Returning players: Steve Owens (Richmond)

Outlook: Lucas Jones, in his first year as a head coach in the Valley League, is quite familiar with the league's competitive nature, having played and coached as an assistant for the Winchester Royals.

"I think that's part of the reason I was interested in the job in the first place, is because I know the league and I'm comfortable with it," Jones said. "I kinda understand what the talent level is and know some of the guys who have had success in the past, both when I was playing and coaching.

"It's given me a resource to use and those two years have definitely helped me put this team together too."

Jones cited left-handed hitter Sanchez Gartman (USC Sumter) as someone who's been swinging the bat well in the past week, and that Seth Kivett and Jordan Pegram (UNC Pembroke) have shown an uncanny ability to play at a variety of positions on the field.

Winchester

Coach: John Lowery Jr. (third season)

Last year's record: 23-19

Division: North

Returning players: Aaron Dudley (Toledo), Jordan Ballard (VMI), Matt Gerbe (Michigan)

Outlook: Lowery said the Royals could have a strong pitching staff. They have 22 players in already with several more on the way, including Boston College's Nate Bayuk, Matt Brazis and Brad Zapenanas.

Ballard and Dudley had solid years for the colleges at the plate. Adam Adkins (Tennessee) and Brett Stackhouse (Gardner-Webb) had strong seasons on the mound.

The Royals have lost in three games to Staunton each of the last two playoffs and Lowery said making it further this season is a big goal.

"The Royals are known having won quite a few titles over the years and I know that's what the fans expect and that's what [we] hope to do this year," Lowery said. "It's nice having so many kids here early. I think even the Boston College kids will be here before the season starts. They were in Texas [for the NCAA tournament] and went back to Boston College and then are coming right here, so that's a good sign."

Woodstock

Coach: Donn Foltz (fourth season)

Last year's record: 16-28

Division: Central

Returning player: Greg Waddell (Florida International)

Outlook: Foltz said the River Bandits should have good balance with hitting and pitching. Waddell led Florida International with a .439 batting average this season. Catcher Shawn Ablett (Memphis) was third on the team in hitting for the Tigers.

Ryan Kahn (John Hopkins) and Will Hudgins (Notre Dame) will be key pitchers for the River Bandits. Foltz said Virginia Tech's Steven Bumbrey, son of former Baltimore Oriole Al Bumbrey, could play a big role with the team if he is not drafted high in the upcoming MLB draft. Woodstock will have to battle county rival New Market as well as Harrisonburg and playoff power Luray in the Central Division.

"They look pretty good so far, but it's hard to tell," Foltz said. "With me throwing to them, everybody looks good. We'll just have to see how it goes. I'm looking forward to the season."

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