Stonewall Jackson baseball coach Brady Kibler said recently that he couldn’t have asked for a better senior group to help the Generals transition into his first season at the helm of the program, a campaign ultimately cut short by COVID-19.
Kibler, who’d served as an assistant coach for Stonewall for the past two seasons, praised seniors Tyler Dellinger, Isaiah Kagey and Justus Proctor for their willingness to embrace his message and the direction he wanted to take the program, and called their acceptance a helpful tool that eased Kibler’s ascent into his new role.
“Their ability to accept roles and kind of being selfless with their attitude and their work ethic, and their love for the game was awesome,” Kibler said. “It was a good first year. I just wish we could’ve had an entire year, but that’s kind of out of our control. I’m gonna miss them.”
The seniors’ acceptance of everything their new head coach was about probably shouldn’t come as a big surprise, given that Dellinger said what he remembers most from his time in Stonewall’s baseball program is the “family mentality” among its members.
“We all stick together, try to make each other better and just grow and succeed as a team,” Dellinger said.
Of Stonewall’s senior trio, Dellinger made the biggest impact at the varsity level, where he’s played since his sophomore season in 2018. Last spring, Dellinger was Stonewall’s top starting pitcher and the Generals’ most prolific hitter and run producer during what Kibler called Dellinger’s “coming out season.”
Kibler noted that Dellinger was primed for more of the same at the plate this season and in two preseason scrimmages showed confidence that suggested he knew he was going to compete every time he stepped into the batter’s box and had the ability to change the complexion of any game with one swing.
Dellinger was more than a statistical leader for the Generals, however, according to his head coach. Kibler noted a moment during Stonewall’s second and final scrimmage last month, against Broadway the day before the Virginia High School League put the brakes on the spring season, when Dellinger was pulled from the game so that one of his younger teammates could play some valuable innings. Dellinger immediately grabbed the electronic tablet used to keep the team’s scorebook, Kibler recalled, and began scoring the game.
“I was very impressed by that and I was excited to see where that was gonna go,” Kibler said of Dellinger’s leadership. “Just kind of doing the little things with that and saying ‘Hey, you know what, I’m a senior but this needs to be done and it needs to be done right, so I’m gonna do it.’ That was cool to see.”
Dellinger knew he had the attention of his younger teammates heading into 2020.
“I had a couple kids come up to me and tell me I was their mentor,” he said. “I really felt like that made me strive to be at the top of my game all the time so I could be a good role model for them.”
Kagey and Proctor were less established at the varsity level than Dellinger, but Kibler said both were expected to fill primary roles for Stonewall this spring. Both were battling in the preseason to be the Generals’ starting center fielder, and whichever one lost that battle was going to see time at the corner outfield spots.
Of Proctor, Kibler said the senior has a “witty and sometimes goofy” sense of humor, and on the field showed bursts of sheer athleticism. Kibler still remembers a story told of when Proctor threw an “absolute missile” from the warning track to nail a runner at third base during a junior-varsity game.
Kibler added that Proctor always took the approach that he’d do whatever it took to get on the field. Kibler recalled when Proctor approached Stonewall’s coaching staff last season and asked what he needed to do to improve and earn more playing time.
“He wasn’t downplaying his teammates. He was not throwing anybody under the bus and saying, ‘Well, they did this.’ That’s how some high schoolers take it nowadays, instead of saying, ‘What can I do?’” Kibler said. “It impressed me thoroughly and it was cool to see, and he had that same attitude this year.”
Kibler said Kagey “works his tail off,” adding that the senior found his calling when coaches shifted him from second base to the outfield during his time on JV. Kagey was unable to play baseball last spring after getting a job to pay for his own car and insurance, he said, but Kibler said Kagey came back looking like a player ready to make an impact.
“I was excited to have him out because I knew what kind of impact in the outfield he can have,” Kibler said. “With that year off, I was continually impressed with how he didn’t lose a step. He was fast, he was strong, he came in and worked real hard in the offseason. With the bat, that was what I was more impressed with, was his ability to get solid contact as much as he did in live at-bats. It was like whoa, the kid took a year off and did not skip a beat, actually came back hitting better than what he did when he was a sophomore on JV. That was impressive.”
Kagey’s fondest memory of his time in Stonewall’s baseball program, he said, goes all the way back to his eighth-grade year as a member of the JV team.
“It was our last game and I hadn’t had a hit all year,” Kagey recalled. “Our coach, he put me in and before I went up to the plate he told me, he said ‘You drive that ball.’ I said ‘alright, coach,’ and I went up to the plate and I drove that ball and it hit the pitcher right in the ankle. And I drove in two RBIs.”
For Dellinger and Proctor, their favorite Stonewall baseball memory came last season when the Generals rallied from a six-run deficit to beat Central-Lunenburg, 13-10, in the first round of the regional playoffs.
“I think that was the best game we’ve had in the past two years altogether, as in hitting the ball and playing defense,” said Dellinger, who homered in that game and closed the game on the mound. “We all just really locked in. We knew that we wanted to get back to play Riverheads again and try to make it to states. That was a big game for us.”
Dellinger and Proctor both said they felt the team was on the path to success in Kibler’s first season.
“This year we had new rules as a team,” Proctor said, “and they were fine but I’d say this year we were more like trying to get down to business. We were still trying to have fun with it but mainly our focus was business.”