WOODSTOCK – A month ago, Stonewall Jackson’s baseball team was 6-5 and contending among the teams in the top half of the Shenandoah District. Somewhere since then, the Generals took a wrong turn.
Heading into Tuesday’s home game against East Rockingham, the first of the Generals’ final two regular season games this week, Stonewall had lost seven straight games and fallen toward the back of the pack in the Shenandoah District and Region 1B standings.
Stonewall head coach Jeremy Knight said following Monday’s 5-3 non-district loss to Central that the Generals are “kind of getting in our own heads a little bit.”
“Defense and pitching has been there but I think why we’re getting so hard on ourselves is we’re just not seeing a whole lot of success at the plate,” Knight said, “and for probably the first half of the season almost, that’s where our biggest success was coming from.”
Indeed, a focus in the offseason on taking a better collective approach at the plate had Stonewall thriving early on. Through their first six games, the Generals batted .295 as a team and averaged 8.5 hits per contest, and through an April 9 win over Buffalo Gap, Stonewall was still hitting .279 and was a win shy of matching their 2018 total.
Since then, however, the Generals’ bats have gone silent. In the last seven games entering Tuesday, Stonewall was batting just .199 and had scored just 12 total runs in that span.
Monday’s loss against Central showcased some of Stonewall’s struggles. The Generals struck out seven times through the first four innings against Falcons starter Brandon Davis, and three of Stonewall’s first four strikeouts came with a hitter flailing at strike three in the dirt.
Stonewall, which entered the seventh inning trailing 5-2, also struck out in three consecutive at-bats against Central ace Sam Shifflett to end the game after loading the bases with nobody out.
The Generals did commit three errors behind pitchers Tyler Dellinger (six innings pitched, three unearned runs, six hits, one walk, eight strikeouts) and Austin Ritchie, including two costly ones in the fifth and seventh innings that led to four unearned runs but they weren’t anything a couple timely hits couldn’t have fixed.
“We have just gotten undisciplined at the plate, swinging at everything,” Knight said. “I think we’re just pushing too hard. Instead of letting the game come to us, letting swings come to us, we’re out there trying to hit pitches we have no business swinging at, and it’s getting us behind in counts and now we don’t know if a curveball or a fastball’s coming, and we’re all over the place. But that’s one thing that we’ve been practicing on, we’ve been covering that in practice over the last week. We did a lot of two-strike approach. We’ve been working on the mental part of the game but right now it’s just not translating into the actual game.”
How Stonewall finishes the regular season and the upcoming Shenandoah District tournament won’t affect the Generals’ inclusion in the Region 1B tournament – they’re already in regardless of what happens the rest of the way. But with less than a point separating two through six in the regional standings, Knight said Stonewall could conceivably climb from the sixth spot all the way to second or third depending on how the other teams in the region fare over the next two weeks.
Stonewall already beat East Rock and Buffalo Gap – the Generals’ opponent in Thursday’s regular-season finale – earlier this season, and Knight said he told his team before last Friday’s loss at Stuarts that it had four winnable games ahead of them.
“We should’ve gone into it, or should be going into it, with the mindset that we’re a better ball team. But we’re not,” Knight said. “We’re going in kind of wide-eyed and nervous still for some odd reason, and we’re 18 games through the season. It’s just our mindset. I’ve told the guys since week one, the biggest difference between us and other teams is between the ears, the mental part of the game.
“We still have a lot of baseball left,” Knight added. “We’re still gonna have a district tournament game, and then, of course, we have regionals. And we’ll go as far as our hitting will take us. I think I said that same quote week one, and it’s coming true yet again. Here we are this late in the season and we’re gonna go as far as our hitting will take us.”