REBEL_VALDEZ

New Market's Alvaro Valdez runs the bases after a second inning home run during a game earlier this season at Rebel Park in New Market. The Rebels are averaging over seven runs a game in their last five contests and have won four of their last five games.

NEW MARKET -- Before New Market played its 31st game of the Valley Baseball League season, head coach Matt Schaeffer tried to simplify the remainder of the schedule for his players.

“What we told our guys the other day was to approach this like a three-game series for the next four series,” Schaeffer said on Friday afternoon. “We don’t play the same teams but we try to shrink it down a little bit. Sometimes I think the game can get a little too big for guys. They start thinking too far ahead. So we’re looking to go 2 of 3 in each three-game stretch.”

The Rebels went 1-1 on Friday and Saturday and are now 15-17 and are 4.5 games behind first-place Strasburg in the North Division. The Rebels are in third place in the division and have won four of their last five games.

Schaeffer said that the team has been playing a full nine innings rather than just playing well for portions of games like it had for the majority of the season. He said another big key in the team’s recent success has been the play of the offense. New Market is averaging over seven runs a game in its last five contests.

“Offensively, we haven't been where we wanted to be all year from a consistency standpoint,” he said. “But when that starts coming around it becomes fun. Things kind of loosen up defensively, for the pitchers as well.”

Schaeffer said the team has some big games remaining against many of its North Division competitors. He said if the team can play well in at least two of the three phases, they should have a chance for success.

“For us being able to play two of the three parts of the game -- pitching, hitting, defense -- if we can do two of those three. we put ourselves in a really good spot,” Schaeffer said. “ If you look back the majority of the year we weren't doing a lot of it. We weren’t hitting enough, or we weren’t pitching when our hitting was on. Or our defense was lacking. Being able to start to have that momentum now is a good thing, obviously, but there’s still (10) games left and it can go either way and you just got to take it one game at a time. So that’s our biggest key right now is our approach.”

SURGING OUTFIELDER: New Market outfielder Joshua Cox (University of Louisiana Lafayette) is batting .500 (9-for-18) with a double, triple, a homer, three runs scored and three RBIs over the last four games.

Cox leads the team with a .321 (36-for-112) batting average overall. He has three doubles, three triples, 20 runs scored and 14 RBIs this season for the Rebels.

“He’s a fun guy to be around,” Schaeffer said of Cox. “His last couple games he’s been doing well. ...He’s a really good player. He’s got a lot of tools. He moves really well, he runs well. He’s a good kid. He’s a hard worker.”

Schaeffer said that Cox started off a little slow this season, but the coaches knew that things would get better for him.

“He’s gone through some lulls and some highs as any baseball player does,” Schaeffer said. “But he’s done really well keeping his head. And we know that there were some times when he wasn’t (9-for-18), he was 0-for-8 or 0-for-15 or whatever it may have seemed like. And he showed up every day. And at any given point we knew it could turn completely around, and it does, and it has lately.”

STEAL TRIFECTA: The Rebels lead the VBL in stolen bases as a team with 78. A big part of that success has come from the trio of Cox, Jonah Seagers (Virginia Tech) and Kyle Decker (Appalachian State University).

The trio are the top three in steals in the VBL. Cox and Seagears are tied for first with 18 each while Decker has 15.

Schaeffer said that before the season started, he wasn’t sure how the team would do on the base paths because many of them didn’t get a lot of playing time at their respective colleges. Schaeffer said stolen bases are one of his favorite parts of the game and he’s been happy with how the team has done.

“When we got them here and we saw kind of the athletes that we had, we talked a little bit with them individually and as a group -- what’s your identity on the base paths?” Schaeffer said. “And some of them hadn't really had a clue of what they were capable of doing. They weren’t comfortable with certain types of leads or certain aggressive movements and things to look for. And we’ve just tried to work within their own approach to try to expound upon that.”

Schaeffer said that Cox, Seagears, and Decker have a friendly rivalry going and they are constantly trying to one-up the others. He said it’s been fun seeing their confidence on the base paths grow as the season has gone on.

“I’ll tell (the team) things to look for and here’s what you're looking for if you want to do this,” Schaeffer said. “And it’s gotten to the point where lately those three guys, Cox, Seagears, and Decker, have kind of become on their own because they’re very comfortable. So it’s fun to see because they’re getting a chance to play and they’re getting a chance to showcase a part of their game that maybe they haven’t been able to showcase. For whatever reason, it just wasn’t a part of their game this past spring.”

Contact Tommy Keeler Jr. at tkeeler@nvdaily.com