New Market Shockers head coach Nolan Potts believed going into the season that pitching would be his team's strong suit and through three games that has proven true.
The Shockers are off to a 2-1 start and pitching has been a big key. With the exception of two bad innings, the Shockers have looked strong on the mound. Depth has been a big part of their success. They have used 13 pitchers, seven of whom have a 0.00 Earned Run Average.
"It's been working out," Potts said in a phone interview Wednesday. "The relievers are coming in, they're throwing strikes. I've been very happy with the pitching...Guys have come in and got the job done and we've been able to change looks pretty much every inning. The guys have thrown about an inning apiece and then we're getting them out of there and bringing in somebody new and it doesn't give the team an opportunity to time them up. They can't really get a good timing on them because we keep changing guys so often. So I think we're going to continue to do that."
Sherando and Shenandoah University graduate Darrell Thompson had a strong first outing for the Shockers in the season opener. He started and threw six innings with 10 strikeouts.
"You could tell he was a little rusty in the first couple innings, but once it was about the third or fourth inning you could tell his arm started to get a little looser and he was throwing real well," Potts said of Thompson. "He was throwing his fastball for strikes. His offspeed pitches, I know were impressing everybody in our dugout. They were like 'whoo.' You don't see those types of curveballs and offspeed pitches in the RCBL that often. So he was real good. He gave up a couple runs, a couple guys hit his fastball a little bit. His first time throwing live in a while, he was as good as advertised. And I think he's just going to continue to build up his stamina, and he's going to be even better going forward."
Thompson, Stonewall Jackson and James Madison University graduate Colton Harlow and Sherando grad Hunter Entsminger (JMU) will be the starters and Potts said the fourth starting spot will be a mix of players. Sherando graduate Tad Dean (Shenandoah University) was expected to start for the Shockers on Wednesday night.
New Market relief pitcher Michael Prosperi (Shenandoah University) has thrown three innings in relief and picked up both wins for the team and has a 3.00 ERA. Potts said that Cade Templeton (Shenandoah University) and Joel Smith (Shenandoah University) have shined in relief as well. They have combined for 3.2 innings of scoreless relief.
LEADOFF PROWESS: Sherando graduate Frankie Ritter (Shenandoah University) has been stellar in his leadoff role with the Shockers.
Ritter, a shortstop, is batting .500 (6-for-12) with four RBIs, two doubles, one run scored and two stolen bases.
"He's incredible," Potts said of Ritter. "He's solid defensively. He's got good speed. He can handle the bat. He doesn't strike out very often. He can drive the ball, he laid down a beautiful drag-bunt in one game. I think that's one of the things I appreciate about his game the most. If he sees the third baseman playing deep, he's got the ability to put a bunt down the third base line. And he's got enough speed where more times than not he's going to leg it out for a single. He gets on the bases. He's aggressive. He can steal bases. Once he gets on base he can go steal second when he wants to, and he's the engine that kind of gets us going. Then the guys behind him in the lineup, when he's on base, it makes their life a little easier. It gives them the opportunity to drive some runs in."
After a slow start in the first game, New Market's batting has come to life. Potts said they started hitting better late in their second game and then had 13 hits in a 10-3 victory over Clover Hill on Tuesday. They are hitting .280 as a team. Nick Goode, a 2018 Shenandoah University graduate, is hitting .400 (4-for-10) and Henry Delavergne (Shenandoah University) and Grant Thompson (Shenandoah University) each have a home run for the Shockers.
Central graduate Luke Estep (Roanoke College) is hitting .286 (2-for-7) with a double, three runs scored and an RBI and a stolen base.
STAYING SAFE AT HOME: New Market's first five games of the season, including Friday's game with Broadway, are at home. Potts said that they have had good crowds, although he doesn't know exact attendance numbers, and he believes everyone is doing a good job with social distancing.
Virginia entered into Phase Three of Gov. Ralph Northam's Forward Virginia plan on Wednesday, which limits gatherings to 250 people. In Phase Two, the gathering limits were 50, but the Rockingham County Baseball League did not set any limits on the number of spectators that could be in attendance for the season with their COVID-19 guidelines. Potts said that there is a lot of space at Rebel Park, where the Shockers play, and that he believes everyone is doing a good job of social distancing.
"I think the crowd for the most part is doing a good job of sitting with their family groups and doing their best to stay away from everybody," Potts said. "I know our pitchers haven't even been in the dugout unless they're in the game. They've got the bullpen in left field taken up as their space. There's less people in the dugout for sure. We've been outside and we've done our best to try to keep everybody away from each other. We're just going to try to be smart about it and continue to try to keep people safe. That's all we can really do."
Potts said the concession stand is open but they are only serving food that has already been prepared such as ham and pork sandwiches, candy bars, popcorn and drinks.
Typically, Potts said the Shockers don't draw a lot of fans to the games because they are competing against the Valley Baseball League, which canceled its season in April. He said it's been nice having fans at the games.
"For the (players) that are coming from Stephens City, Winchester that area, it's been nice, because it's a little short drive," Potts said of playing at home. "They're getting used to playing on our field and seeing some familiar faces in the crowd every night. ...The first night with the Elkton game we had more people there than I've ever seen at the ballpark since I've been playing on the team and it wasn't even close. It's always nice playing in front of more people. It just makes it more exciting."