Mike Bocock

WOODSTOCK – The Woodstock River Bandits aren’t where they want to be yet, but head coach Mike Bocock is OK with that.

The longtime Valley Baseball League coach said his team is still finding their way but he’s confident that they will continue to get better and win more games.

“I’m not disappointed with the way we’re playing,” Bocock said after his team’s 3-1 loss to Harrisonburg on Wednesday night. “We’re right about .500. It is what it is. When you’re .500, you’re playing about .500. It means one game good, one game bad.”

One of the strengths this season for the River Bandits has been their offense. They have nine players hitting .300 or better this season, including three over .400. William Escala (Barry University) is batting .414 (12-for-29), Caleb Ward (Norfolk State University) is hitting .411 (23-for-56) with four homers and 15 RBIs, and Aidan Nagle (Lewis-Clark State College) is batting .402 (33-for-82) with three homers and 15 RBIs.

As a team, the River Bandits are hitting .284, second in the league. Woodstock scored 14 runs on Tuesday night but lost 15-14 in 11 innings to Waynesboro. Bocock said the last two games were indicative of the team’s up and down season.

“We hit the ball (Tuesday) well,” Bocock said. “You score 14 runs, you ought to win. Then we don’t pitch. We pitch and we don’t hit. We have to do the things that we got to do to win – and we will. I tell you what, we’ve got 10 wins and we’re going to get 20 somewhere along the line. We’re going to win some more baseball games.”

The River Bandits have struggled with their pitching this season and have a team Earned Run Average of 6.16. They have had several bright spots, including Tristen Bayless (University of Houston), who has an ERA of 2.49 and has 34 strikeouts in 21.2 innings. Bayless has started four games and has a 1-1 record.

Bailey Mantilla (University of Miami) also has been a bright spot. Mantilla threw five scoreless innings on Wednesday, allowing just four hits with four strikeouts. Conor Miller (York College), Seth Comer (Shenandoah University) and Seth Konkel Lee University) have also shined for the River Bandits this season, mostly out of the bullpen.

Bocock said the team needs more pitching depth and he is hoping to bring in some more pitchers this weekend.

“We haven’t gotten the arms that we wanted, but we’re getting ready to get some,” Bocock said. “We’re going to get a new group of arms here this weekend and that’s going to help us.”

Bocock said team chemistry has been great, and he’s enjoyed working with all of them.

The River Bandits are 10-11 at the halfway point of the season and are 4.5 games behind first-place Strasburg in the North Division. The River Bandits won only five games total last year.

Bocock said the biggest thing he wants to see his team work on in the next few weeks is simply how to win games.

“The bottom line is how to win,” he said. “How to get a winning streak. How to do the things that you have to do to get to where our ultimate goal is. Our ultimate goal is to win the Valley League championship. We never vary from that and we’re not going to.”

Bocock has coached in the VBL for 23 years with various teams and won a record seven league championships. He was elected to the VBL Hall of Fame in 2016. This is his first season at Woodstock after being out of the league for five years. He said he’s enjoyed being back in the league and coaching again.

“I just love it,” Bocock said. “The guys are great. I love to be around them, and I love to coach. I love to help them learn and get them to where they’re better players.”

– Contact Tommy Keeler Jr. at tkeeler@nvdaily.com