The Rockingham County Baseball League is starting the final week of its abbreviated season, and the New Market Shockers have their work cut out for them as they hunt one of the top seeds in next week’s playoffs.
New Market, which fell to Clover Hill, 11-1, on Sunday, entered Monday’s game at Stuarts Draft at 9-5 overall and tied for second place in the eight-team RCBL, 1.5 games back of league leader Broadway. To maintain its status as one of the top teams in the league, and potentially overtake Broadway at the top of the standings, the Shockers will need to play well over a final stretch that will see them play nine games over 11 days to end the regular season.
New Market is already three games into that closing gauntlet.
“It’s huge. It’s the last real week of the season,” Shockers head coach Nolan Potts said on Monday afternoon. “We play over the weekend but then we have one game on Tuesday next week and then the playoffs start. We’re trying to put ourselves in a good position. Right now we’re tied for second. Ideally, we have a good week and play Broadway for the top spot, but we’ll have to position ourselves to be a top two or three team going in and keep playing our best baseball over the weekend and then into that last regular season game and into the playoffs.”
New Market’s six remaining games include four against teams with losing records, including a pair of contests against Montezuma (6-9), another meeting with last-place Stuarts Draft and a game against Elkton (5-10). The Shockers then end the regular season with road games against Broadway on Sunday and Clover Hill, which entered Monday in a tie with New Market for second place, on July 28.
All eight teams make the RCBL playoffs.
Though New Market ranked last in home runs (eight) and next-to-last in doubles (20) entering Monday, the Shockers led the eight-team RCBL with a .305 team batting average heading into its matchup with Stuarts Draft. Through Sunday, New Market was the only team in the league batting .300 or better.
The Shockers’ bats cooled off a bit in Sunday’s loss to Clover Hill (they had just seven hits), but in the eight games prior to that they hit .329 (95-for-289) as a team. New Market was 7-1 in those eight games.
Entering Monday, New Market infielder Nick Goode, a James Wood High School and Shenandoah University graduate, ranked fourth among qualified hitters in the RCBL with a .435 batting average (20-for-46).
Six other everyday players for the Shockers — Matt House (.375), Henry Delavergne (.346, 10 RBIs), Calvin Pastel (.342), Frankie Ritter (.333), Pearce Bucher (.333, team-high 11 RBIs) and Grant Thompson (.327), who has six hits over the last two games — were batting .325 or better heading into Monday’s game.
“Grant Thompson, in particular, the last two nights really turned it up,” Potts said. “He’d been kind of scuffling along at first here and I knew it was a matter of time before he started getting hot. … Henry Delavergne has been great in the leadoff spot. Nick Goode’s been awesome. Pearce Bucher is hitting the ball well. Luckily for us, we’ve gotten enough run support where on nights where we don’t necessarily pitch as well, we’re still in games. With the exception of (Sunday) night, we’ve really been hitting the ball well.”
New Market, in addition to its success at the plate, is keeping the pressure on opposing pitchers and defenses on the basepaths. Only one team, Clover Hill, has stolen more bases than the Shockers this summer, and New Market entered Monday with 36 steals, nine fewer than the Bucks and 12 more than Bridgewater, which ranks third in the league in that category.
Through Sunday’s game, Delavergne (eight), Goode (seven) and Thompson (six) all ranked in the top eight in the RCBL in stolen bases. In what is surely a product of their speed and aggressiveness on the bases, those three lead New Market in runs scored this season.
“There have been very few times I’ve actually given them the steal sign. They know how to read pitchers and they know their speed,” said Potts, whose team has only been caught stealing five times this summer. “(Shenandoah University head baseball coach Kevin) Anderson works with them on their base running and it shows. It’s nice having all these Shenandoah guys because they can just give each other a look and they kind of know what they’re gonna do — if they’re gonna steal, whether it’s gonna be a double steal. They kind of have their own language of sorts and that’s made it easy on me because everybody knows the terminology.”
New Market pitcher Darrell Thompson, a Sherando High and Shenandoah University graduate who most recently played professionally in the Frontier League, leads the RCBL with 40 strikeouts in 28 innings pitched this summer.
Thompson, who has struck out 10 or more batters in three of his four starts, was impressive in his latest outing on Saturday against Bridgewater, when he struck out 13 and scattered three hits in a complete-game effort as the Shockers picked up an 8-1 win.
Thompson leads a New Market pitching staff that ranked third in the RCBL in team ERA (4.93) entering Monday and was second in batting average against (.247).