FRONT ROYAL – Skyline’s baseball team seems to have wiped clean the stain of last season’s struggles.

The 2018 season wasn’t kind to the Hawks, who couldn’t score runs and were outscored by over four runs per game. A skid that began in the latter half of the 2017 season – which saw Skyline lose eight of its last 10 games after an 8-1 start – continued under first-year head coach Jeff Monroe last spring, and the Hawks won just four games in 2018, stumbling early by losing nine straight games after winning the season opener in walk-off fashion over Spotswood.

Skyline is looking ahead to 2019 with optimism, however. Monroe, who was the Hawks’ head junior varsity coach and a varsity assistant in three seasons before 2018, said on Wednesday that Skyline had 14 players compete in fall baseball this offseason, the most the program has had since he’s been there.

Junior pitcher/infielder Sam Harris said the Hawks have an improved attitude this season, a sentiment echoed by classmate Tyler Hugo. The consensus seems to be that Skyline’s players are working hard and are excited to be there.

“We lost a lot of guys, and there’s a lot of new faces to the team as well as the program; like I believe we have three new faces to the program on varsity alone,” said Hugo, another junior pitcher/infielder. “… It’s a lot different. I’ve been on varsity, this will be my third year, and it’s something new. It’s exciting. It’s interesting. I like it, honestly. It’s a lot better than it’s been in past years with, not necessarily the attitude, but just the feel in the locker room. It’s a lot more fun this year, and it’s fun where we’re still getting stuff done.”

Skyline needs that attitude to produce results on the field, particularly at the plate, where the Hawks averaged only 2.9 runs per game in 2018.

Skyline had just one player with more than six RBIs last spring – Trenton Little, who has since graduated, led the team with 14 RBIs and a .381 average – and the Hawks recorded just 11 extra-base hits in 17 games for a lowly .251 slugging percentage.

Monroe said Skyline had more players “doing baseball stuff” in the offseason, a fact that he hopes generates more production at the plate.

“One thing that we’re trying to get better on is seeing the ball better just as a team,” said Hugo, whose .261 average, four RBIs and four runs scored in 2018 are tops among Skyline’s returnees. “We always stress hitting in the cage; you’re seeing the ball even when you’re not swinging. … Seeing the ball all the way through, and just a better approach this year. Last year there were a lot of guys going up there swinging at junk and swinging at like first-pitch off-speed stuff, and that’s where your easy outs come in.”

On the mound, Skyline lost a good chunk of its innings pitched to graduation losses, but Hugo posted team highs in innings pitched (28 ⅓), ERA (2.97) and strikeouts (29) last spring and again leads a pitching staff that includes Harris, a fellow right-hander who logged 15 innings in 2018.

The rest of the Hawks’ hurlers will include players who didn’t throw a pitch at the varsity level last season, including junior Riley Oates, senior R.J. Look and senior Caleb Reedy, whom Monroe said didn’t play baseball for Skyline the past two seasons but has pitching experience.

Hugo, who made his first career varsity start on the mound last season, said he’s prepared for an even bigger role this year.

“I actually went to a few camps in the offseason to work on stuff. I was out on the West Coast at the University of Washington, actually, for a camp; got to play out there, talk to their coaches. It was awesome,” Hugo said. “But taking on a bigger role, I’m excited for it. I’m sure Sam is too. I love going out there, and I know the coaches don’t want this, but I want to go out there and throw 100 pitches every time, throw seven innings. I want to go out there and pitch the whole game every time. I know that’s not gonna happen, but it’s just the competitor in me. I really want to go out there and just dominate.”

Heavy graduation losses mean the Hawks are doing some positional shuffling, but the Hawks also return plenty of players with varsity experience.

Monroe said Look started regularly in left field in 2018 and senior Jacob Ruby saw action in right field, giving the Hawks some varsity-tested players around Reedy in center.

Injuries gave Hunter McIntyre, a senior, a chance to start at first base last spring, and Monroe added that both Hugo and Harris played third when not on the mound. Ty Clingerman is another varsity veteran, though he’s moving from catcher to second base this season, Monroe said.

“I think we’ve got a really good team this year with mostly attitude-wise, and everyone works hard,” Harris said, adding that last season’s struggles were less about Skyline’s physical abilities. “Definitely attitudes and just didn’t take the right approach (in 2018). I think this year we figured a lot of it out. We know what to do, and we all have the same goals.”

Monroe said senior Chase Tasker and sophomore Shae Boring are both seeing action at catcher this preseason.

“Both of them right now probably defensive-wise are about even. It’s gonna come down to who’s hitting better throughout (the season),” Monroe said. “We platooned last year at catcher with Ty and Chase, but hopefully we can get one catcher back there by the start of the district part of (the regular season).”

Monroe added that Oates has moved from second to shortstop this season.

“Up the middle’s gonna be big with Riley moving over to short and Ty playing second,” said Monroe, whose team is scheduled to open the regular season on Monday against Central. “We’ll see how we go. It’s been looking good so far but we haven’t been outside but twice out there on the field, so it’s gonna be interesting.”

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