Mike Bocock

WOODSTOCK – Mick Bocock knows there’s a virus going around the Valley Baseball League, as it does every year at this time, and he just wants to keep his team far away from it.

The Woodstock head coach said his players have no desire to go home, unlike what may be going on for some of the other squads at the end of a long season.

“They want to be here,” Bocock said before Tuesday’s 6-0 win over Winchester. “We don’t have any bickering and people going like ‘oh we just want to go home.’ The ‘we just want to go home’ thing is a virus that happens all around the league – there’s no question. And you’ve got to stay away from that virus.”

Bocock said it’s a credit to the River Bandits’ organization and to the host families that his players want to stay and finish out the season. This is Bocock’s first year back after being out of coaching in the league for five years. The veteran coach, who is in his 24th year as head coach in the league, said that the organization and the players have made it enjoyable for him this year.

“I’ve really enjoyed my players,” Bocock said. “They’re really good guys. They’re fun to be around. They’re a pleasure to coach.”

Bocock said they haven’t had any players want to go home but they have had to deal with a few injuries. He said middle infielder Josh Jones (James Madison University) missed the past week due to injury but returned to the team on Tuesday. Jones is batting .375 (9-for-24) with four doubles, four runs scored and three RBIs in seven games.

“We’re getting him back (Tuesday) and that’s going to help us,” Bocock said of Jones. “That was a big injury and we needed him.”

OFFENSIVE SURGE: Despite Jones’ absence due to injury, the River Bandits’ offense has been on top of its game lately.

The River Bandits have been strong offensively all season but scored a season-high 26 runs on Sunday. They pounded out 24 hits in a 26-5 road victory over Covington.

“We hit the ball,” Bocock said of the win. “When you have (24) hits, I don’t care who’s pitching, you’re doing something right. We had some good things happen. So, all in all, we’ve got some guys that will swing it. And if you get good pitching on a night where you get good hitting, you’re pretty formidable in this league.”

The River Bandits had four homers in the win over Convington and scored 14 runs in the fifth inning. Willie Escala (Barry University) and Lael Lockhart (University of Houston) each had four hits in the game.

Woodstock is batting .290 as a team this season with 10 players hitting .300 or better. Aidan Nagle (Lewis-Clark State College) leads the VBL with a .416 (62-for-149) batting average.

Bocock said that Woodstock hitting coach Paul Ackerman has played a role in the team’s success offensively.

“Coach Ackerman throws (batting practice) every day to those guys,” Bocock said. “They were out here (Tuesday afternoon) in the cage working. He works with them. We’ve got guys that can do it. Nagle is a natural hitter. Escala is starting to hit. (Austin) Bates is hitting, our catcher. We’ve got guys swinging it.”

MAJOR IMPROVEMENT: While the hitting has been there the whole time, Woodstock’s pitching has steadily improved throughout the season.

The River Bandits are fifth in the league in team ERA – 5.05. Woodstock was in the bottom half of the league in ERA most of the season. Bocock said that a lot of credit goes to Woodstock pitching coach Charlie Shepard.

“I really believe he’s made a lot of the difference because he gets those guys and he gets their mechanics straight,” Bocock said of Shepard. “And he kind of puts them in where they need to be. And I think he’s done a really good job with the pitching and gets them to where they need to be.”

Tristan Bayless (University of Houston) continues to shine as a starter for the River Bandits. He leads the league with a 1.93 ERA. He has pitched 32.2 innings and has a 3-2 record. Bayless has a team-best 50 strikeouts and has made seven starts for the River Bandits. Conor Miller (York College) leads the way for the relievers. Miller has pitched in 15 games and has thrown 18 innings with 18 strikeouts, a 0.50 ERA and a 1-1 record with two saves.

The River Bandits entered Wednesday’s slate of games with a 24-16 record, just a game behind first-place Strasburg in the North Division with two games remaining. The Express still have four games left. The River Bandits were 5-37 last year but this year they have already secured a playoff spot.

The playoffs, featuring the top four teams from each division, start on Sunday. Each series will be a best-of-three series. The playoffs were pushed back two days due to the number of postponed games this season.

“Our focus was to get in the playoffs – we’ve done that,” Bocock said. “Our focus now is to win the pennant and that will take place over the next few days. And whether we do it or not is part us and part what Strasburg does. And we’re just doing what we can do.”

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