WOODSTOCK – A pair of Woodstock River Bandits swept the Valley Baseball League’s top player awards.
Bandits outfielder Aidan Nagle, the VBL’s 2019 home run king, was voted the league’s Most Valuable Player and Woodstock ace Tristen Bayless was named Pitcher of the Year, the Valley League announced on Thursday afternoon.
Nagle, a junior who will attend Lewis-Clark State College (Idaho) this year and a native of Santa Rosa, California, blasted a league-best 11 home runs in 40 regular-season games this summer and ranked third in the VBL with a .406 batting average.
“I came out from California just expecting to kind of split time with some guys, coming from (junior college) as well. And then I don’t know, I just continued to stay hot,” Nagle said after Woodstock fell to Strasburg in the second game of the North Division championship series on Thursday night, a loss that forced Friday’s decisive Game 3 for a spot in the VBL championship. “I feel like I definitely deserved it. There are some good players in the league, definitely. We’ve put together a good season.”
Nagle hit safely in his first 17 games for Woodstock this summer and had 21 multi-hit games in 40 regular-season contests. In addition to his 11 homers, Nagle ended up leading the Valley League in hits (65 in 160 at-bats), runs (47) and slugging percentage (.675) and was third with 33 RBIs.
Heading into Friday’s playoff game against Strasburg, Nagle had hit three more homers in the postseason, bringing his summer total to 14.
Nagle’s power – he’d hit 11 home runs in his last 20 games entering Friday – has been a revelation for the emerging slugger, who hit two homers in 20 games at Cuesta College in California last spring.
“I don’t know where all the home runs came from. I truly don’t, but it’s something I wanted to work on coming in here, is hitting for a little more power. But yeah, just seeing the ball really good, getting better pitches,” said Nagle, who was voted a Valley League all-star and was picked for the VBL squad that competed in the Southeast Collegiate Prospect Showcase in North Carolina last month.
“I just try to keep the same mindset,” Nagle, who hit .446 at Cuesta College last season, added of maintaining a high average all summer long. “I’m not better than anyone out here. I’ve gotta work harder than everyone. I just try to stay happy, enjoy the game. I don’t have much of it left maybe, I don’t know. Hopefully, I have more. Just try to enjoy every second of it and just stay focused, honestly.”
Bayless, a left-hander from the University of Houston, took home the VBL’s top pitching honor following a regular season in which he went 3-2 with a 1.93 ERA and 50 strikeouts in 32⅔ innings pitched.
Bayless finished second in the league in strikeouts and was one inning shy of the minimum threshold to qualify for the Valley League leaderboard in ERA and batting average against. If he’d qualified (Bayless had a start cut short after two batters due to heat exhaustion two weeks ago), his ERA would’ve been tops in the league, and his .217 BAA would’ve tied for second.
“I’m really grateful but I can’t win this award without my team behind me, without my defense, my hitting,” Bayless said on Thursday. “They’ve definitely gotten me out of a lot of jams. Earlier this week, I pitched pretty good, a helluva game (three earned runs over seven innings in a playoff win over New Market on Monday), but I couldn’t have done it without my hitting, my offense. Without them scoring those runs, we lose the game. They’ve bailed me out a bunch of times and I can’t be more appreciative of them.”
Opposing hitters slugged just .180 against Bayless during the regular season.
Bayless was the MVP of the Valley League All-Star Game, which lasted just three innings due to weather, after striking out two in an inning pitched, and he fanned six batters in two perfect innings against the Florida Collegiate Summer League at the prospect showcase.
“The key was just to make sure I really had faith,” Bayless, who has seen limited action in two Division I college seasons with Texas A&M (2017) and Houston (2019), said of his summer success. “Throw strikes, that was my whole meaning of coming out here was just throwing strikes, trying to limit my walks and just really have trust in my defense. Just know that I have one of the best defenses in the league and one of the best hitting staffs in the league, that I can have faith … in them.”
Nagle and Bayless were two of 13 players from the four local VBL teams – Front Royal, New Market, Strasburg and Woodstock – to land a first- or second-team spot on the All-Valley League team.
Woodstock outfielder Caleb Ward (.385 average, six homers, 30 RBIs) joined his teammates on the first team. Front Royal second baseman Dylan Menhennett (.331, four homers, 21 RBIs) and pitcher Shane Scott (3-1, 2.43 ERA, 27 strikeouts) also earned spots on the first team, as did Strasburg reliever Bryce O’Brien (4-1, 1.60 ERA, one save, 39 strikeouts) and utilityman Bryson Horne (.317 batting average, five homers, 21 RBIs, 1-1 pitching record, 2.02 ERA, one save, nine strikeouts).
Woodstock, which led all local teams with seven all-league selections, had first baseman Lael Lockhart, shortstop Willy Escala, starting pitcher Seth Konkle and reliever Conor Miller earn second-team nods.
Strasburg slugger Tyler Johnson was voted to the second team as a designated hitter, and New Market outfielder Joshua Cox landed on the second team as the Rebels’ only all-league selection.
Waynesboro manager Zac Cole, who led New Market to the VBL title last season, was named the 2019 Maynard “Mo” Weber Manager of the Year after guiding the Generals to a 31-11 record in the regular season, the best in the VBL.