NEW MARKET – Stonewall Jackson’s baseball team reached the VHSL Group 1A state championship game for the first time in school history last season, and while the magical run was a milestone moment for a program not accustomed to much success on the diamond, it also created a new set of expectations for the Generals entering 2018.
Now at the midway point of the season, Stonewall is 4-8 overall and 4-5 in the Shenandoah District, and first-year head coach Jeremy Knight said the Generals were indeed struggling a bit with the new challenges presented in the face of the program’s recent success.
“I’ve only been here three years, but just from what I’ve heard, it’s been a long time since the target’s been on our back and I don’t think we knew how to handle that at the beginning of the year,” said Knight, whose team started the season 2-8 before back-to-back victories over Luray last week. “I told the guys, teams are gonna measure themselves to us. Where usually we’re just trying to hang in a ballgame and steal a win here and there, they’re gonna measure themselves.”
Knight went on to say that Stonewall’s unfamiliar role as one of the teams to beat in the area contributed to the “mental mistakes” that plagued the Generals in the early part of the 2018 season.
Through its first four games – all losses – Stonewall committed 23 errors, and the Generals sandwiched a pair of victories over Stuarts Draft and Robert E. Lee with two four-game losing streaks. The Generals hope that last week’s wins over Luray – both by a score of 12-2 – represent a shift toward more consistent baseball.
“I think it’s the focus and the mentality, really,” senior third baseman/pitcher Tyler Somers said of the key to Stonewall’s recent victories. “We came out here maybe timid trying to live up to too much instead of just playing our game like we know how to do.”
Stonewall has cut back on the errors since the beginning of the season – though the Generals are averaging 3.3 errors per game, they have committed only five through their last three games – but Knight said the team’s biggest area of improvement has been at the plate.
The Generals tallied 10 hits in five innings against the Bulldogs in Wednesday’s victory, and on Friday notched 11 more hits in another game that ended in five innings due to the mercy rule. Stonewall was batting just .203 as a team before those two victories.
“I looked at the stats after we beat R.E. Lee (16-0 on April 5… and at that point in time in the season we only had 12 more hits than errors. When you’re not putting up double-digit hits you can’t make up for those errors,” Knight said.
“We’ll make a few (errors) here and there, but I don’t expect fielding to be perfect. Not at this level. But hitting has been the issue. I think we’ve only had three games with double-digit hits, and all three of those games were slaughters. That’s what we need to rely on.”
Friday’s win represented a breakout game for senior shortstop/pitcher Nick Dotson, who entered the game without an RBI and picked up four against the Bulldogs, including the walk-off single that halted the game in the bottom of the fifth.
Dotson, who went 3-for-3 with three singles, a walk and three runs scored at the top of the lineup, was one of three Generals with multiple hits against Luray on Friday. Logan Ritchie was 2-for-3 with a double, triple and two RBIs and Tyler Somers was 2-for-3 with an RBI double.
Eight of Stonewall’s nine starters reached base at least once in the win.
“We’re starting to have a little bit of fun,” Dotson said of the Generals’ mini win streak following the victory. “I think that certainly helps, and we’re getting some confidence. The best thing about tonight is top, middle, bottom, everybody in the lineup hit the ball. Everybody was making plays, throwing strikes. I think just seeing that we’re capable of winning, we’re capable of beating teams. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a good feeling, and it makes practices better, makes the games more fun.”
Stonewall returns to action today with a home game against district leader Page County, which has raced out to an 11-1 start this season, before traveling to Lee on Tuesday.
“From the start of the season we knew we had the talent to win some of these ballgames,” said senior catcher David Moomaw, who had two RBIs in Friday’s win. “It’s a hard district to play in obviously. To actually get some wins and – I guess two’s a streak – get a little streak going, it hopefully gets the guys up. Our biggest problem this season has been being up from the start of a game. If we can carry off this into the start of the Page game, I feel like we stand a pretty good chance.”