NEW MARKET – Zac Cole has become the veteran Valley Baseball League coach in the area.
The New Market skipper is entering his third season at the helm of the Rebels, and he said he enjoys the league, the management team and the community.
“The town of New Market treats me really well,” Cole said in an interview late last week. “Our management group – they have trust and confidence in me, and that gives me the ability to feel like I can come here, and I’m going to be supported in what I’m trying to do. They leave me alone and allow me to do my job, which is important to me because I feel like we work really hard to bring in good players, really hard to have a good coaching staff. And I think they recognize the hard work that we put in throughout the year and they’re hands-on in the right way and hands-off in the right way.”
Cole led the Rebels to the playoffs last year for their first time since 2013. New Market lost in three games to eventual VBL runners-up Strasburg in the first round of the playoffs.
The Rebels return four players from last year’s squad and one from 2016. Left-handed pitcher Joe Bobiak (Lincoln Memorial University), fellow lefty pitcher Austin Bogart (Stetson University), relief pitcher Nicholas Cottone (Elmira College) and infielder Chase Sudduth (University of North Georgia) all played last year for the Rebels and are back this season. Pitcher Terrell McCall played for Cole and the Rebels in 2016 and is now back again with New Market after playing in another summer league last season.
Cole said it was important to have those players return to help this year’s squad, but not just from a performance standpoint.
“Those guys were the guys we wanted to return not just from a baseball perspective, but because they were good teammates, good dugout guys,” Cole said. “They were guys that made an impact on our team off the field. So that was huge to have those guys return because we feel like they have the ability to do that again.”
Offensively, Cole said he feels good about what his team can do this season. He said his players combined for 96 homers and over 100 doubles on their respective college teams this past season.
The Rebels (2-3) have been led offensively by shortstop Kobe Lopez (Florida International University), catcher Riley Walsh (St. John’s River State College) and Brant Blaylock (University of Southern Mississippi). Lopez is hitting .385 with one triple, one RBI, and two stolen bases. Walsh is hitting .333 with one double and one RBI, and Blayock is batting .333 with a double, four RBIs and three stolen bases.
“We feel like we’ve got a balance of speed and power,” Cole said. “And we’ve got some guys with some experience, so it’s just a good mix all the way around.”
Cole said one of the players he has high hopes for is outfielder Adan Fernandez, who had 10 home runs and seven doubles for Florida International University this past season. Fernandez was named a Freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper last week.
Fernandez is hitting .263 with one homer and five RBIs this season.
“We’re pretty excited about him,” Cole said. “He got off to a little bit of a slow start, but he hit a huge home run for us (last week) that gave us a lead. So we feel like he’s going to be one of the better players in the league once he gets going this summer.”
Cole said he was just as excited about his pitching staff as he is the offense. He said they have nine rising seniors on the pitching staff, which gives them plenty of experience to go with four rising sophomores. He said he also feels good about the depth of the staff.
“We have a good mix of Division-I guys and a couple D-II guys and a couple junior college guys,” Cole said. “But they’re all guys that we feel like can help us and especially in the bullpen when you look down there we are six or seven guys deep that are pretty talented.”
Cole said Bobiak, Austin George (College of Charleston), Reeves Martin (University of New Orleans), Ethan Michaelis (East Tennessee State University) and Daniel Sweeney (East Tennessee State University) are the Rebels’ starting pitchers.
Cole said he’s also happy with his assistant coaches. Pitching coach Joe Lapore has been with Cole all three seasons. Brandon Matthews, who Cole said has a bright future as a head coach, is the hitting coach this year for the Rebels. Stonewall Jackson High School head baseball coach Jeremy Knight is also an assistant for the Rebels this season.
After making the playoffs last season, Cole said the goal is to build on that for this season.
“Obviously, our first goal is to make the playoffs,” he said. “We want to make sure the town of New Market gets to see some more playoff baseball. The second to that would be win our division – something that hasn’t happened here in a few years. And we want to make that a goal of ours. And then obviously if those two goals are accomplished then we feel the next goal is to win the Valley League. On paper, I think this team is good enough. So it’s going to be a challenge for us as a coaching staff to lead those guys towards those expectations.
“But I feel like we have good enough players and a good enough coaching staff. So it’s going to be on us to work hard this summer and make sure we get out of these guys what they can give us.”