Experience paying off for Skyline baseball

FRONT ROYAL — Skyline’s baseball team took some lumps over the last few years, but this season everything is paying off.

FRONT ROYAL — Skyline’s baseball team took some lumps over the last few years, but this season everything is paying off.

The Hawks returned many players from last year’s team and that experience has helped pave the way for a 6-1 start this year.

“We’re fairly mature as a team,” Skyline coach Jay Barnes said before Friday’s practice. “We have four seniors who all have multiple years of varsity experience as starters. We got several juniors coming back from last year’s team. And we have some juniors that moved up that are mature and they’re handling the progression well. So that’s helped a lot.”

One of the biggest differences for the Hawks this season has been their approach at the plate. Barnes said it’s something they’ve worked on a lot over the last couple years and it’s showing this season.

The Hawks have averaged almost eight runs per game in their six victories.

“Our approach is to just wait on the ball and just drive it back up the middle,” Skyline senior Aaron Tasker said. “We’re working hard on just hitting the ball hard.”

Barnes said they’ve changed their approach with two strikes to fit the mold of the players and the style of baseball they want to play as a team. He said they tape every at-bat and the players can go back and look at what they’re doing and what they need to work on.

Skyline has had good balance throughout its lineup, and the players said they really feed off of each other at the plate.

“Usually our leadoff hitter gets on, then Gavin (Kandrick) gets up and it just keeps going around and around,” Skyline senior Matt Hartzell said.

The Hawks have also had some solid pitching performances this year. They’ve used seven different pitchers, led by senior Brett Ritter.

Kandrick, a senior catcher, said he’s been impressed with how the pitchers have performed.

“They’ve lit it up,” Kandrick said. “We’ve had a rough couple games here and there, but they’re doing real well. They’re hitting the zone. They’re attacking the zone early, doing their jobs — throwing strikes that’s it. That’s what we need.”

Another key component for the Hawks this season has been senior leadership.

Hartzell, Kandrick, Ritter and Tasker are the team’s only seniors, and Barnes said he’s been very pleased with how they’ve led the team.

“We kind of met early in the year and discussed their role as a senior and what all it entailed, not just the play aspect of it, the field aspect of it,” Barnes said. “I think that kind of the four of them are doing a great job. Brett Ritter, Gavin Kandrick, Aaron Tasker and Matt Hartzell they’re embracing the role of senior leadership and it’s working out well.”

The Hawks already have a win each over William Monroe and Brentsville, who were the top two teams in Conference 28 last season.

The two wins have helped give the team even more confidence.

“I think that definitely brought up our energy once we beat them, because they were definitely the top teams last year,” Hartzell said. “Especially Brentsville since we lost to them in the (conference tournament) semifinals. So it’s definitely a big boost to our record and energy to the team.”

Last year the Hawks went 9-11, but they were playing their best baseball at the end of the season. They advanced to the Conference 28 tournament semifinals, and that momentum has carried over into this season.

The players are confident that they can keep their momentum going and finish this season strongly as well.

“I think we’ll be able to compete in the playoffs and move on further from that as well,” Hartzell said. “I think we do have a bunch of young kids, but we also have experience. We didn’t lose that many players from last year. We’re an experienced group, and we know what we’re doing.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com