Bobcats field senior-heavy team as baseball season beings
© Culpeper TimesExperience.
The Battlefield varsity baseball team is stacked with it this year, sporting six seniors and nine juniors on a squad that features only one underclassman: sophomore second baseman Josh Flaherty, who played on the varsity team last year.
What's left to determine is just how much of another intangible Battlefield possesses this year if the team wishes to return to states: drive.
Battlefield manager Jay Burkhart, now in his third year at the helm of the program, explained during an interview Sunday that he's coached most of the players now for the bulk of their high school careers, which means the whole team thoroughly understands his system now.
Even with that mutual understanding, business in the batters box this year can't be the same as the last couple of years.
That's because the physical core of aluminum baseball bats changed last year to more closely align with wooden bats used in the big leagues.
Even though the bats are different from wooden ones, they're still not as potent as the ones used when Battlefield made its run to states, when the Bobcats clubbed 34 homeruns.
"That stuff's gone," said Burkhart.
He mentioned that he wants his players to work on hitting extra-base hits instead of just keep the game close for five innings and belt out a 2-run homer in the sixth in the vain of Earl Weaver's Baltimore Orioles from the 1970s and 80s.
"I've got to change my philosophy," said the BHS coach. "...You can't just sit back and see guys launch balls out of the yard anymore."
Burkhart insisted that he still intends for his team to hit for average though the idea of collecting sacrifice flies to advance runners base-by-base is now more pertinent in his strategy.
"With anybody now a days, you''e got to be able to handle the bat and know the game," said Burkhart.
Junior catcher Nick Feight will likely end up in the power spot of the line-up, either in the three or four hole along with senior first baseman John Agnos right behind him, while junior shortstop Steve Kraft is slated to lead off for the Bobcats.
Seniors Matt Conway, Blaine Varley and Charlie Husser are slated to play in the outfield and can expect to receive help from their classmate J.T. Belotti by the end of spring break after he recovers from an injury.
"He'll probably be at the top of our line-up," said Burkhart.
Another senior, Daniel Tavenner, is emerging as a "one of our vocal leaders as far as our corner guy at third," according to the coach, mentioning that he moved to the other side of the diamond from first base last year.
Agnos, Flaherty and Kraft round out the infield starters with a slew of other Bobcats in reserve, including senior James Westfall and juniors Sam Harris, Nico Rodriguez, Cort Fisher and Cameron Skaff.
Battlefield's strength is on the mound as demonstrated by its depth chart.
Eight members of the team can be called in to pitch, which is helpful for the coaching staff considering the new rule that pitchers can only throw 14 innings a week.
The roster includes two junior southpaws: Joe Williams and Nick Wells.
At 6-foot-5, Wells stood as a commanding figure on the field in just his sophomore season, throwing six games for the Bobcats.
"Each year, he's added some velocity," said Burkhart. "His poise is much better."
Meanwhile, Williams is the younger brother of former Battlefield standout John Williams, an alumnus who pitched on the 2011 squad.
According to the coach, "Not a lot of people know about this guy... I think right now, he'd probably in the the top three or four" of the rotation.
The younger Williams possesses a "good curveball" and "change of speed that helps his fastball," said Burkhart.
He'll also have Feight there to reinforce the lessons offered by pitching coach Andy Devitt, who's been with the team all three years as the head coach.
As for the right-handers, the "quiet, hardworking" junior transfer Dylan Gerdts is one of the few new faces on the team but it "seems like he's been there forever," according to Burkhart.
He has an experimental pitching style with a three-quarters delivery, which Burkhart mentioned affects the movement of his breaking pitch.
Harris, Flaherty, Belotti, Conway, Skaff, Conway and Agnos are all being prepared to hit the hill at some point during the regular season, meaning that almost half -- eight out of 17 -- of the players can pitcher.
A common theme Burkhart said he noticed in a pre-season scrimmage against St. John's is that his pitchers tended to be stronger as their game progressed than when they initially stepped on the mound.
"I was glad to see a lot of our pitchers make adjustments and come back out and make better second innings than their first," said Burkhart.
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