Matoaca will bring a young team to the table in 2016. The loss of two big time seniors in Allie Fitzke and Taylor Patterson will hurt, but second-year coach Greg Hunt has a number of younger players ready to go, and a sophomore hurler that will be the center piece of the program for the next three seasons, Katie Higgins.
Higgins dominated youth leagues prior to hitting varsity, and replaced Matoaca all-time great Jessica McCabe after she ascended to the next level at James Madison University. As a freshman, she showed her true capabilities as she twirled a one hit shut out last year against Thomas Dale in a 2-0 victory for the Warriors.
Matoaca also returns catcher Brooke Flowers, who is an excellent game manager, defender and has a solid stick. A returning captain and all-academic and conference honoree, Flowers is also capable of filling in at third base, where she split time last season. The continued development between Flowers and Higgins as Matoaca’s likely battery game in and game out will be most important.
Matoaca’s offense will be young and consist of three sophomores in Higgins, Taylor Shaw and Amaya Stokes to go along with Riley Hunt and Courtney Womack, two freshman. All should start and get significant playing time. Third baseman Courtney Maitland will be a key player and senior and multi-sport athlete Taylor O’Neill will serve as a defensive specialist in the outfield.
“We’ll be a much better team in the middle of May than we will be in the middle of March,” Hunt said.
With the movement of Clover Hill and Manchester up to 6A and Conference 3 and the addition of Highland Springs and Varina to 5A and Conference 12, the playing field will be a bit more level for a young Warriors squad as they will look to gain valuable experience. This will have them ready for a L.C. Bird squad that eliminated them in the playoffs last year, and Prince George, who made a run at a state title last season.
Matoaca baseball experienced some growing pains last year but finished 11-9 on the strength of a young but talented core. The 2014 roster featured seven players that went onto play college baseball, leaving many voids to fill. Coach Tim Haynes was able to plug and play and guide the Warriors to a winning record.
Matoaca returns three offensive standouts and all-conference honorees in outfielder Jacob Bartlett, and corner infielders Zach Clark (Virginia Wesleyan) and Jacob Floyd, who will look to anchor an offense that will need to produce more runs.
“We basically have the same nucleus,” Haynes said. “We are now as we were at the end of last season.”
Pitching will be a strength at Matoaca, who feature Robert Fultineer, a Charleston University (WV) signee. The left hander will bring the most experience to the table of any hurler on a deep staff that includes also includes Austin Carroll, an Eastern Mennonite commit. Carroll is a righty that excels with two pitches. Also figuring into the equation may by James Womack, a hard-throwing righty. Ryan Traylor, Clark, Floyd and Ty Pannill are also arms that Haynes can deploy.
Quenten Thomas, Liam Fahey, John Bowles and football standout Justin Ford will be looked to for solid offense and defense on a team that will be above average defensively as a unit.
“If we get a little bit of hitting, we should be fine,” said Haynes.
The subtraction of Manchester and Clover Hill will make things easier in the regular season and post season for the Warriors, who are looking to head back to regionals in 2016. As always, north of the river powers will present an interesting challenge come playoff time.