Thomas Dale High School baseball made a historic run last year, earning the program’s first trip to the state tournament. They return a wealth...

Thomas Dale High School baseball made a historic run last year, earning the program’s first trip to the state tournament. They return a wealth of pitching depth and some great offensive pieces to navigate through a tough schedule in 2019.

Three key contributors departed: Tyler Bailey, shortstop, and Tanner Holben, third baseman, were first team All-State and have gone on to college. Drew Camp, the team’s first baseman, was second team All-State and is also in college.

“One of our strengths this year will be pitching depth,” coach Chris Marshall said. “We return our No. 1 starter, Karson Jennings, along with Ryan Hayzlett and Caleb Stancil.” 

In a word, Jennings, a Mary Washington commit, was electrifying on the hill for the Knights. He was trusted with the start and beat James River to give

Thomas Dale its state berth, then fired a shutout against Colonial Forge in the state quarterfinals. Having a staff ace is key to winning a championship, but both Hayzlett, a senior, and Stancil, a sophomore, pitched significant innings last year and know what it’s like to pitch with the game on the line. Bailey Hodges Sr., Ethan Davis Jr., Justin Berger Jr. and Dean Runyon will have other roles on the team, but are arms that Marshall can deploy.

The other half of the battery is just as important, and Thomas Dale has been rich in catchers. Hunter Vay is currently playing baseball at VCU, and now they have another college-level catcher in junior Cole Garrett, who is committed to VMI. An outstanding defensive catcher, he also will serve as the team’s three-hole hitter and has serious pop in his bat.

The infield will be a mixture of two returners and two newcomers. Shortstop Rafael Rodriguez Jr. is a smooth fielder with good hitting ability, and sophomore Johnny Oates – a relative of late former Major League Baseball player and manager Johnny Oates – will man third with his big bat and capable glove. Camden Weston, a sophomore second baseman, and Cody Craig, a senior first baseman, will get their first chances at significant playing time on varsity.

Jennings will roam the outfield when he’s not on the hill and will hit in the middle of the order. The speedy Chris Fredette Jr. will start in center field, and depending on who’s pitching, fans will see a combination of Cross Euresti Jr. or Bailey Hodges out there.

With a talented roster, the prognosis is bright for Thomas Dale, but nothing is given in sports.

“Our pitching and defense is on par with what we had last season,” Marshall explained. “If we can be consistent on offense and come through in RBI situations, we’ll have a shot at advancing come playoff time … Everything is earned in baseball. We have to go out there and make it happen.”

Playing in Class 6, Thomas Dale will have a typically tough schedule, facing Cosby, James River, Manchester and Riverbend. Add that to a Central District that’s much improved with perennial contenders in Prince George, Dinwiddie and Matoaca, and Hopewell, who has built a consistent winner in recent years, and the Knights will have a challenge each night on the diamond.

“Even with our success in playoffs last few years in 6A, we’ve struggled against those teams (in the Central District), Marshall said. “It says a lot about the talent at those schools.”

The Knights started the season with an 11-3 thumping of Clover Hill and played L.C. Bird earlier this week.

They’ll travel to face Manchester Thursday, March 21.