Dale’s softball battery charged for success
The Lady Knights battled to a 4th place finish in a competitive Central District last season with a young squad and in 2014 will compete in the newly formed Conference 3 with Cosby, James River, Varina, Franklin County and Patrick-Henry Roanoke.
“The fact that we know our competition will be tougher has made us all work harder in practice,” said junior pitcher Jordan Starke.
Thomas Dale will have a new leader in Mike Zuk, who coached junior varsity last season. The team has begun to gel under Zuk and with nine returning players, they have youth and experience.
In the outfield or infield, the versatile Abby Kidd is the team’s senior leader. Kidd played junior varsity as an eighth grader, and varsity since. The senior has drawn college interest and figures to play at the next level.
“We’re a young team with a lot of potential,” said Kidd. “I’ve been talking a lot about teamwork- if we work hard this year we can go far.”
That potential has come in the form of a trio of underclassmen who have played well despite inexperience. The battery of Starke, a junior and Rayana Hill, a sophomore catcher has impressed.
Starke earned All-Central District First Team honors in 2013, while Hill raked in second team honors. Sarah Ridgeway, also a sophomore, joined Hill on the second team.
Zuk spoke candidly about his players’ ability to lead despite their youth. With a young core of talent at catcher, Hill will be expected to help with their development and learning process.
“If I can prepare this team to play as well as they’re capable,” Zuk explained. “We will be competitive against any team in the state.”
The Knights will open their season on March 20 on the road with a tilt against the Cosby Titans.
Fleischer, Gothe poised to lead Knights on diamond
The Knights were a young, talented team in 2013 right in the thick of things in a four team log-jam atop the Central District standings. They’ll take their services to Conference 3 this season expecting to improve and to play for the conference crown.
“Last year was a great year, but we were young and it showed,” explained Dale Head Coach Chris Marshall. “We expect an improved team to fight for the conference this season.”
Collin Fleischer and Maurice Gothe, the team’s senior leaders led the team last year and are back. Fleischer signed to play at VMI next year and hit .385 with two home runs and 18 RBI, earning All-Central District honors. Gothe was more under-the-radar but hit .402 with 16 RBI, playing errorless baseball in center field. Hampden-Sydney, Longwood and Northeastern are interested in All-Central District second team honoree.
“Gothe is a great centerfielder,” said Marshall. “He gets to every ball and has a great arm.”
A couple of underclassman who are no strangers to the program in shortstop Nathan Eaton and pitcher Tommy Barron will also be expected to produce. Eaton, a slick fielder with good speed notched 14 stolen bases in 2013. Barron served as Dale’s ace pitching to a 5-1 record with a 2.10 ERA. Second baseman and lead-off hitter Brian Goodwyn missed the last eight games of 2013 with an injury and is back to full strength for 2014.
The outlook for the Knights is bright with a team that’s been together in some cases since little league, but most importantly at the varsity level.
“It’s great to work with guys for multiple seasons,” said Gothe. “Once you form that bond you’re more comfortable and play better as a unit.”
Thomas Dale opens their season on the road March 20 at Cosby.
McCabe, Matoaca gear up for monster season
In Driskill’s last season at the helm of Matoaca softball, he’s got an experienced team that’s poised to make a deep run into the postseason. With senior captains Jessica McCabe, Maya Bailey, and Taylor Clark along with two other senior leaders Rebecca Elder and Bristann Clinger, the defending champions of the now defunct Central District have a solid core.
“What’s different this year is that we’ve got experienced leadership,” said Matoaca Softball Head Coach Scott Driskill. “The older players show the younger players the ropes.”
McCabe, a JMU signee is joined by Clark who signed with Richard Bland College, while Bailey has verbally committed to Virginia State.
“I don’t have to tell these girls what to do, they go out and repeat their routine every day,” Driskill explained.
McCabe, who powered the Warriors in the circle and at the plate last year is expected to do the same in 2014. The future Duke was 13-5 and struck out 165 batters in 103 innings pitched. The senior also led Matoaca with a .500 batting average and 23 RBI.
Clark was a first team All-Central District honoree at second base last season hitting .325 with 3 home runs and 15 RBI. The rising senior served as Driskill’s two-hole hitter because of her bunting skill to go along with her power.
Bailey is a defensive specialist with great range at short and a rocket arm. Driskill pointed out that her offense has progressively improved over her high school career.
Elder, the team’s second pitcher last year followed McCabe’s two no-hitters and perfect game with a no-hitter of her own against Hopewell. Clinger is a versatile player on both offense and defense.
“Bristann (Clinger) doesn’t care where she’s playing as long as she’s helping the team,” stated Driskill.
The selflessness among Matoaca’s players has led to team chemistry and should help as Matoaca prepares for a playoff run.
Matoaca opens their season March 17 on the road at Clover Hill.
Warriors’ fab five looks to return to state
The Matoaca Warriors lost just one senior from last year’s Central District Champions, and are locked and loaded for the 2014 season under a new head coach Tim Haynes, and on the strength of five college bound players in their starting line-up opening day.
“I came into a great situation,” said Haynes, who volunteered with the team for the past two seasons. “Both Fred Stoots and the administration did a great job in building this program.”
The five players set to ascend to the next level next year are Craig Johnson (Christopher Newport), Jake Bailey (Bridgewater), Phillip Van Keuren (Pitt CC), and twins Grayson and Jamison Trower (University of Maryland-Eastern Shore).
“Honestly, the seniors are tired of losing in regionals,” said Bailey. “It’s time to take the next step.”
With four other seniors returning, including Central District Player of the Year Rick Spiers, Matoaca’s top pitching option, it would appear the Warriors have a shot to return to the state tournament for the first time since 2010. Another big piece to the puzzle is sophomore Jacob Bartlett, who burst onto the scene as a freshman and led the team with a .390 batting average.
The Warriors certainly appear to have ample leadership in Haynes, who spent 20 years coaching at Dinwiddie and 12 years coaching under late head coach Paul Keyes at Virginia Commonwealth University.
“We’ve been working at this since August,” said Haynes. “On more of the mental things along with the physical things.”
Grant Boyd will provide Matoaca with another live arm. Boyd came up big last year in the district race for the Warriors, winning a tiebreaker game against Thomas Dale.
This season also includes another dose of the ever-growing Thomas Dale - Matoaca rivalry. The Warriors won the season series in 2013 two games to one.
Matoaca opens up the season on March 17 at Clover Hill.