Members of the 2013 Nansemond River baseball team roll up the tarp that protected their home field from the recent rain before pre-season practice on Wednesday.
Members of the 2013 Nansemond River baseball team roll up the tarp that protected their home field from the recent rain before pre-season practice on Wednesday.

Warriors baseball coach confident

Published 10:03pm Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Nansemond River baseball team takes the field for the 2013 season with confidence, returning some of the players that helped fuel the state playoff runs of the past two years and adding to them flourishing underclassman talent.

The Warriors finished last season 19-7 overall and 16-3 in the district, winning the district for the regular season. They were runners-up in the Eastern Region tournament, advancing to the state tournament where they lost 2-0 in the first round to C.D. Hylton High School.

Senior left-handed pitcher Zach Rice, who has committed to the University of North Carolina, is expected to be one of the team's go-to players on the mound this season.
Senior left-handed pitcher Zach Rice, who has committed to the University of North Carolina, is expected to be one of the team’s go-to players on the mound this season.

Head coach Mark Stuffel said that the expectation was to win the state championship last year.

“I think our expectations are pretty much the same as they were last year,” he said. “We got a really good team back.”

Nansemond River saw nine players graduate after last year, but Stuffel has confidence in the slightly smaller 2013 senior class.

“They just were behind those nine that graduated last year for the last few years,” he said. “So, I think a lot of people think we’re going to be down, but it’s a great group of seniors.”

One of the things that Stuffel is excited about is his stable of pitchers.

“I feel like we got three kids who could be aces at the high school level, and then I think we got two or three more arms behind them that are good, solid high school pitchers,” he said.

The potential aces include senior left-hander Zach Rice, who has committed to play college ball for the University of North Carolina, and senior right-hander Colin O’Brien, who has signed with Potomac State College of West Virginia University. The third pitcher Stuffel referred to is sophomore right-hander Robert Fitzwater.

Regarding the team’s defense, Stuffel had a bit of a wait-and-see approach.

“A little bit of inexperience up the middle, but not weak, by no means, just kind of a question mark there,” he said.

Rice expressed some cautious optimism, as well.

“I feel like we’re going to be really strong on the mound and pretty strong defensively, but we haven’t really gotten a chance to hit a lot of live pitching on field yet, so once we see how that goes, that’ll determine, but I still think we’re going to be pretty strong,” he said.

“I think offensively we’re going to be as solid as we were last year,” Stuffel said.

Nansemond River sophomore Kieton Rivers is expected to be the lead-off hitter for the Warriors this season and Coach Mark Stuffel considers him to be one of the two best batters on the team.
Nansemond River sophomore Kieton Rivers is expected to be the lead-off hitter for the Warriors this season and Coach Mark Stuffel considers him to be one of the two best batters on the team.

Among the seniors, Stuffel is expecting strong at-bats from O’Brien, Tyler Jordan, Brandon Savage and Matt Boone.

“And then we have the two sophomores, Fitzwater and Kieton (Rivers), honestly, might be the two best hitters we got,” Stuffel said. “Those guys can really swing it. Kieton will probably be lead-off, Robert will be probably three-hole.”

Stuffel also cited junior centerfielder Trevor Riggs as a very good hitter for the team.

Rice spoke to what advancing to the state tournament has done for the team’s motivation.

“It just gives us something to work for, like a goal,” he said. “We’ve done it twice in a row now and just want to make it three in a row and even farther now this year.”

O’Brien and Rice pointed to offense as what will help them get past the first round, where they have been eliminated the last two years.

“I think it’s going to be hitting,” Rice said. “We’ve always been able to throw, we’ve always been able to field, but the main thing is hitting. At C.D. Hylton, we didn’t hit well.”

“We’re going to have to hit this year to win,” O’Brien said.

They admitted that they will miss the bat of Zach Vann and the defense of Brandon Lowe, but they have been working for a long time during this off-season to help make the 2013 season a success.

“Until about January, it’s mostly conditioning, and then on our other days, with hitting (indoors) and then January is when we started pitching and getting into everything, started focusing on more baseball stuff,” he said.

The Warriors will start the season on March 12 at home against Grassfield.

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