Knights hold back BreakersPublished 9:54pm Tuesday, March 19, 2013
The First Baptist Christian School baseball team returned to action on Tuesday as the Suffolk Christian Academy Knights. A young team beginning life after the departure of Los Angeles Dodgers draftee Josh Henderson — and after their school underwent a name and mascot change — took the field against the visiting Beach Breakers. They proved that just because a superstar graduated does not mean the team will not fight on as they won the season-opener 10-7.
Last year, the Knights, then known as the Crusaders, went 19-3 overall and 6-1 in the Seven Cities Athletic Conference. Their conference record tied that of Summit Christian Academy, a team they defeated during the regular season but ultimately lost to in the conference tournament championship game by a run.
The Knights’ performance on Tuesday justifies returning head coach Orel Schleeper’s high expectations.
“I’m hoping we’re back into the championship game for our conference again,” he said before Tuesday’s game. “Absolutely. We may get off to a slow start, I don’t know how we’ll come out of the gate, but I do feel that we should be right there. I expect that anyway. That’s the goal.”
This year’s team brings back only six players from last season. Out of the 15 players on the 2013 roster, four are seniors. The team once again is merged with the junior varsity squad. Like some of the other sports at SCA, the Knights will play a junior varsity and varsity schedule with the younger and older players, respectively, getting a chance to play.
There is great inexperience on the team, but Schleeper is encouraged by what he’s seen in preseason and figures time will be a friend to this group.
“The younger players just need more time,” he said. “They need more time on the field, and they’re improving. They’ve improved in the last month we’ve been practicing. So, I’m excited.”
The pitching staff proved to be effective when it counted on Tuesday. Schleeper led off with junior right-hander Noah Nickert, who pitched two and a third innings before freshman right-hander Shawn Moose took over and pitched the next three and two-thirds innings.
Moose was a big factor in the win, throwing nine strikeouts in the game and hitting a key double to help the Knights get points on the board. Moose was not happy with his performance on the mound, but was pleased with the overall result.
“I didn’t feel like I pitched that good, but it’s OK,” he said. “We got the win.”
Nickert, who had five strikeouts himself, was impressed by his young teammates.
“Shawn had only pitched in one varsity game before and I’m the only other one that’s ever pitched a varsity game, but these guys showed me a lot, that they can play ball with us too,” he said.
Nickert returned to the mound in the top of the sixth to get a clutch out and then Schleeper’s third key pitcher, freshman right-hander Barton Metzger, pitched the final inning, allowing only one run. The trio of pitchers struggled with allowing walks but only had five hits against them.
On offense, Schleeper will be looking to three of his seniors, in particular. Senior first baseman/outfielder Nathan Van Dorn and senior catcher Wayne Conner will be expected to lead the team. Senior Matthew Snead rounds out the group and will also be playing centerfield, Josh Henderson’s old position.
“We’re so used to Josh being out there, it’s like, ‘OK, big shoes to fill now, man,’” Schleeper said of Snead.
Those three seniors provide good contact hitting. The Knights will miss both Henderson and his younger brother, Chris, who played basketball for Summit Christian and was not allowed to move to Suffolk Christian’s baseball team.
“Josh was top bat from last year,” Schleeper said. “We’ll miss having him in the number three-hole, but I have picked up a homeschooler, Jared Lauver — really good ball player. He’s probably our power hitter.”
On Tuesday, eighth-grader Jon Joslin came up big, batting in the tying run in the bottom of the sixth and then scoring the go-ahead run shortly thereafter.
Suffolk Christian Academy (1-0, 1-0) will hit the road on Thursday to play Peninsula Catholic.