Elder Saints spur expectationsPublished 10:51pm Wednesday, March 5, 2014
The Nansemond-Suffolk Academy baseball team has the mark of a team that should go far this year.
Saints head coach David Mitchell said it is “probably one of the more mature teams I’ve coached in 14 years as far as depth and seniors and who we have returning.”
The 2014 roster boasts six returning starters and 10 seniors.
Last year’s squad finished 10-10 overall, 5-4 in the Tidewater Conference of Independent Schools. The No. 8 Saints were eliminated in the state quarterfinals by No. 1 Atlantic Shores Christian School, but not before NSA took the Seahawks to the brink in a 17-16 slugfest.
NSA lost three starting seniors from last year, including first team all-conference standout Alan Meyers, second team all-state selection Tripp Kretz and vocal leader Jacob Laine.
Mitchell expects this year’s team to feature leadership by committee, but said, “Jake Grady obviously stands out with the year he had last year.”
As a junior, Grady led his team with 24 hits, had a .400 batting average, nine doubles and 18 runs batted in, netting first team all-conference and first team all-state honors.
Senior Greg Beale, a Randolph-Macon College commit as of Sunday, returns as the Saints’ No. 1 pitcher, a right-hander who went 3-2 on the mound last year with 29 strikeouts and a 3.4 earned run average. He will also continue being a utility player after garnering 14 hits and a .304 batting average.
Also back is starting second baseman and senior captain Will Breedlove. On offense, he batted .242 last season.
Mitchell recruited senior John Mobley to play baseball while coaching him on the basketball team. This marks a return to the sport for Mobley after a five-year hiatus, and it will be his first time playing baseball for NSA.
“Just as far as leadership skills and kind of being a natural leader, John Mobley is going to fall into one of those roles,” Mitchell said. “John’s going to be one of our captains this year.”
Mobley, who has committed to the Virginia Military Institute to play football, will see time on the diamond as a designated hitter and first baseman.
Junior Toby Buchanan will move from shortstop to catcher this year and will be expected to continue his offensive contributions, which included 17 hits, two home runs and 15 RBIs last year.
Sophomore Sam Neal will be back as a starter in right field. He batted .255 as a freshman.
The bullpen will feature senior Reece Walton, a right-hander, who went 3-2 with a 4.94 ERA last year. Junior left-handed pitcher Cam Sutton is back to follow up on his 2-2 record with two saves from 2013.
“We’ve got a couple (junior varsity) players that are moving up that we’re expecting some big things from, as well,” Mitchell said.
One of them, sophomore Cole Williams, will be starting at shortstop and will see some time pitching. He was on the JV team as a freshman, but came up at the end of the year and gained varsity experience.
Freshman Mitchell Williams will play at third base and log time on the mound.
Coach Mitchell made it clear this 2014 squad is expecting to have a very good year, but before a recent scrimmage, he gave it an exhortation.
“Though expectations are high … yesterday’s home runs don’t win today’s games,” he said. “We have to take it one game at a time.”
He anticipated the team’s biggest challenge would be having the depth in the bullpen to tackle a tough schedule. For example, Beale will be used to face a TCIS opponent during the week. But then pitchers like the third, fourth and fifth starters in the rotation will need to do well on the weekends against talented non-conference opponents.
“That’ll be key in determining what type of year we have,” Mitchell said.
Today’s season opener for the Saints is slated to begin at 4 p.m. against Southampton Academy unless the Suffolk field is still wet from the snow.