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Bulldog baseball continuing to grow

For a good number of reasons, King’s Fork’s baseball program should continue on the upswing this season.

First and foremost, the Bulldogs had their best season in the school’s six-year history last year with five wins, including district wins over Nansemond River and Grassfield. Second, head coach J.B. Varney is looking at around 20 players coming out for the varsity squad here in the first couple weeks of preseason, giving Varney and the Bulldogs a pool of players they’ve never had before.

“From my point of view, we’ll definitely be a stronger team this year,” Varney said. The Bulldogs have seven returners from last season’s varsity team, a couple more players who were called up from the JV late last season but we’re big contributors in three KF wins late in the season, and some talented, though young, transfers.

The flip side of the reasons for optimism though, “it takes a lot of work to win in the Southeastern District,” Varney said.

The Bulldogs have other hurdles they’re facing. One they can’t do anything about is the wet, cold weather. Official practices started on Feb. 22, but Varney says the team’s had two good days of practice outside.

Another obstacle is injuries, or most specifically, Michael Murray’s injured knee. Murray, a senior, hurt the knee during football season and is still rehabbing it.

“Michael gives us good speed, a utility player and a pitcher with real good velocity,” Varney said. Right now though, mid-April is the best guess for when he’ll be back for the Bulldogs.

Another issue Varney’s trying to solve, while it won’t change much about this upcoming varsity campaign, is an ongoing effort to find a JV baseball coach.

“It’s still kind of in limbo,” Varney said. He’s tried to recruit someone from King’s Fork and other Suffolk schools, but hasn’t found anyone there.

“It’s a lot of work. It’s full-time work almost for part-time pay,” Varney said. If King’s Fork can find a JV coach, it’ll be the sixth different JV coach in six years.

For now, Varney and a couple parents are basically combining the varsity and JV practices, when they can have practice. The teams workout in the gym when getting on the field isn’t possible, but “we’re not really equipped here to practice indoors,” Varney said.

On the field, many of the Bulldogs played on a new American Legion squad over the summer.

“The team played good baseball and it certainly was good experience for them,” Varney said.

Travis Cherry, now a junior, pitched a one-hitter in KF’s 6-2 win over Grassfield in the last week of the regular season last year.

Nick Bowman will continue with a lot of time on the mound and at second base. “He kept us in a lot of ballgames last year with the double plays he made,” Varney said.

Varney counts Bowman, Murray, Aaron Aranda and Tray Carpenter as his senior leaders.

“Nothing breeds success like success. If we start with a couple quick wins, it’ll make a difference in our whole year,” Varney said.

The Bulldogs start their campaign at Nansemond River on Tuesday, March 16. Last year, KF upset the Warriors, traditionally the strongest of Suffolk’s Group AAA schools, 8-7 at KF. NR won 17-9 later in the season at NR.