Warriors working to rebound

Published 9:28 pm Saturday, March 6, 2010

Last spring, Nansemond River’s baseball season included a six-game losing streak and a five-game winning streak. Overall, the end result of a 7-13 record was not something the Warriors and head coach Mark Stuffel is used to.

The Warriors are more familiar with getting to, or at least being in the mix for, a tournament spot in the Southeastern District.

The most optimistic part of last baseball season probably came after the high school season was over. A junior American Legion team made up largely of Nansemond River underclassmen and based out of Nansemond River’s field went 24-1 and won the Virginia Junior American Legion Tournament in late July.

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Much of that team is now up at the varsity level, but still young. Stuffel projects his starting lineup could include six sophomores. Sophomores Travis Johnson, Jordan Long and Brandon Lowe were key contributors offensively and defensively as ninth graders.

Even with talented youngsters, Stuffel knows he needs senior leadership. He’s looking for it from second baseman D.J. Williams and pitcher/outfielder Reid Hoffler.

“We’re a young team, not a lot of these guys have played at this level, but they’ve all played a lot of travel ball. They’ve seen a lot of good pitchers. They know how to play,” Williams said.

Hoffler was new to the Warrior team and the school last year as a junior. With ace pitcher Erickson Keeton graduated and now playing at Virginia Military and a couple more main pitchers lost to graduation, he’ll be relied on more this season.

Like every team around the area, the Warriors have struggled to find practice time, at least outdoors on the field, thanks to the cold, wet weather.

“We’ve certainly got plenty of swings in,” Hoffler said, referring to Nansemond River’s one-year-old indoor hitting building down the leftfield line of Nansemond River’s baseball diamond. As the field’s been too wet for most of the last few weeks, the indoor facility is serving the Warriors well.

“We’re getting the important stuff in. We know we don’t have time to play around,” said Williams.

Somewhat unusual for a younger team, Stuffel sees sound defense as the main strength of his squad.

“We’re trying to get our young pitchers to throw strikes and allow the other team to put the ball in play. If we do that well, we can be pretty successful,” Stuffel said.

“It’s always about the little things. The little things are going to be the big things,” Williams said. “If the pitchers throw strikes, if our defense makes the plays it should, hits cut-off men and always knows the situation, that’s what it’s about.”

Nansemond River’s season opens on Tuesday, March 16 with the Warriors hosting city rival King’s Fork.