• 46°

Saints must rebuild on the fly

Last spring, freshman shortstop Anthony Waldner was the only newcomer in Nansemond-Suffolk’s starting lineup.

A year later, Waldner’s one of the few returning veterans head coach Michael Curry has on his Saint team. The Saints lost eight seniors from last year’s team that won the Tidewater Conference Tournament for NSA’s first time since 2003 and reached the state semifinals.

Now, of 11 players on NSA’s varsity team, Curry has two seniors and two juniors.

“We knew this would be a rebuilding year,” Curry said.

Teaching his new team how to be a team, then how to play winning baseball, is the order of events Curry is undertaking.

“We talk about pride, heart and purpose,” Curry said.

“If you take pride in your field, in your teammates, in your school, it’ll spill over into everything you do,” Curry said.

“Playing baseball, 70 percent of the time you’re failing. It’s all about how you respond to mistakes,” Curry said.

Each of the last three seasons, Curry and the Saints could rely on a standout senior to make up for some mistakes here and there. Pitcher/infielder Matt Hamlet, who’s now at Boston College, was an NSA senior in 2007. Matt Davenport is now a sophomore pitcher at William and Mary. Isaac Ballou is the centerfielder and leadoff hitter as a freshman at Marshall.

“It’s fun coaching this group, but it’s different than the last three years… We’ve always had well-seasoned vets. We don’t have that this year,” Curry said.

Part of the process is keeping NSA’s JJV and JV teams close by the varsity squad each afternoon at practice. All three squads were on the field at the same time Wednesday afternoon.

“We’re highlighting what the JV does well to the varsity guys. (The JV team) beat Windsor yesterday, so we’re saying to the varsity, ‘this is how they did it.’” said Curry.

Overall, the point is to bring up Saint baseball players, from as young as seventh grade on the JJV squad, with the same coaching, philosophy and fundamentals, even down to the same signals from the third-base coaches.

Through three games, the Saints have already had ups and downs that would be expected with a young group.

Last Friday, the Saints lost 7-1 to E.C. Glass. The next day in Lynchburg, NSA beat Virginia Episcopal 9-1. Tuesday, NSA fell behind Windsor by giving up eight runs in the first two innings, but still had chances to win in the closing innings of a 9-8 loss.

One of the two seniors, Martin Terwilliger, nearly tied the score late in the game by hitting a shot off the outfield fence to drive in three runs. A grand slam would’ve given the Saints a tie game. Craig Owens, Curry’s only other senior, continues to team with Waldner to form the middle infield.

NSA’s infield defense and pitching did the job against Virginia Episcopal. Freshman Tripp Kretz pitched four shutout innings. Sophomore Taylor Edens pitched 2.1 innings and got the victory.

“We didn’t make any mental mistakes and we turned a couple double plays. We came up with hits when it counted and just played fundamental baseball. It’s amazing what happens when a team plays fundamental baseball,” Curry said.

NSA’s home opener is set for Saturday at 12 p.m against Magruder High School of Rockville, Md.