New KF coach dreams big

Published 9:44 pm Tuesday, March 20, 2012

King’s Fork High School coach Pat Stafford hits grounders to his team during a recent practice.

By Titus Mohler
Special to the News-Herald

For the King’s Fork High School varsity baseball team, already off to a rocky start early in the season, there will be plenty of challenges this year.

Former coach Mickey Irvin received another position that prevented him from being able to continue his duties, so 22-year-old Patrick “Pat” Stafford was brought to the school in January to take on his first head coaching job.

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“It’s a new challenge for me,” he said. “I want my career to be coaching, so it’s a new, big step for me as well.”

The work began immediately. Equipment had to be ordered, and he only had two and half weeks to prepare the team.

To add to these difficulties, all three scheduled pre-season scrimmages were rained out. All four pre-season inter-squad games were rained out. Next up on the schedule was game one of the regular season against Deep Creek.

“So we took the field against Deep Creek, and those were the first innings we had played all year,” Stafford said.

The result was the Bulldogs receiving 12 strikeouts, committing seven errors, and starting the year with a 10-0 loss.

“We have a whole lot of talent here,” Stafford said. “Our first game we played against Deep Creek it really didn’t show.”

Stafford highlights senior centerfielder Noah Johnson as a key returning standout. Last year, he batted over .400 and was named to the second All-Southeastern District Team.

Two juniors, third baseman Danny Gromkowski and catcher Cedric Henry, also return. Stafford described Gromkowski as a big, middle-lineup impact player who hits well. Henry will be moving to left field this year to take advantage of his strong arm and good speed.

Marcus Welch, a transfer from Currituck, will replace Henry at the catcher position.

Stafford cites freshman pitcher/catcher Kyle Bailey as a player to watch. He started as pitcher in the Deep Creek game and as catcher in the second game against Churchland.

Stafford also expects Henry to be one of the Bulldogs’ top pitchers this year.

“Nobody really got to see him perform in the outfield and on the mound,” Stafford said, “so he’s definitely a player to watch as far as that goes.”

Sophomore Tim Harrison played JV last year, but was out all last season after he broke his knee in the first week. He is a 6’2 pitcher who will get his feet wet this year after the year layoff.

“He has the potential to be a really good impact player next year and in upcoming years,” Stafford said.

The Bulldogs lost the second game of the season to Churchland, 4-3, but Stafford saw great reasons to be encouraged.

“We outhit them. We had eight hits that game,” he said. “I think we only had one error. The other team had no errors. It was a good high school ball game. But that really showed our talent and what we have.”

Stafford has ambitious plans for the King’s Fork baseball program. He credited athletic director Randy Jessee with sharing his vision for the team — to turn the Bulldogs into a regular Southeastern District contender.

When Stafford alludes to the talent throughout this particular district, he reveals his real end game.

“So, I say we want to be a top Southeastern District contender,” he said, “but that also means being a top state-level contender as well.”

The goal for this particular season is simple.

“Ever since the school’s been open, I think the highest (number of) wins they’ve ever had was five wins,” Stafford said. “My goal is definitely to break that this year.”

But he is not ruling out a bid at the district tournament even this year.

“You got to think big,” he said.