Cavalier baseball optimistic

Published 10:36 pm Thursday, March 7, 2013

Lakeland junior Shane McCaw practices fielding grounders with the team on Thursday at Lakeland High School. McCaw will get a prime placement in coach Mark Pollick's batting order, hitting third.

Lakeland junior Shane McCaw practices fielding grounders with the team on Thursday at Lakeland High School. McCaw will get a prime placement in coach Mark Pollick’s batting order, hitting third.

The Lakeland High School baseball team brings back eight starters from last year’s team and is optimistic about its chances to improve upon that squad which showed ability, but missed the district tournament.

“I feel like we’ll have a pretty good year,” junior catch/pitcher Tyler Lilley said. “I think we’ve got a solid team.”

“I’ve got high expectations,” head coach Mark Pollick said. “I think we should be a decent team. We were decent last year.”

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The Cavaliers had good pitching and decent batting, but lacked offensive consistency, finishing 6-13 overall and 5-13 in the district.

“I would like to go .500,” Pollick said. “We had a chance to achieve it last year, but mostly I had a lot of sophomores, and we were young.”

The youth and inexperience did not keep the Cavs from keeping games close, but it kept them from finishing well, Pollick said. The scoreboard often showed scores like 4-3, 4-2, 3-1 and 1-0.

“We just couldn’t close those games out that we needed to (in order) to secure those victories, but I think this year’s going to be a different story,” he said. “I really do.”

Junior first baseman Shane McCaw shared what the team has been up to since December to change the narrative this season.

“We started working out Mondays and Wednesdays,” he said. “And then Tuesdays and Thursdays, when it was warm enough and nice weather, we’d come out on the field and take infield and hit a little bit, so our coach kept us working so we wouldn’t get rusty over the off-season. So, that’s helped us out a lot. That’s a big advantage over last season.”

“I’m expecting us to go pretty far,” junior right-fielder Jefferson Knight said. “We should at least get to the playoffs.”

Of the returning starters, five of them are juniors, two are seniors and one is a freshman.

Pollick highlighted three juniors on whom he is counting this season. The first is Shane McCaw, who will be batting third in the order.

“My best batter I like to have in the three position,” Pollick said. “Someone that’s consistent, hits the ball.”

Pollick did not otherwise single out who his best batter was on the team, including McCaw’s name with two players that will be batting fourth and fifth — Tyler Lilley and Jefferson Knight, respectively.

“Jefferson Knight had a fantastic (scrimmage) against Wilson, 3-for-3,” Pollick said of Tuesday’s match-up. “Hit the ball solid the whole time.”

Lilley’s presence will be felt through his pitching.

“He won three games for us last year,” Pollick said. “Lost one, but he was pretty solid.”

And if Lilley picks up where he left off in 2012, his bat will be key, as well.

“Had a .439 average last year,” Pollick said. “He had one of the best averages in the district, but he didn’t get recognized for anything.”

Junior Austin Mills and senior Jared Bass will bat first and second because of their speed and ability as contact hitters.

With five equally capable pitchers, Pollick expects the team to pitch by committee as opposed to relying upon an ace.

Progress has been made to address what Pollick identified as the team’s biggest challenges. The Cavaliers’ shortstop from 2012, Robert Fitzwater, transferred to Nansemond River this year, creating a significant hole in the lineup.

“Ryan Stalnaker is the one that we’ve been working at the position,” Pollick said. “He’s stepped up. He’s been doing well. He’s still got a lot to learn about the position, but he’s doing all right.”

The team has worked on conditioning all through the winter because Pollick noticed it seemed to run out of gas late in the season.

With solid pitching in place, Pollick and the Cavaliers have also focused on producing that all-important offensive consistency missing from last year’s games.

“It all came down to runs, moving runners, hitting to the right side of the field, opposite side of the field to move a runner over — skills that you need to win games,” Pollick said. “We’ve been working on them.”

Lakeland opens the season at Western Branch High School on March 12.