Cavs reset on diamond

Published 7:48 pm Saturday, March 8, 2014

Sizing it up: Lakeland High School senior catcher/pitcher Tyler Lilley is expected to be a key contributor for the Cavaliers this season. (file photo)

Sizing it up: Lakeland High School senior catcher/pitcher Tyler Lilley is expected to be a key contributor for the Cavaliers this season. (file photo)

Lakeland High School’s baseball program gets a fresh start with a new head coach this year after a frustrating, losing season in 2013.

“We wanted to go in a different direction,” Lakeland activities director Gregory Rountree said with regard to the coaching position. “We just decided it was time to make a change.”

Rountree, who interviewed candidates for the position, explained what made William Dean his choice.

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“When we sat down and talked, he knew the game and plus, his experiences and references helped out a whole lot,” he said.

Dean has 30 years of coaching experience, nearly all of it focused on baseball, and he played the sport while attending Deep Creek High School and Virginia Wesleyan College.

Most recently, he served five years as the junior varsity coach at Frank W. Cox High School in Virginia Beach. He also coached seventh- and eighth-graders in Cox’s Junior Falcons Program.

Prior to his time with Cox, he coached at Great Neck Middle School and before that at a middle school in Elizabeth City, N.C.

When he stopped teaching in Virginia Beach and started teaching for Southeastern Cooperative Educational Programs, Dean said, it meant a move that opened up an opportunity to coach in Suffolk.

He acknowledged Lakeland’s recent struggles and that it is one of the smaller schools in the area in student enrollment, but he noted the Virginia High School League’s realignment dictates that only schools of like size will meet in any given post-season tournament.

“I think that creates just greater parity, so it gives you hope, but also I think places a burden on you in a sense, too,” Dean said. “We have no excuse to not play well in the tournament.”

The Cavaliers have six seniors this year.

Dean shared his expectations for the team.

“We’re going to win more games than we did last year, no question, because we’re going to be better prepared,” he said, giving credit to the coaching staff he has assembled.

“I think we should win 80 percent of our games in our conference,” he said, which would be eight out of 10 regular-season contests. “I’m expecting that we’ll be one of the top two teams in the (conference) tournament.”

Games against much larger Southeastern District opponents like Great Bridge High School remain on the regular season schedule. Dean expects half of those district games to be winnable, but he added, “We’re not stopping there. We’d like to do even better than that. We want to restore pride in Cavalier baseball,” he said.

At least three of the Cavaliers have a chance to play college baseball.

The first is senior shortstop/pitcher Ryan Stalnaker. The coach said Stalnaker is likely to be the team’s top pitcher, and he is also a good hitter and shortstop.

“He’s just got really good all-around skills, and we look for him to be one of our team leaders,” Dean said.

The coach also praised senior centerfielder Jefferson Davis as the player on the team with the most overall talent.

“He has the most tools of any player that we have,” Dean said, including outstanding hitting and speed and exceptional throwing ability.

Senior catcher/pitcher Tyler Lilley “has probably one of the best throwing arms that we’ll see,” Dean said.

The coach also highlighted junior third baseman/pitcher Blake Harris.

”Blake is an excellent hitter, he’s a good defensive player and he’s going to be one of our better pitchers,” Dean said.

Getting to know each other will be an early challenge for coach and players, but Dean said the biggest challenge will be infield depth when an essential position player is pitching.

Lakeland will open the regular season at home March 18 against Great Bridge High School.