Knights ready to re-take the keep

Published 10:47 pm Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Suffolk Christian Academy baseball team returns much of what helped it end the 2013 season with an eight-game win streak and the conference tournament championship in hand. Confidence is running high as the 2014 Knights squad gears up for action.

“It’s probably, all in all, the most talented team we’ve had at Suffolk Christian Academy thus far, from top to bottom,” Knights head coach Orel Schleeper said of his current roster.

Suffolk Christian Academy sophomore Shawn Moose will play a key role as a pitcher and middle infielder this season.

Suffolk Christian Academy sophomore Shawn Moose will play a key role as a pitcher and middle infielder this season.

He assured this was not meant to take anything away from the teams Los Angeles Dodgers draftee Josh Henderson was a part of, but merely intended to highlight that this season’s group, while still very young, is solid with experience.

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Helping make this possible are players’ new opportunities to play for Schleeper outside the regular season against quality competition.

“A lot of them played for me on the Sluggers team,” the coach said, referring to a hand-picked squad of private school or home schooled players. It is sponsored by his business, Sluggers, which features indoor batting cages, a pro shop, sports photography and more.

The Sluggers team played last summer in a wood bat league with Southeastern District school teams and also faced the SED in fall ball, scoring victories against schools like Great Bridge High School, Grassfield High School and Hickory High School.

A recent expansion at Sluggers has given the Knights’ pitchers and catchers the facilities to begin conditioning in December, which Schleeper anticipates will help SCA start stronger this year.

He outlined a simple expectation for the Knights this season: “To win it all again,” he said. “That’s the expectation.”

The Knights did lose some leadership from last year due to graduation, including seniors Matthew Snead, Nathan VanDorn, Clint Byrd and Wayne Conner.

However, Suffolk Christian is enjoying a large increase in participation in 2014.

“Our numbers are incredible,” Schleeper said, noting SCA also has junior junior varsity and junior varsity teams this year.

Powering the varsity team will be some familiar names, including senior Noah Nickert and sophomore Shawn Moose. Schleeper said he will go back and forth between those two as his starting pitcher on the mound, and they will fill important roles when not there, including first base for Nickert.

“Shawn’s a very good middle infielder,” the coach said, highlighting that he will play at shortstop. “Sometimes we’re stronger defensively that way.”

Junior Jared Lauver returns both as a power hitter and as a strong presence behind the plate.

“He’s very good back there,” Schleeper said.

The coach underlined the importance of another returner, sophomore Michael Cornette.

“He was my (Most Valuable Player) last year at our sports banquet,” Schleeper said.

Cornette has shown his versatility and will be a utility player this year, possibly playing in the outfield or infield.

“You’ll get to see him on the mound some this year, too,” Schleeper said.

The coach picked up another senior for SCA this season, Jeremy Blasoile, who played for him on the Sluggers. Schleeper praised the home schooler for being a power hitter, a good left-handed pitcher and a great outfielder.

“Just all around, a solid asset to the team,” Schleeper said.

He added that most of his pitchers will throw in the mid-70s this year.

In terms of up-and-comers, Schleeper counted among that number sophomores Nash Howell and Barton Metzgar and freshmen Ben Boomer and Richie Hall.

The biggest challenge the Knights will face this year is that of playing as a team, Schleeper said.

“Everybody’s very talented, and now we’ve got to get them to gel,” he said. “You can have the best players in the world, but if you can’t get them to play as a team, you struggle.”

Suffolk Christian is scheduled to begin its regular season today at 4:30 p.m. against visiting Peninsula Catholic High School.