Bulldogs eye big 2014

Published 10:09 pm Thursday, March 13, 2014

Ambition helps define this year’s King’s Fork High School baseball team that features an unusual wealth of upperclassmen but also includes some new faces.

“The atmosphere around our team right now has been to break the wins record for our school this year,” Bulldogs head coach Pat Stafford said.

The most wins a King’s Fork baseball team has had is five. The Bulldogs struggled last season in their final year as a member of the Southeastern District. They went 3-17 overall and 2-16 in the district.


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But they did feature noteworthy talent that has now gone on to the next level, and they will need to compensate for their absences.

Center fielder Noah Johnson, who was second team all-district last year, is now playing for Norfolk State University. Third baseman and pitcher Daniel Gromkoski is playing for Averett University and catcher/pitcher Cedric Henry plays for the College of The Albemarle.

Evaluating his 2014 roster, Stafford said, “We’re definitely an older team this year, I would say.”

There are eight seniors and seven juniors, yet there are also only six returners from last year. Part of the reason for all the new faces is that a lot of juniors have come up from last season’s junior varsity squad, and there are also four freshmen on the varsity roster.

Additionally, two seniors are returning to baseball after focusing on other sports. Aaron Hommell, who placed seventh in the state this year for King’s Fork as a 160-pound wrestler, returns after playing baseball in the eighth and ninth grades. Truman Boyd, who aided Bulldog success on the gridiron in 2013, is back after playing JV baseball two years ago.

Stafford outlined his expectations for his team.

“This year, we’re definitely looking to make an impact in the new conference,” he said. “We still should be somewhat competitive within our district.”

As far as seeing the Virginia High School League’s realignment as a positive or negative, Stafford did not lean in either direction.

“I’m kind of in the middle,” he said. “We’ll take this year and see how it works out.”

He acknowledged the tough competitors like the usual district opponents still will be on the schedule. He also noted that rivalries with the Suffolk schools will be kept alive, but those with Chesapeake schools will die off.

He indicated playing schools of like size will result in more travel, but said, “It’s definitely giving our school a better chance to compete.”

Stafford said his players are very excited about the conference tournament at the end of year, which every conference team qualifies for. As success there means advancing to regionals, it will be the Bulldogs’ first chance for high stakes competition late in the season.

The coach said his team’s biggest challenge would be overcoming pressure situations in big games like those.

The players helping lead the way for King’s Fork will include senior second baseman Connor McNamara.

“He’s our best returning hitter, I believe, this year,” Stafford said, as he carried the Bulldogs’ highest batting average and on-base percentage in 2013.

Senior Tim Hairsine has seen little time on the mound previously, but will pitch this year with a new style, throwing side arm.

“I think he’ll get the opportunity to see a lot of innings for us,” Stafford said, as well as compete for batting and outfield time.

Senior Coty Ward has the chance to be a leader as a returning middle infielder, potentially playing shortstop, second base or third base.

Junior catcher/pitcher Cal Bailey has been with the team since his freshman year, and Stafford said he has gained enough strength to move to the pivotal middle of the batting lineup.

Among the up-and-comers, junior outfielder Duke Santora has the opportunity to move up in the order and claim a starting outfield position, while Cedric Henry’s brother, junior Kalev Henry is “going to get a chance to earn a lot of time, possibly in centerfield,” Stafford said.

The Bulldogs begin the season on Tuesday at Deep Creek High School.