Santora inspires King’s Fork

Published 9:51 pm Saturday, April 12, 2014

King’s Fork High School junior leftfielder Duke Santora has been just what his team needed this season. Just when a game seemed like it might be slipping out of reach, he has stepped in for the Bulldogs and reversed the momentum.

Timely plays at bat helped him earn a nomination and win as the Duke Automotive-Suffolk News-Herald Player of the Week.

Santora

Santora

“I felt pretty confident at the plate,” Santora said of his games between March 31 and April 4. “We’ve been getting a lot of reps in the cages lately.”

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Against host Lakeland High School on March 31, he came off the bench to hit a triple, driving in a runner to tie the game. The Bulldogs eventually won 3-2.

King’s Fork lost 6-5 on April 2 against visiting Nansemond River High School, but the close score was the most significant takeaway for the Bulldogs, and Santora had a hand in it. He led his team with two hits and aided the late rally that took his team from a 5-1 deficit to a 5-5 tie.

Two days later, he helped his team take visiting Oscar Smith High School to eight innings.

“Duke’s been doing a great job for us this year,” Bulldogs head coach Pat Stafford said.

“The thing about Duke is, when he’s having trouble or when he’s struggling at the plate, he still has the ability to drop a bunt down and beat it out for a base hit,” Stafford said.

Santora cited speed as his main strength in baseball, but another quality makes him a coach’s dream.

“He’s always aggressive. He’s always looking to find a way to get on base, which is very good in the game of baseball,” Stafford said. “That’s the type of hitters you look for.”

As of April 12, Santora’s on-base percentage is .435, his batting average is .409 and his slugging percentage is .773.

Stafford said Santora’s ability to get on base helps inspire teammates who come up to the plate after him.

“He got hits started in the Oscar Smith game,” Stafford said. “He’s doing a very good job in the outfield, too. With his ability and speed, he’s able to get to some balls where certain players aren’t able to get to, which has really helped us, especially in close ballgames that we’ve had.”

In the Lakeland game, he made a play that saved two runs, the coach said.

Santora has already established himself as a football player at King’s Fork, but his history with baseball is significant, having started in little league around the age of 6, while living in Albany, N.Y.

After moving to Suffolk at 9, Santora spent the rest of his seven-year little league stint with the Suffolk Youth Athletic Association.

Impressively, he did not have to climb through the ranks of junior varsity or even benefit from experience with travel ball teams to make it onto the KF varsity squad. His playing time was scarce as a sophomore backing up Noah Johnson, but his athletic ability helped him make the cut, even though he was coming off a two-year break because of knee surgeries.

He has also logged time playing other sports.

“During winter my freshman year, I wrestled, and sophomore year, I took off because of the knee surgery, my second one, and then this year I ran indoor track,” he said.

Football is his favorite sport, he said, but “baseball is up there, though.”

His father, Tim Santora, introduced him to baseball and credits his son’s success lately to good coaching and competition. Duke also had an example set for him in-house by his older siblings.

His older brother T.J., who graduated in 2008, played football and baseball; his sister Andrea, who graduated in 2009, played softball and field hockey; and his sister Nicolette, who graduated in 2012, participated in cross country, field hockey, indoor and outdoor track, swimming and soccer.

“He had to prove himself because of what the other three did,” Tim Santora said.

“I just love being competitive,” Duke Santora said.