Warriors loaded with experience
Published 5:27 pm Saturday, March 26, 2016
The 2016 Nansemond River High School baseball team is putting its considerable skills to the test early in the season.
The Warriors already have faced some challenges in the Southeastern District, and they will travel to Arizona over spring break to take on talented teams from that state, California and New York.
Nansemond River improved to 3-1 on Thursday with a 5-4 victory over host Indian River High School.
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“We’ve been dealing with injuries at the top of the (pitching) order,” Warriors coach Mark Stuffel said, but Thursday’s victory was due, in part, to those pitchers starting to get healthy.
Senior Michael Blanchard improved to 2-0 on the mound, pitching innings four through seven against the Braves, throwing four strikeouts and giving up only one run.
“Pitching and defense was good, and we battled,” Stuffel said on Friday. “We were facing (pitcher John) Fuqua. He’s a lefty going to (Virginia Military Institute), and he was really good last night.”
The Braves led 2-0 after the first inning and 3-1 after the fourth, but the Warriors tied things up 3-3 in the fifth. In the sixth, NR senior Dion Jordan hit a two-run homer to put his team up 5-3. The Braves responded with a run in the bottom of the inning.
“It was a good game,” Stuffel said. “I think the last 10 times we’ve played them it’s been a one-run game. It’s always tight with them.”
The game illustrated some of Nansemond River’s strengths this season, particularly its seniors.
“We have 11 seniors, and eight are committed to college,” Stuffel said.
Rounding out the roster are three juniors, two who start, and three sophomores.
Last year, the Warriors went 19-5 and won the Ironclad Conference tournament, advancing to the Region 4A South quarterfinals, where they fell to Hanover High School.
Though some stars from that team have graduated, including Kieton Rivers and Robert Fitzwater, Stuffel expressed confidence in his 2016 roster.
“We have a really good group of players,” he said. “I think we’re a better team this year than we were last year all-around.”
“We’re deep on the mound, we’re very good defensively, and on certain nights, was can swing it pretty good,” Stuffel said.
Leading the way on the mound is Blanchard, an Old Dominion University commit, and senior Matthew Holt, who has committed to La Salle University.
“They’re both very good No. 1s for a high school baseball team,” Stuffel said.
The pitching rotation also includes sophomore Gage Williams; senior Corey Fago, a Chowan University commit; and junior Jarret Henderson.
Stuffel said everybody on his team is a standout on offense, but then added, “Jarrid Johnson is probably our best hitter.”
In addition to the junior shortstop, the coach highlighted center fielder Dion Jordan, committed to Norfolk State University; senior second baseman Nick Lees, committed to Chowan University; senior right fielder Wil Davis, committed to Anderson University; senior catcher Reid Williams, committed to King University; and senior left fielder Chris Henderson.
Regarding Henderson, “he’s going to play college, either baseball or football,” Stuffel said. “We don’t know yet, but he’s a pretty good hitter.”
The Warriors next play in the Coach Bob National Invitational in Arizona, the furthest they have ever gone to play.
“We’ve never flown before,” Stuffel said. “The kids are very excited.”
The invitational is a two-week event running from March 21 to April 2, and the Warriors will be playing games on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Their opponents will be host Sandra Day O’Connor High School, Simi Valley High School out of California and Xaverian High School out of Brooklyn, N.Y.
“They’re really good,” Stuffel said. “We’re either going to make a name for ourselves, or get whupped.”