The high school baseball season will officially begin Monday when James River plays host to Lord Botetourt in an intra-county season opener. The game is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.
Junior Martin Henderlite is the probable starting pitcher for LB, while James River coach Gehrig Ferguson is deciding between Tyler Duke, the returning Pioneer District Player of the Year, and Andrew Fields.
River will open the season as the Pioneer District favorite. It would be hard to pick anyone else, as the Knights have won five straight Pioneer titles and return most of last year’s team, including eight seniors.
“We set some pretty lofty goals this year,” said Ferguson.
River should be solid on the mound with Duke, Fields and sophomore Jaret White. Duke is just a junior, and he was dominating at times last year. Fields is a senior and White is a sophomore lefty who pitched well last year. Junior Dustin Winand can also pitch, and Ryan Hepler and Ben Austin are also capable if needed.
“We should have good pitching,” said Ferguson. “That was a concern last year at this time, but we had some people come through.”
Hepler returns behind the plate, and he’s a good one. Ryan was first team all-district last year and a solid leader at an important position.
Around the horn, Brian Buchanan returns at first, Grant Sowder will be at second, Duke, who hit .409 last year, is at short, and J.B. O’Connor will be at third.
In the outfield Andrew Tucker is a returning all-district player in center, and he’s flanked by seniors Austin and Brent Cummings. River also has capable subs as the Knights enter the season with high hopes.
At LB, the Cavaliers suffered a tough loss last summer when Patrick Arnold transferred to Northside. Arnold was the Cavaliers’ top pitcher last year and it left them without a true ace. Henderlite will step up to the No. 1 spot and coach Todd Smith has been auditioning some other capable arms.
“We have nine guys who can throw,” he said. “Right now we’re concentrating on throwing strikes, and I’m hoping some of them will step up. We really don’t have one dominant pitcher.”
The Cavs have some strong hitting returning. Among the returnees are senior first baseman Brett Carroll, senior shortstop Robert Patten, senior catcher Garrett Smith, and junior centerfielder Lincoln Evans.
The Cavaliers are in a very tough Blue Ridge District. Northside, William Byrd and Alleghany all have strong teams. Staunton River, the newcomer, will be young.
“Our district will be tough,” said Smith. “I’ve been pretty pleased with I’ve seen so far. We’ve been concentrating on being more aggressive at the plate and it’s early, but we’ve been hitting the ball well.”
LB will open the season with three straight road games, playing at Salem on March 16 and at Brookville on March 18.
After hosting the Cavs on Monday, the Knights will be at Glenvar on Friday, March 19.