2016 Baseball Preview

Posted: March 12, 2016
By ROBERT STOCKS
The Winchester Star

Trey Braithwaite is one of five standout starting pitchers for the Millbrook High School baseball team this season. (Photo by Ginger Perry/The Winchester Star)

All-Northwestern District first baseman Eli Warren is among the top returning players for James Wood’s baseball squad this season. (Photo by Ginger Perry/The Winchester Star)

Shortstop Jordon Turner (left) is one of the returning starters for the Clarke County baseball squad. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)
WINCHESTER — Millbrook High School’s baseball team had three pitchers post an earned-run average of 1.18 or better a season ago.

Two of those three pitchers — Alex Amos (5-2, 0.82 ERA, 37 strikeouts in 34 innings pitched) and Trey Braithwaite (6-0, 1.00 ERA, 50 Ks in 42 IP) — return, but the Pioneers boast a much deeper pitching staff than last season even with Colin Benner now pitching for Shepherd University.

No team in the area — and probably very few in Group 4A — can match the Pioneers’ pitching depth.

The return of junior pitcher Anthony Simonelli, who missed his sophomore season because of a knee injury after earning all-state honors as a freshman when he helped the Pioneers sweep district, conference and regional titles on their way to a state runner-up season, is one big reason.

Add in junior lefty Robert Kennedy, a transfer from North Stafford who has already given a verbal commitment to Kennesaw State University, and junior Austin Murphy, who along with Braithwaite (4A and VHSCA 4A second team all-state) tossed the first two no-hitters in school history, and Millbrook possesses a formidable starting rotation.

“We can run any of those five out there and we feel like we can compete with any team that we face,” said Millbrook coach Brian Burke, who noted that Kennedy is the first left-handed pitcher on the team in his six seasons. “Trey was our workhorse last year and the return of Anthony after the year off — his velocity has increased and we’re excited to see him back on the mound. Robert Kennedy brings a wealth of varsity experience from North Stafford and his bullpens have been really good so far. Murphy gave us some good, quality innings, but he’s the guy with the least experience.”

Burke said the Pioneers’ pitching depth might allow Amos to focus most of his attention at shortstop and he could be a spot starter or closer this season.

Although there’s a wealth of experienced arms that Burke can go to at anytime, the Pioneers do have some question marks.

Those questions mainly concern the bottom half of the batting order behind returning standouts Amos (first team All-Northwestern and All-Conference 21, second team 4A all-state and first team All-VHSCA all-state), Conor Hartigan (first team All-Northwestern and All-Conference 21) and Trenton Burgreen (first team All-Northwestern and All-Conference 21) — who moves from third to second base to replace Bruce Keenan, now a freshman at Bucknell.

“Our pitching is going to be strong,” Burke said. “We’re still searching for who is going to hit in the lineup from [Nos.] 5-9. Offensively, we’ve got to get the run support for them and right now that’s the biggest question mark. Time will tell. We’re trying to figure out what the bottom of our lineup is going to look like.”

Overall, the Pioneers have six players who have already committed to play baseball in college, including Simonelli — who went 10-0 with 39 Ks and a 1.57 ERA as a freshman) and Hartigan (both Coastal Carolina), Braithwaite (Navy), Burgreen (Shepherd), Amos (Pittsburgh) and Kennedy.

Sherando coach Pepper Martin, whose team upset Millbrook in the Conference 21 tournament semifinals a season ago, said the Pioneers have to be considered the favorite to win the conference.

“Millbrook is the top team,” Martin said. “Woodgrove is going to be tough, but Millbrook has the pitchers to keep them in every single game. I don’t know if they’ll need a whole lot of offensive production to be in every single game.”

Sherando lost first team All-Group 4A pitcher Adam Whitacre — now a freshman at Radford University — as well as starting pitcher Ty Michaud to graduation.

Martin said his team has plenty of players who can pitch so it will likely be a group effort to fill the void left by Whitacre and Michaud.

“This year we don’t have any clear-cut ace,” Martin said. “We have 16 players on the team and 11 are listed as pitchers. We will pitch by committee. We’ll give them some mound time to see how effective they are.

“We like to define the roles of our pitchers, whether it’s starter, middle reliever or closer and right now it’s undecided. We want to get guys some mound time and see how they develop.”

Clarke County needs to develop some pitching depth behind junior Colt Webb and senior Cody Santmyer — who led Clarke offensively, batting .414 with 20 RBIs — with the departure of last year’s ace Alex Dobry, but the Eagles hope to improve on last season’s 11-11 (9-6 Bull Run District) record with five returning players.

“I think we should have a pretty solid lineup this year from top to bottom,” said Clarke County coach Jon Novick. “I’ve got guys who can hit one through nine. Pitching has the ability to be very good but we have a lot to prove.”

Here’s a glance at the area teams:

Millbrook

Coach: Brian Burke, sixth year.

Last year: 19-3, 8-0 Northwestern, lost in Conference 21 semifinals.

Key losses: Colin Benner, Bruce Keenan and Ryan Hartigan.

Top returnees: Alex Amos, Sr. SS (area-best .453, 15 RBIs, 25 runs); Trey Braithwaite, Sr. P; Trenton Burgreen, Sr. 2B (15 RBIs, 15 runs, 11 SB); Anthony Simonelli, Jr. P; Conor Hartigan, Jr. OF (.375, area-best 23 RBIs, 22 runs, 13 SB); Austin Murphy, Jr. P; Kyle Keenan, Jr. C; Josh Sherman Sr. 1B.

Key newcomers: Ryan Kennedy, Jr. P/1B and Kelby Leberknight, Jr. UT.

Burke’s outlook: “This senior group is pretty hungry to get back to regional play. That’s our first goal. We’re going to try to win what we need to win in conference and we missed that chance last year with the loss to Sherando. Our expectations are high, but we have to understand we have to work for everything this year. We’ve got a target on our back and everyone is going to play tough against us.”

First game: Tuesday, vs. Harrisonburg, 7 p.m.

Sherando

Coach: Pepper Martin, 23rd year.

Last year: 10-14, 4-4 Northwestern

Key losses: Adam Whitacre, Ty Michaud, Connor Stevenson, Quentin Rohrbaugh, Michael White and Matt Dansbach.

Top returnees: Austin Simmons, Sr. IF/C/P (.306, 12 runs); Tyler Tinsman, Sr. C/P; Myles McPartland, Jr. OF (.333, 17 runs, second team All-Northwestern and All-Conference 21A); Frank Ritter III Soph. SS (.333); Pearce Bucher, Soph. 3B (17 RBIs); Brett Griffith, P Sr.; Colin Painter, Sr. 2B/P; Caleb Peacher, 1B/C/P.

Key newcomers: Ravyn Rouse, Jr. P/1B; Brett Bodenschatz, Jr. P/OF; Jacob Smith Jr. OF; Lucas Barbe, Jr. 1B; Aaron Banks, Soph.; Michael Usa, Fr. P/3B; Hunter Entsminger, Fr. C/P/OF; Jack Duvall, Fr. IF.

Martin’s outlook: “We have a relatively young team, but they’re working hard every day in practice and we just want to try to get better every day. Offensively, we need to manufacture some runs by getting base runners on and move them up with bunts or hit-and-run and try to score whenever we can. I don’t think this team has the makeup of being a team that’s going to go out and put a lot of crooked numbers on the board. We’ll have to manufacture runs and play good defense as our pitchers develop. We’re excited about [our potential], but we have a lot of inexperience on the field.”

First game: Monday, vs. Broadway, 6 p.m.

James Wood

Coach: Brent Lockhart, third year.

Last year: 12-8, 3-5 Northwestern

Key losses: Bryan Whitacre, Cohen Kerns, Kris Malsch, KaCee Duggan, Brady Hepner, Reid Barber and Zach Thompson.

Top returnees: Eli Warren, Sr. 1B (.393, 14 RBIs, first team All-Northwestern and All-Conference 21); Cameron Gross, Sr. P; Joel Smith, Jr. IF/P (second team All-Northwestern).

Key newcomers: Ben Russo, Jr. P/OF; Cody Polk, Sr. P/C.

Lockhart’s outlook: “We lost nine seniors [including five all-district players in Thompson, Whitacre, Malsch, Duggan and Hepner] last year. We’re just really a young team. We’ll see what we can do. The kids are dedicated and are listening and taking everything in well. I hope the kids continue to take in and learn as much as they can about the game of baseball and just continue to compete no matter what the score is.”

First game: Tuesday, vs. Warren County, 6 p.m.

Handley

Coach: Pat Wingfield, third year

Last year: 3-18, 0-8 Northwestern

Key losses: Cole Talton, Raymond Reigle, Braden Collingwood

Top returnees: Matt Wagner, Sr. OF (.324, second team all-district); Dylan Van Laeken, Sr. 1B; Travis Painter, Sr. 3B; Cam Bentley, Jr. OF; Jimmy Vitola Jr. C; Dwight McGinnis Jr. P/2B.

Key newcomers: Tyler Paniagua, Sr. 1B; John Rosa, Fr. SS; Aidan Marshall, Jr. P/3B; Miles Franck, Soph. 1B/OF; Webb Bentley, Fr. UT.

Wingfield’s outlook: “We’re still a pretty young team with four or five seniors and we’re still improving. We’ll be better than last year because we have a little more experience under our belt. I think we have a good group of guys that are willing to compete. We had the best showing in our hitting and pitching [workouts] in the offseason, and I think that will bode well for us.”

First game: Friday, vs. Harrisonburg, 6 p.m.

Clarke County

Coach: Jon Novick, eighth year

Last year: 11-11, 9-6 Bull Run District

Key losses: Alex Dobry

Top returnees: Cody Santmyer, Sr. OF/P (second team all-district); Jordon Turner, Sr. SS/P (.373, area-best 26 runs, 14 stolen bases, second team all-district); Zach Melusen, Sr. 1B (.362); Kaden Warren, Soph. C/IF; Colt Webb, Jr. P.

Key newcomers: Isaac Heavener, Sr. IF/C; Chris Davis, Jr. IF; Sam Fairrman, Jr. IF.

Novick’s outlook: “This is one of the better lineups top-to-bottom since I’ve been here. I’d like to see a district championship, and I’d like to say we’ve got a chance to be in the mix throughout.”

First game: Tuesday, vs. Riverside, 5 p.m.

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