High school baseball outlook: James Wood brings back pitching prowess

Last baseball season was a historic one for the James Wood baseball team.

The Colonels won a school-record 22 games, captured the Region 4C title and advanced all of the way to the state title clash, where they finished runner-up to powerful Hanover.

With its main pitching weapons returning, including Winchester Star Player of the Year Nick Bell, James Wood figures to be a major player again in the Class 4 Northwestern District and in the postseason.

Bell broke school records for wins (11) and strikeouts (123) in a season in which he went 11-3 with a 1.36 ERA. Starter Colin McGuire finished 6-2 with a 2.67 ERA and 66 strikeouts and Daniel Franceschi (2.02 ERA) cleaned up out of the bullpen.

The key for Adrian Pullen’s squad (22-6 last season) will be replacing three big hitters who are now on college rosters, Bodie Pullen (Shepherd), Brody Bower (Eastern) and Jacob Roy (Richard Bland).

Infielder Eli Miller came on strong in the postseason and was second on the team with a .378 average, with 20 runs, 16 stolen bases and 11 RBIs. Jared Neal (.322, 18 RBIs) and Kemper Omps (.321) each hit above .320. McGuire (21) and Bell (18) and John Copenhaver (16) also were among the area leaders in RBIs.

Millbrook had the edge on the Colonels until the Region 4C title game. The Pioneers (21-4) won two regular-season matchups and the Northwestern District title game against James Wood.

Coach Brian Burke’s squad brings back some solid bats, but will be looking to replace its three primary starters Jerrod Jenkins (Dallas Baptist), Ethan Burgreen (Shepherd) and Aiden Henry.

The versatile Carl Keenan, usually a starter at catcher or in the infield, is the Pioneers’ most experienced pitcher. Coming mostly out of the bullpen, Keenan was 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA and four saves last season.

Keenan, a switch-hitter who is headed to Shenandoah University, is excellent out of the leadoff spot with a .275 average and .479 on-base percentage. He scored an area-best 35 runs and had 15 stolen bases.

Keenan sets the table for the Pioneers’ big bopper Nate Brookshire. The third baseman, who is headed to Shepherd, led the area with 3 homers and 25 RBIs and was third with a .429 batting average and fifth with 23 runs.

Outfielder Chase Ford (19 stolen bases, 16 runs, 13 RBIs) is another offensive threat for the Pioneers.

Sherando (11-10) started off hot in the district race last season, but stumbled down the stretch. Coach Pepper Martin played a lot of young players last season and that may benefit him this spring.

Cole Orr (3-5, 2.53 ERA) is an excellent control pitcher, while Gary Keats (4-3, 3.95 ERA) and Tyler Strosnider (2-1) provided some heat.

The Warriors, who struggled to score runs, graduated three of their four top hitters in the lineup, including David English, who was second in the area in batting average.

Center fielder Trey Williams (.328 average, 16 runs 15 RBIs) is the leading returning hitter for Sherando. Neil Holborn (.308) provided some pop at the end of the season.

Handley (4-17) is still looking up at a tough field in the district, but the Judges have some talent.

Second baseman Kaplan Ambrose hit a team-best .385 last season with a .539 on-base percentage and 10 RBIs. Griffin Hott (.316), and Charlie Allen (.315) also hit above the .300 mark for Patrick Wingfield’s club. Hott was the Judges’ top pitcher with a 2-6 record and 46 strikeouts.

All of the area coaches expect the district race to be a tough one. Many expect Kettle Run and Fauquier, who both finished with 7-5 district records last season, to be tough competition.

Clarke County (11-11) finished third in the Bull Run District last season. Coach Mike Smith’s team brings back some solid players but pitching could be an issue. The Eagles did not return their top three starters, including Luke Lyman (Morehead State). They also lost Cordell Broy, the area’s batting leader, to graduation.

Shortstop Matt Sipe will lead the squad. Sipe was fourth in the area with a .408 average and he got on base 50 percent of the time. Sipe also scored 22 runs and swiped 22 bases.

Hunter Norton (.333 average, 13 RBIs) also hit well for the Eagles, who will need some new faces to perform well in order to compete at the top of the tough Bull Run District.

James Wood

Coach: Adrian Pullen, third season

Last season: 22-6 overall, 9-3 Class Northwestern District, Region 4C champion, Class 4 runner-up

Key losses: Jaden Ashby, Brody Bower, Ryan Clupp, Bodie Pullen, Jacob Roy.

Top returning players: Nick Bell (Sr., P/IF); Clayton Braithwaite (Sr., IF); Daniel Franceschi (Sr., P/IF); Michael Jackson (Sr., U); Colin McGuire (Sr., P/IF); Eli Miller (Sr., IF); Jared Neal (Sr., U); Ethan Pingley (Sr., P/IF); John Copenhaver (Jr., C/IF); Kemper Omps (Jr., OF).

Top newcomers: Jacob Harty (Jr., U); Sam Jackson (Jr. P/OF); Bradley Kimble (Jr., P/OF); Evan Lafollette (Jr., P/IF); Garett McAlexander (Jr., P/IF); Trevor Strosnider (Jr., P/IF); Richard Terry (Jr., U); Cade Cornwell (So., P/U).

Pullen’s outlook: “We hope to play sound and fundamental baseball. We expect to throw strikes, play defense, and get the timely hits that will put us in a great position to win the ballgame. We lost the District and Region Player of the Year at shortstop (Bodie Pullen), along with two outfielders that were First and Second team All-Region selections, so offensively and defensively we have some holes to fill. However, we do return some experienced and qualified guys that I believe will step up and fill the holes. Our pitching staff returns complete, so we hope to continue last year’s success on the mound. We will continue to work hard on the details and build upon the type of success that we’ve had over the last two years. … Seniors Nick Bell, Colin McGuire, Ethan Pingley and Daniel Franceschi all had success last year and will lead our pitching staff this season. Seniors Jared Neal, Eli Miller, Michael Jackson and Clayton Braithwaite will be relied on to solidify the missing links to our offense and defense. They all bring experience and leadership qualities that every team needs to be successful.”

First game: Monday at Skyline


Coach: Brian Burke, 12th season

Last year: 21-4 overall, 11-1 Class 4 Northwestern District, district regular-season and tournament champions, Class 4 quarterfinalist.

Key losses: Ethan Burgreen, Jerrod Jenkins, William Croyle, Brandon Mullins, Aiden Henry.

Key returners: Nate Brookshire (Sr., 3B); Carl Keenan (Sr. P/C/IF); Chase Ford (Jr., OF); Micah George (Jr. P/OF); Ryan Liero (Sr., IF); Cam Comins (Sr., P); Austin Conley (Sr., IF); Deaken Neff (Sr., OF); Wyatt Hummer (Sr. C); Colin Stephanites (Sr., U).

Key newcomers: Tanner Barb (Jr., C); Hogan Newlin (Jr., IF); Brady Price (Jr., IF); Devin Reid (So., P/OF); Richie Pell (Jr., P/OF), Andrew Henry (Jr. P/IF); Cole Purdy (Jr., OF).

Burke’s outlook: “Our expectations really don’t change from year to year. As a staff we want our players to compete, execute, and play hard. We want them to give themselves a chance to win every game. … We expect to see some healthy competitions at certain positions going into the season. It may take us the first few weeks to find a consistent lineup. We will need everyone to step up and perform to be at the level we want them to be. … Our hope would be to compete again for a district and regional title, but we have a lot of work to do to get there.”

First game: Monday at Loudoun Valley


Coach: Pepper Martin, 29th season

Last season: 11-10 overall, 5-7 Class 4 Northwestern District

Key Losses: Terrell Roberts, Zach Symons, David English, Jamie Tinsman, Tyler Campbell, Donovyn Willis.

Key returners: Cole Orr (Sr., P/3B); Ty Helmick (Sr., OF); Trey Williams (Jr., CF); Tyler Strosnider (Jr., SS/P); Neil Holborn (Jr., 3B/P); Gary Keats (So., P/1B); Dylan Frazier (So., C/DH).

Key newcomers: Malachi Sloane (Sr., C/DH); Tyler Whitacre (Sr., P/U); Giancarlo Lisciandrello (Jr., IF/P); Brady Largent (Jr. 1B/P); Logan Brannan (Jr., OF/P); Riley Hartley (Jr., C); Hayden Lafever (So., OF); Tucker Lafever (So., OF).

Martin’s outlook: “We are fortunate to be heading into the season with the return of our top four pitchers from the 2022 team. Our pitching staff has been provided with even more depth with the addition of transfers Tyler Whitacre (James Wood) and Giancarlo Lisciandrello (Von Steuben, Chicago), as well as two more arms up from the JV team. Cole Orr, Gary Keats, Tyler Strosnider, Whitacre and Lisciandrello should command most of the innings pitched with the remainder of the staff serving relief roles. Offensively we will be a work in progress early in the season, as we lost our Nos. 1, 3 and 4 hitters from last year’s lineup to graduation. We’re hoping to get a boost from transfer Malachi Sloane (Legacy Christian) as well as from our younger players Tyler Strosnider, Trey Williams, Keats, Dylan Frazier, and Neil Holborn who have improved significantly as a result of their extensive playing time last season as sophomores and freshmen. We’re showing the potential in practice of being solid defensively, particularly up the middle, and we have a number of players who are versatile at multiple positions. The Northwestern District is going to be very competitive this year from top to bottom, so it will be imperative to get quality starts from our pitchers, execute and manufacture runs with our offense, and make all of the routine plays on defense in order to be successful.”

First Game: Tuesday at Loudoun County


Coach: Patrick Wingfield, ninth season

Last year: 4-17 overall, 1-11 Class 4 Northwestern District

Key losses: Josh Stickles, Jacob Duffy, Austin Smith, Nick Curtis.

Key returners: Griffin Hott (Sr., P/IF); Lucas Mammano (Sr., OF/P); Dylon Moxley (Sr., 1B/OF); Kaplan Ambrose, (Jr., SS/P); Charlie Allen (So., C/P).

Key newcomers: Landen Lewis (Jr., 3B/P); Staige Dolan (Jr., 2B/P); Logan Ambrose (So., OF/C); Jake Swartz (Fr., OF/P).

Wingfield’s outlook: “We bring in a lot more options at pitcher than we have had in a long time. That will help us be more competitive in every game this season and give our less experienced lineup a chance to win games late. Griffin, Kaplan and Charlie have set high expectations for the team and themselves individually. I think our team will go as far as they lead us. Lucas Mammano has come a long way from an afterthought at the beginning of last season to a solid two-way player.”

First game: Monday at Park View

Clarke County

Coach: Mike Smith, sixth season

Last year: 11-11 overall, 7-5 Bull Run District

Key losses: Luke Lyman, Cordell Broy, Caleb Childs and Jacob Plotner

Key returners: Matt Sipe (Sr., SS); Theo Wood (Sr., IF); Hunter Norton (Sr., IF/P), Quenton Slusher (Jr., OF/P); Wilson Taylor (So., INF/P).

Key newcomers: Kaden McKenzie (Jr., OF); Caden Fowler (Jr., OF/IF); Landon Roper (Jr., C/OF); Aiden Wagner (Fr., INF/P), Cam McCarty (Fr., OF/P), Caleb Erickison (Fr., C); Josiah Carne (Jr., IF).

Smith’s outlook: “We have three seniors with plenty of varsity experience which should help us stay competitive in the district. I will have five returners and seven players who were on the JV team last spring that will now have to step in and be ready to face varsity pitching. Matt Sipe is a very talented athlete who brings many tangibles to the field. He can hit (.408 last spring), has a plus arm at shortstop and can steal a base at any time. Year-in and year-out the Bull Run District is one of the toughest districts in Class 2 baseball. If we can eliminate the mental mistakes and have consistent pitching, we should be in contention all season.”

First game: Monday at Page County

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