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By Dean Barker
The Bridgewater Reds return to action in 2021 after going 15-14 and falling 1-0 in game 5 of the Rockingham County Baseball League semifinals in 2020. Last year was the first time since 2016 that the Reds missed the league finals, having taken the crown in 2017 and 2018.
Returning for the Reds is utility player George Laase, who hit .342 for Bridgewater last season with five home runs and 24 RBIs. This was all done in spite of the fact that Laase was 38 years old, and had not played since 2011. He won the RCBL’s Chris Cofer Person of the Year Award, instituted last year to honor the late Clover Hill Bucks head coach Chris Cofer.
"It's been a strange year," Laase said in an interview last year with Staunton News Leader. "To get to play the game of baseball one more time meant so much to me and my family."
Laase is joined by OF Corbin Lucas, who had 33 hits and 21 RBI’s last year. Lucas, a Shenandoah University graduate, is returning for his sixth year with the Reds. Strong offense will be necessary for the Reds this season, who led the league in hits (217) and hit .284 last year, the third best in the league.
On the mound, RHP Derek Shifflet is back in Bridgewater for his fifth season with the Reds. The 2015 JMU grad went 4-3 with a total of 68 strikeouts last season, following 146 K’s the previous year. Of 13 appearances last year, only seven were starts, as Shifflet threw both as a starter and reliever, gaining a postseason save. Shifflet will lead a solid Reds pitching staff who led the league in strikeouts (200) and had a 5.70 team ERA last season, third best in the RCBL. He will be joined by JMU redshirt sophomore RHP Liam Grubbs, who had 35 strikeouts in five games for the Reds last year, and was second in the RCBL with a 0.84 ERA in the regular season.
Currently, the Reds have 18 RCBL titles, and are tied with the Clover Hill Bucks for the most all-time. The Bucks and Reds have gone head to head in the playoffs since 2017, with the Reds beating Clover Hill in the 2017 and 2018 title series, falling in 2019 and sweeping the Bucks in last year’s quarterfinals.
Bridgewater will play a total of 21 regular season games in 2021, with 10 at home and 11 on the road. The Reds open at the Montezuma Braves on Saturday, June 5 at 7:30. They will play their first five games away before hosting the Stuart Draft Diamondbacks on Saturday, June 19 at Ray Heatwole Field. The Reds will play three games against each of the seven other RCBL teams.
The Reds will be coached by Robert Sherfey. He is returning to Bridgewater for his eighth straight season with the Reds and sixth season as the head coach, having played for the Reds in 2014 and 2015.
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