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By Dean Barker
After coming within one game of the RCBL Finals last season, the Clover Hill Bucks will hope to take the next step in the 2023 season. Last year, the Bucks fell 10-0 at home in game five of the RCBL Semifinals to the eventual champion Bridgewater Reds. The Bucks have won a total of 18 RCBL Championships, second only to Bridgewater with 19.
“In the past couple of years, we’ve lost to the same team, three times in a row, so (there’s) definitely an added chip on the shoulder this year,” Bucks pitcher Sam Imeson said.
Clover Hill is looking for their first RCBL title since 2019, which was also against the Bridgewater Reds. Last year was their first time advancing past the first round since 2019, an oddity for a Clover Hill team who seems always to be in competition for the league title. In order to get it done this year, Head Coach Kevin Chandler says the key will be to do the little things well.
“It’s little things, you know, making the right throw, making the right cut, doing the right base running, things that maybe not everybody sees that are little, but margins of error that, when you get to the playoffs, are small,” Chandler said. “So you make the wrong read, you make the wrong decision, that could be an out, and the difference in the ballgame.”
The Bucks return a pitching staff who led the RCBL with 228 strikeouts last season. Clover Hill was led by Steven Woerner, Waring Garber and Tucker Hrasky, who had 35, 33 and 28 strikeouts, respectively. Two other key parts of that rotation were Bridgewater College grad Sam Imeson and junior Reid Long. Imeson led the team with four wins, and was twelfth in the league with a 4.13 ERA. Long threw for 25 strikeouts in 26.1 innings pitched.
“When it comes to playoff time, hopefully we can continue that run of strikeouts, and pitching to contact, too,” Chandler said. “That’s the other thing we talk about, you know, we had a lot of strikeouts, but pitch to contact, let your defense play.”
Clover Hill returns a powerful lineup for 2023. Infielder Kevin Navedo led the team with a .408 batting average and four home runs (fifth in the RCBL), and was second in hits (20) and RBIs (15). He is joined by third baseman Luke Shifflet, who was first on the team in hits (22) and third in RBIs (14). Also coming back is first baseman Cody Swisher, who led the team in RBIs with 17.
“It’s always nice having big bats in your lineup as a pitcher, because, you know, when they can pad on those extra runs and give you that sort of comfort, when you’re on the mound, it makes your job a lot easier,” Long said. “You know that if you’re gonna score at least four to five runs every game, it gives you a lot more comfort, and it makes your job easier and less stressful on the mound.”
The Bucks will open the season at Buck Bowman Park on Monday, May 22, when they host the Stuarts Draft Diamondbacks at 7:30 pm. The Diamondbacks have been to the finals the last two years, and came within one game of the title last season. Coach Chandler said that to hold off a powerful D-Backs team, Clover Hill will have to utilize the opening day motivation, while doing the little things on the field.
“I think the main thing, you know, will be pure excitement for being here at the Dome, and having all our fans and support back,” Chandler said. “(Head Coach) Les (Sandridge) runs a good program down in Stuarts Draft, they hit really well, so (the key) will be keeping them off base, keeping them off balance at the plate, and then doing what we need to at the plate.”
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