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By Dean Barker
After coming up short in two consecutive RCBL Championship Finals, the Stuarts Draft Diamondbacks will hope to finish the job in the 2023 season. The D-Backs are coming off a 2022 season where they went 21-13, won the regular season title, and fell 4-3 to the Bridgewater Reds in the finals. Back in 2021, they went 19-13 and were swept by the New Market Shockers in the title series. After the final game, Stuarts Draft head coach Les Sandridge correctly predicted that his team would return to the finals in 2022.
“I’m gonna take all these guys and come back next year, and we’re gonna make another run,” Sandridge said. “A good team. We had a good group of guys, we’re just gonna come back and do it again.”
Last year, the Diamondbacks had the best offense in the league, leading the RCBL in runs (238), hits (236), doubles (41), home runs (37), RBIs (201), total bases (394), walks (149), hit batters (46), stolen bases (85), on base percentage (.427), slugging percentage (.489), batting average (.293), and OPS (.916). However, it was a struggle for their pitching staff, who were at the bottom of the league in runs allowed (182), earned runs (150), walks (144), hit batters (30), strikeouts (171), WHIP (1.85), and ERA (6.78). Because of this, Coach Sandridge emphasized that to win the title in 2023, the D-Backs will have to be firing on all cylinders.
“Everything has to fall into place at the right time; pitching, hitting and defense,” Sandridge said.
Stuarts Draft had the top three home run hitters in the league last year in Chaz Harvey (9), Zach Roberts (6), and Jack Pausic (5), all of whom will be returning to the field this year. Coach Sandridge said that to have that kind of success this year, these hitters will have to be able to perform against everyone.
“The biggest thing our offense will have to do is make adjustments to a new slate of pitchers around the league,” Sandridge said. “As long as we stay disciplined at the plate, we should be okay. (As far as) replicating last year’s offensive numbers? We will just have to wait and see.”
Last year’s run to the finals was the eleventh championship appearance for Stuarts Draft in the last fifteen years. Having been on the brink of a ring for the last two years, everyone knows that this year’s squad has their eyes on a trophy. In order to do that, Coach Sandridge says his team will need a cool and calm approach.
“(It’s) always more fun to win than to lose, but it is a game with only one winner,” Sandridge said. “If we play relaxed and enjoy the game we will have a good season. Would be awesome to bring the title back to Draft, but there are seven other good teams to get through first to get it.”
Despite the competitive nature of this league, Sandridge is still confident that Stuarts Draft could get it done, while acknowledging that it will not be easy.
“I am as confident as the other seven coaches in the league are of their teams making a run,” Sandridge said. “Every year is a new year regardless of the number of returners. Parody in the league makes each year a challenge to get through the playoffs to the championship series.”
This offseason, Stuarts Draft saw the unfortunate passing of former team president Bill Heishman. Sandridge said that he had a huge impact on the ballclub, and he will be missed.
“Bill's passing is a real loss to DBacks baseball. Bill is responsible for most all the signs we have on the fence and a proud game time supporter whether we were winning or losing,” Sandridge said. “Definitely going to be a different season not getting his pregame and postgame perspectives. He was a good man with a lot of knowledge. Going to miss him for sure.”
Stuarts Draft will open the 2023 campaign at the Clover Hill Bucks on Monday, May 22 at 7:30 pm. The D-Backs will host the Broadway Bruins on Wednesday, May 31 at 7:30 pm for their home opener.
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