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By Tyler Carney
After finishing near the bottom of the league in ‘22 and losing 16-0 in game one of the quarterfinals to the Shockers. Montezuma surprised by coming back to take the series 2-1. Unfortunately the magic ended after losing in 2 to the eventual runner up Stuart Draft.
According to Manager Chris Rush 60% of that series winning team will be returning. The veteran two way utility player Kyle Armstrong will return, along with All Stars Jacob Cude and Gavin Rush will return. Elijah Dunlap who broke out last season on the mound will also bring his good number back, along with his Bridgewater College Tristan Gordan who drove in 13 RBIs last season.
“ Those guys along with a few more will be the core of this team, they’ll be our impact guys,” said Rush “ We have added guys I’m excited about.”
Alex Belako has joined the Braves and will be a hard starter/closer for teams to handle. Matthew Charles will see a majority starting role. Micheal Robertson who was formerly on the Braves played in the VBL the last two seasons will be returning to Montezuma for 2023. Robertson was a .300+ college hitter and according to Rush “WIll probably be our leadoff hitter,”. Along with a few more holes to fill, guys that left the new faces in Montezuma will only add to their success in ‘22.
Success hasn’t been easy to come by in Montezuma. With only 1 championship in 2006 and no pennants fans have been left with disappointment come playoff time. However with the core guys returning along with the big time add-ons this trend may come to an end soon.
While the team struggled at the plate last season the pitching was often there to save the day finishing first in the league in pitching stats as a team. With 218 strikeouts and a league low 4.98 ERA one would wonder how the team fell under .500 in record. However the pitching staff allowed a league high 21 home runs. Besides that stat the staff had great numbers and Rush thinks this will be the case in ‘23.
“I do expect us to be the top of the pitching stats in the league, it’ll be tough to do what we did in 22’ but we have the guys to do it,” said Rush
One of the pitching worries for Rush and his staff this season will be the league reforming back to their pre-covid 28 game schedule and that with more games Rush is worried about his pitchers getting overworked before a playoff push. Hopefully Rush’s offseason additions and returning breakout Elijah Dunlap who threw one of the best games in the entire league in ‘22 will give him enough production to get past the first round again.
As for batting, the team had a rough year in 22’. They only managed 12 home runs and an average 116 RBIs. However they only struck out 176 times, second only to the Cardinals, which suggests the problem isn’t bad bats at the plate but an aggressiveness problem. Rush describes this aggressiveness problem as the biggest thing he wants to improve in ‘23.
“ As a team we need to be more aggressive, but particularly at the plate,” said Rush “ We gotta get back to doing the simple things as well as we can, if we can do the simple things better than everyone else you keep yourself in ball games.”
The little things will be the deciding factor on if the Braves can build off their 22’ success after that Rush says it’s on the players. “It’s on them and how bad they want it, the more they want it the better we’ll get at the little things.”
Consistent success seems to be in Montezuma. The Braves open the season on the road against the Blue Sox on May 22nd at 7:30pm at Stonewall Memorial Park.
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