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By Adam Harnish
The RCBL is back, and continuing in our 2020 series, today we’re taking a look at the New Market Shockers.
The Shockers had one of the best regular seasons in the RCBL last year, finishing in second place, but suffered a devastating first round sweep in the playoffs at the hands of the Elkton Blue Sox. This year, the team is hoping to bounce back from that heartbreak in a shortened, jam-packed 2020 season.
The Shockers are managed by Nolan Potts, who earned Coach of the Year honors in his very first season at the helm of the team. I had the opportunity to speak with Coach Potts for a few minutes about the upcoming season for the Shockers, his expectations for his team, and just how exactly can you coach humbly after winning Coach of the Year in your first year??
The following transcript is lightly edited for clarity.
RCBL Staff: So, I’m not sure if you were expecting it or not, but despite the coronavirus and quarantine looming over us this summer, we will be having an RCBL season! How do you feel about the season getting started?
Coach Potts: I'm excited! Randy Atkins [the commissioner] had told us when the whole pandemic started, “be ready to play some baseball, because we're going to do everything we can to put on a season.” At times it looked pretty bleak, like it wasn't going to happen, but to his credit, he just told us to stay with it, hold on, and we'll be able to get some sort of season in...and now here we are, two weeks out from the start of the season!
It is really exciting to know a new season is coming up, especially for the Shockers. You guys had a really good regular season last year, but then a tough playoff exit in the first round. How is last season going to factor into this season?
Well, like you said, we had a really good regular season, but we kind of fizzled out at the end [of the regular season]. And then, in the playoffs, we had a three-run lead in the first run in the first game of the series against Elkton, and we blew that. And then we ran into arguably the best pitcher in the league last year in game two [Kris Lalk], and he struck us out 20 times in a playoff game! So, it was a disappointing way to end the season, but a lot of the guys we had last year are back, and they still have that taste in their mouth of unfinished business. We believed we were going to go on a playoff run, maybe make it to the semi-finals, hopefully finals...it was over way before any of us expected. And I think there's going to be a little more intensity this year for the guys, because they had a couple months of their college season taken away from them this year. That, combined with how last season ended, just will fuel the fire a little more for us.
Let’s talk about your players - you had arguably the best top of the lineup in the league last year. [All-RCBL] Pearce Bucher was a huge part of that, and there’s a whole list of guys that can really play...are most of those guys returning for the 2020 season?
Yeah, most guys will be coming back! I think Nick Goode will be the only guy not coming back, he moved up to the Falls Church area for a job, so schedule-wise it wasn’t going to work for him. But the majority of the guys are returning: Frankie Ritter (.366 AVG, 12 SB), Pearce Bucher (.352 AVG, 27 RBI)… we added Grant Thompson, who was hitting fourth for Shenandoah University this year, he's been really good there. And we’re getting a full season of Henry Delavergne (.333 AVG), he hits number two at Shenandoah, and played a few games with us last season, but he’s coming on for a full season this year. So, I think the top of our order, again, can match up with just about anybody in the league.
You mentioned Shenandoah University - a large majority of the players on your team are from that particular college. What is the relationship between Shenandoah and the Shockers?
So, I played at Shenandoah University. I graduated from there in 2015, and when I was at Shenandoah going into my junior season in 2014, I started playing for the Shockers in the RCBL. One of our guys, Zach Stiles, Mr. Iron Man in the RCBL [laughs], was trying to build that connection, where he would try to get Shenandoah guys that would stay in Winchester over the summer to play with the Shockers. And gradually, over time, over my seven seasons we’ve kept bringing in more and more guys from Shenandoah. My thinking is, if they can play there, they’ve got to be able to play a little bit. Coach Anderson [of Shenandoah] doesn't just take anybody off the street! And, word just gets around for those guys. For me, it takes the recruiting part out of it, because the Shenandoah guys all talk to each other about [the Shockers]. From [their perspective], they get to hang out with their buddies all summer, they’re already familiar with each other...I think 22 of the 28 players on our roster are from Shenandoah? So, it just makes sense for us.
Very interesting. Well, this season is exciting for you too, because you were voted Coach of the Year last year in your first year! Congratulations on that. How do you come back from the next season after winning that award?
Well...hopefully I just don't lay an egg! [Laughs]...no, I’m kidding. Just continue to do what we did last year. I think our biggest thing is going to be, can we get our guys to come to games? Last year, on paper, we were pretty darn good. But the problem was, we have guys that would take vacations for a week, and then once they get back, somebody else would have to go on a vacation for a couple days. We hit a groove in the middle of the season, but then guys started leaving, and that kind of threw a rhythm off at the end of the regular season. So, with this summer, hopefully we're going to have better attendance, because the guys just want to get back out there and play.
That makes sense.
My biggest thing personally about what I'm trying to manage is going to be the pitching. These guys haven't thrown live in three months! The hitters are going to be fine...I mean, it might take a couple games for the hitters, but they'll figure it out. My big problem is going to be, can I manage all the pitchers? I’ll have to keep them fresh and not overuse them...and make sure they're listening to their bodies. With a 21-game season played in only a month, we’ll have five games a week. And right out of the gate, nobody is going to be ready to throw 6, 7, 8 innings a game. So, we’ll be just trying to piece it together that way. Anyway, it was an honor to win Coach of the Year last year, but I would have traded that if we could have had more playoff success and a great run, so, that's what we want to do this year.
Absolutely. One more question for you, Coach: I'm curious, as you're gearing up for that championship run, what do you think is going to be the key for you guys this year?
I think across the board for the entire league, pitching is going to be what dictates who goes where this year. As you look up and down rosters, some teams brought in some really really good arms. Hopefully I'm not done adding arms! I got a guy from independent ball that hopefully can play for us...he's waiting to see if his season is going to get canceled. I’ve got another legit D1 arm that maybe got drafted, but he also maybe didn't get drafted, so he's got to talk to his coaches about what he needs to do. But I think the teams I can stack up on the most on pitching are going to be the ones that have the most success.
And you feel pretty good about your pitching this year?
I do! We have a lot of guys a lot of guys that can throw, but again it's getting them back into the groove. They haven't thrown off a pitcher's mound since mid-March! But, we can figure that out, I think we'll be good.
Well, Coach, we're really looking forward to seeing the Shockers back out there this year! And thank you so much for your time, I really appreciate it.
Of course! I appreciate it, I'm more than willing to help the RCBL out in any way I can.
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