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By Dean Barker
After winning their 19th RCBL Title, the Bridgewater Reds will hope to add to the trophy case when they return to the field in 2023. This was the first title for the Reds since 2018, and put them on top all-time for RCBL Championships. Bridgewater took the trophy after a back-and-forth seven game series with the Stuarts Draft Diamondbacks.
Returning for the Reds is right handed pitcher Chris Huffman, who was a key part of last year’s success. Huffman was the finals MVP, batting .357 with a homer and seven RBIs in the championship, as well as throwing 26 strikeouts in 14 innings. In game seven, he threw a complete game shutout, striking out fifteen and allowing just 2 hits to secure the championship for Bridgewater.
Also returning for the Reds is Derek Shifflett, who will be back for his seventh and final season at Ray Heatwole Field. While Huffman was the series MVP, Shifflett made a strong case himself, pitching Bridgewater to three of their four series wins and striking out 36 batters in the process. Shifflet said that part of this was due to adding new pitches to his arsenal.
“I used to not be a strikeout pitcher, (I) was more of a ground ball pitcher,” Shifflett said. “But now that I’m older and don’t throw as hard, I’ve had to learn different pitches and different rhythms to keep the hitters guessing.”
Shifflett has had a stellar career with the Reds, hitting .275 with 153 hits, as well as being 35-23 on the mound. He is hopeful that his last season with the Reds will be another championship season, which would be his fourth title. A big part of this is that most of the team from last year is coming back. One returning player is Liam Simpson, who led the league with 32 hits and was fourth with a .386 batting average in his first season in the RCBL. This collegiate season, Simpson hit .273 with 41 hits for the Virginia State Trojans.
“I feel like we have a great chance every year but any time you can bring back the majority of a championship team, (it) just gives you that much more confidence,” Shifflett said. “I don’t know how much I have left in the tank as this is definitely my last year, but I couldn’t ask for a better group to go out there and compete with one last time.”
The Reds veteran says that a big reason behind him staying with the team for so long has been making friends with his team and around the RCBL.
“My favorite part has been just being around friends, on my team and on other teams,” Shifflett said. “It’s been a blast to still be able to go out there and compete with some great guys both new and old. Every year brings on some new faces. I love helping the younger guys and seeing them become the best versions of themselves.”
The Reds will open the season at the Grottoes Cardinals on Wednesday, May 24 at 7:30 pm. Bridgewater will play nine straight road games before hosting the Montezuma Braves on Monday, June 12 at 7:30 pm.
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