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By Dean Barker
In preparation for the 2023 season, I sat down with Shockers head coach Nolan Potts to get his thoughts.
1. Last year’s team was unable to defend the 2021 team’s RCBL title. What will this year’s team need to work on in order to get back on top?
I think we just have to be more consistent in every aspect of the game. We were in the Finals in 2020, and won the whole thing in 2021, so to get eliminated in the first round of the playoffs last year kind of humbled us as a group because it’s something we hadn’t experienced in years. We also have to get our main guys to the majority of the games over the summer, and sometimes that’s a challenge with vacations, jobs, etc. We've lost some key players from past seasons who had a ton of collegiate and RCBL experience and helped us tremendously, but I'm really happy with the group of returners we have coming back and also the new guys that we've been able to add in the offseason.
2. As always, this year’s team is stacked with Shenandoah University players. However, it looks like this year’s SU team is poised to make the NCAA tournament. Obviously, you’re rooting for your alma mater, but do you worry about possibly not having a large portion of your players when the season starts?
I'm just planning on not having them for the early part of the season. It's something that we've kind of planned for every year, so when we're building out the roster it's important to have guys who are available right away. It’s going to allow other guys an opportunity to play early on and show what they can do while the SU guys are still playing. There are roster limitations as to how many players can travel in the NCAA Tournament and we have 5 current SU players on our roster. My guess is that 3 or 4 of them will probably be on the travel roster for the duration of their postseason run, but we’ll find out soon.I would love nothing more than to see them go all the way to the D3 World Series, even if that means that we aren't at full strength to start the season. We might also have to contend with that issue with some of our high school players, depending on how far their teams advance in the postseason.
3. This year you’re getting back catcher Dawson Russell, who led the league with a .411 batting average, and Matt House, who was fifth in the RCBL with a 2.73 ERA and 36 strikeouts. How heavily will you rely on these experienced players, as well as your other returning players, to make a run this summer?
We're bringing back most of our offensive production from last year. Dawson Russell won the batting title at .411, but Luke Keister, Connor Houser, and Harrison Madagan all hit over .325 for us. Pearce Bucher has made himself into a household name in the RCBL because of the success he's had in the league the last four summers, and he's coming back. We've got some guys in Bodie Pullen and Ethan Burgreen-- who are both freshmen at Shepherd, and Nate Brookshire -- a senior at Millbrook who is playing at Shepherd next year -- who all played a little bit for us last summer that will step into increased roles this season. We've also got Matt House, Kaden Spaid, Ty Bennett, and Jaden Click who are back and have all proven that they can all help us at the plate. We've got some power, some guys who can hit for average, and some speed on the bases, so I think if we can get those guys to the majority of the games, we'll have a solid offense.
On the mound, we're going to be pretty young. Kirk Messick and Matt House are going to be the two main guys we lean on. They're by far the most experienced pitchers we have coming back, so they're going to have to be workhorses for us. Jaden Click has seen a lot of action on the mound and in the field as a freshman at Lehigh Carbon Community College this spring and has had success, so he will be in the mix for us on the mound. Pearce Bucher is going to see more time pitching than he has in the past. We've got Kaden Spaid who has pitched a good amount for us the past two seasons, as well as Brayden Hovatter and Nick Foltz who both saw a little bit of time last year. We've also added two players from Hood College in Blaine Smith and Mason Sawyers who both can pitch and can play multiple positions in the field. After that, we've got some young guys I'm really excited about. Mason Lynn is currently a junior at Broadway High School and is having an outstanding season. He's a sidearm pitcher and really has some run on his ball, so I'm really excited to see him in action. Cam Cominsis a senior at Millbrook HS who is going to Shenandoah in the fall and can really throw the ball hard. Cole Orr is a senior at Sherando who is going to Ferrum in the fall who is more of a control pitcher, but he struck out 17 guys in a game earlier this spring. We don't have nearly as much experience as we have in the past outside of Kirk and Matt, but I like the pitching staff we've built and I'm excited to see how they do this season.
4. On a personal note, you’ve had a wild offseason. If I understand correctly, you got married in the fall (congratulations) and also became the head coach for Heritage High School. How have you managed the changes, and how do you think it’ll impact you this upcoming season?
I'm so blessed to have such an amazing wife because she understands just how much baseball means to me, and how much time it takes up. She knows how important the Shockers and the RCBL are to me, so I'm just grateful that she's so supportive of me being involved with the league. I absolutely love being the head coach at Heritage, and we've had a great season so far. I'm in a similar issue as some of our Shenandoah players and high school players. Our first two Shockers games (May 24 & 26) are actually the same day as our District Semifinals and District Finals, so if we’re playing on those days, it means I would miss the RCBL games. Being the head baseball coach where I teach is a dream come true for me, and if there are scheduling conflicts for me at the end of May and beginning of June, that means that we've made a deep postseason run at Heritage, which would be amazing.
5. How will things change for the Shockers, now that you’re no longer playing in New Market?
It's definitely going to be different not being in New Market, but we’re hoping the move is a positive experience for us. Unfortunately, we couldn't afford to stay in New Market, and since this is going to be my 10th year with the Shockers as a player or a coach, it's certainly going to be an adjustment for me. I'm interested to see how things go at Spotswood. I'm extremely grateful to Coach Davis, Principal Dansey, and everyone at Spotswood who are allowing us to play there and providing us with a home this summer, because quite honestly if it wasn't for them, the Shockers would've probably folded. Obviously, it will be different not playing at Rebel Park, but the Penn Laird area really loves baseball, so I'm excited to see how many people come out and watch us and cheer us on. We're hoping to put an exciting, successful team on the field this summer.
The Shockers open the season on Wednesday, May 24 at the Montezuma Braves at 7:30 pm. They will play seven road games before hosting their first game at Spotswood High School against the Elkton Blue Sox on Wednesday, June 14 at 7:30 pm.
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