Bay Rivers District Baseball Preview: Lafayette Eyes Second State Tournament Appearance

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Luc Lipcius returns to Lafayette after hitting a game-winning home run in the state tournament. (file photo)
Luc Lipcius returns to Lafayette after hitting a game-winning home run in the state tournament. (file photo)

Lafayette winning last year’s Group 3A state tournament was a perfect storm of pitching, hitting, defense and momentum.

The good news for the Rams: Almost every key piece from last year’s state championship team returns this year, which makes Lafayette one of the must-watch teams in the Bay Rivers District this season.

Jamestown and Grafton also project to be among the better teams in the Bay Rivers District, with the Eagles looking to avenge an early exit in the postseason last year and the Clippers trying to replace a pair of standout pitchers.

Tabb is also a team with potential to make noise this season, returning seven starters from last year and its starting pitcher.

Three new head coaches enter the fold this year: Feenie Carter at Bruton, John Cole at Jamestown and Michael Moore at York. Carter and Moore take over difficult situations, and both teams could be in a similar situation to Warhill toward the bottom of the standings while working through growing pains.

Below are preview for every Historic Triangle baseball team playing in the Bay Rivers District:

Bruton

Head Coach: Feenie Carter
2016 Classification: 2A Conference 33
2015 Record: 2-18
Players to Watch: Alex Pallas (senior, OF), Zach Calloway (senior, INF), Kevin Zamudio (senior, INF), Darian Brooks (junior, OF)

Season Outlook: A new head coach and a slew of new faces lend plenty of uncertainty for Bruton’s baseball team this year. Despite winning two games last year, the Panthers were improved from 2014 when they were winless. Unfortunately for Bruton, many of the key players from last year, such as Tyler Floyd and Nate Florence, were seniors and are no longer with the program. Carter inherits a team with four seniors and a significant number of underclassmen, so finding leadership from older players will be of the utmost importance. Pallas and Brooks will be relied upon as starters in the outfield, while Calloway and Zamudio will provide stability in the infield. Carter said he expects to play at least three freshman early and often, and that number could grow as the season progresses. Carter said his team will take their “bumps and bruises” because of their overall youth, but expects his team to grow from the experience.

 

Grafton

Head Coach: Matt Lewellen
2016 Classification: 4A Conference 19
2015 Record: 14-9
Players to Watch: Michael Bailey (senior, P), Jordan Allen (senior, OF), DJ Dobbins (senior, OF), Ryan McDonald (senior, OF)

Season Outlook: Of any team in the Bay Rivers District, Grafton may have the biggest players to replace from last year. Not only do the Clippers have to replace pitchers Evan Sperling and Ricks Dearing, both of whom are playing baseball in college now, but they also have to replace solid outfielders in Aaron Leonard and Zach Lechthaler. It’s not all doom and gloom for Grafton, however. The Clippers have a strong senior class this season, especially in the outfield. Dobbins was one of the most consistent hitters for Grafton last season, and when paired with Allen and McDonald, the Clippers appear to have a well-rounded outfield. Grafton will also have a solid pitching staff, led by Bailey, Jacob McAllister and Justin Bowers. Replacing so much talent from last season will be a tall order, but Lewellen has proven his ability to win and should have the Clippers competitive once again this season.

 

Jamestown

Head Coach: John Cole
2016 Classification: 4A Conference 19
2015 Record: 16-4
Players to Watch: Evan Lowery (senior, OF), Kent Klyman (senior, P), Garrick Colorado (senior, OF), CJ Jones (senior, OF)

Season Outlook: For the first time in eight seasons, Jamestown will have a new coach leading its baseball program. Cole inherits a strong core of players despite losing some top-flight talent including current Boston College pitcher Sean Hughes. Jamestown still has an ace on the mound in Klyman, a North Carolina State commit with good velocity and control on his pitches. Jamestown also returns one of the most talented groups of outfielders in the Bay Rivers District this year with seniors Lowery, Colorado and Jones. All three of those players are sound defensively and can string together hits on offense. Also returning is senior Roger Romero, who transferred to Jamestown heading into the 2014 season. Romero was a key piece of Jamestown’s lineup last year and figures to be just as important this year. Cole praised his team’s intensity in the offseason and said the Eagles have “experience at the right places.” If the pieces come together, Jamestown could be in for a nice postseason run.

 

Lafayette

Head Coach: Rick Schenk
2016 Classification: 4A Conference 18
2015 Record: 22-6
Players to Watch: Andre Lipcius (senior, INF), Luc Lipcius (senior, OF), Mitch Barrick (senior, INF), John Keane (junior, INF)

Season Outlook: Coming off its first state championship in program history, Lafayette’s baseball team seems poised to make another run to the state tournament as most of last year’s crucial players return this season. While replacing ace pitcher Daniel Blankinship will be tough, the Rams also return University of Tennessee commit Andre Lipcius, who threw a complete game during the Group 3A championship game last season. The other Lipcius brother, Luc, hit the game-winning home run for Lafayette in the state championship game and is one of the most reliable hitters in the Bay Rivers District. The Rams also return solid offensive and defensive talents in Barrick and Keane, both of whom will be key starters for Lafayette. Juniors Chase Bauer and Braydon Venus, as well as sophomore Chase Smith, will also round out Lafayette’s starting lineup this year. With so many pieces from last year’s state tournament winning team returning, Schenk said he feels the Rams could be poised for another deep postseason run.

 

Tabb

Head Coach: Dale Marn
2016 Classification: 3A Conference 27
2015 Record: 12-9
Players to Watch: Nick Hunter (senior, OF), Robbie Barrett (junior, P), Hunter Watson (junior, INF), Jake Berrena (senior, INF)

Season Outlook: The Tigers return an experienced group of players that led Tabb to a 12-9 record and a loss to Grafton in the Conference 19 semifinals. With Tabb returning seven starters from last year and both of its top pitchers, the Tigers could be in a position to make some noise this season in the Bay Rivers District. Leading the way for Tabb this season will be Hunter, who earned second-team honors in Group 4A South last year after batting .470 with 12 RBIs and nine stolen bases. Tabb’s top-two pitchers, Barrett and Gray Goodrich, will provide the Tigers some consistency at the top of their lineup. However, Marn said he is concerned about Tabb’s pitching depth beyond Barrett and Goodrich. It’s likely Tabb’s potentially potent offense will have to carry the team on days when Tabb’s aces are not pitching. If Tabb can overcome its lack of pitching depth, Marn feels the Tigers can make a deeper run in the postseason.

 

Warhill

Head Coach: John Corbin
2016 Classification: 3A Conference 25
2015 Record: 11-9
Players to Watch: Reece Koon (sophomore, INF), Trey Drummond (junior, INF), Cam Fowler (senior, INF), Adam Ball (senior, OF)

Season Outlook: Warhill’s baseball season ended with a disappointing loss to York in the first round of the Conference 25 tournament last season. Corbin returns a younger team than last year, and as a result the Lions could experience some growing pains this season. While Corbin said Warhill has some young pitchers who could surprise district opponents, experience is something severely lacking in the Lions’ lineup. Warhill returns an experienced catcher in Drummond, who should help ease some of the younger pitchers into game action. Additionally, the Lions return solid contact hitters such as Koon, Fowler and Ball. While there is talent sprinkled throughout Warhill’s roster, the Lions will need to work through some potentially rough outings during out-of-district games early in the season.

 

York

Head Coach: Brett Moore
2016 Classification: 3A Conference 27
2015 Record: 12-9
Players to Watch: Gabe Simmons (senior, P), Trey Kurtyka (senior, INF), Justin Parrish (senior, INF), Jaime Lewis (senior, OF)

Season Outlook: With a new head coach and a handful of valuable players to replace from last year, York’s baseball team finds itself in uncertain territory. Moore has the tall task of replacing longtime coach Rusty Ingram, who in 1989 coached York’s baseball team to its only state championship. Moore also has to find replacements for last year’s standout players Eric Harp, Hunter Collins and Liam Griffin. Simmons will be York’s go-to pitcher on the mound, but Lewis will be able to spell Simmons in the rotation. Kurtyka and Parrish will be leaned on heavily for both leadership and offensive production. Moore said he thinks York could struggle this season putting together hits and scoring runs, so taking advantage of opportunities at the plate will be critical for the Falcons. York is capable of beating Bay Rivers District teams, but expect the Falcons to take a step back from last season.