Prince George, Hopewell Gear Up For Baseball
By JACOB VAUGHAN, Sports Editor
Mar 8, 2013, 21:08
Hopewell pitcher Zack Rivera throws during a game against Thomas Dale last year. Rivera is one of three seniors on the Blue Devils’ team (file photo).
PRINCE GEORGE – Junior Mark King is the only pitching holdover from last year’s Prince George High School baseball team, which finished third in the Central District standings.
Strange as it seems, veteran coach Mickey Roberts hopes to use the multi-talented left-hander as sparingly as possible on the mound.
“[King] does such a good job at short stop for us that I don’t like to pitch him too much,” Roberts explained. “He’s going to pitch some for me, but I hope some of these other guys step up so I can leave him back there because he’s so valuable on defense.”
In that respect, King’s defensive positioning will be a barometer of the team’s development this season. A strong suit in 2012, pitching is the biggest question mark for Prince George’s underclassmen-laden squad at the onset of a new season.
Led by all-district performers Jay Dee Johnson and Girsan Negron, last year’s rotation developed a penchant for prevailing in one-run games. The senior standouts lifted the Royals to records of 10-4 in district play and 14-7 overall.
Roberts said it will be imperative for this year’s up-and-coming hurlers to follow suit. “If [pitching] develops, we should have a really good shot at winning the district championship,” he said.
Though young, Prince George will benefit from a bevy of returners, and a handful of transfers should bolster the team’s senior leadership. Among the newcomers are seniors Brandon and Cody Casey, who played last year for Thomas Dale.
Freshman Jackson Rivera is in contention for the starting nod at first base and Roberts described sophomore second baseman Jordan Nase as poised for a breakout season.
Nase batted above .300 as a freshman. “He looks much better at second base this year,” Roberts said. “He did a really good job last year, but he’s coming on.”
Third-year catcher Brodie Rotzoll will provide the upstart Royals with some much-needed stability behind the plate. Prince George unofficially opened its campaign last Saturday with a pair of scrimmages in Virginia Beach, falling 7-0 to Frank W. Cox and topping J.R. Tucker 7-2.
The Royals hit into three double plays in the five-inning opener before coming alive against the Tigers, but Roberts aid he doesn’t “put a whole lot of stock in those scores.”
The team’s first test will come – as it typically does – in a season-opening showdown with Benedictine on Tuesday. Beyond that contest, another non-district outing at Henrico looms before Prince George opens its district slate against Hopewell on March 21.
Aside from his team, Roberts said he anticipates the league’s perennial powerhouses – Dinwiddie, Matoaca, Colonial Heights and Thomas Dale – to make a bid for the district title.
But he also tabbed Prince George’s cross-town rival as a tough out.
“I think Hopewell is going to be there,” Roberts said. “[Hopewell senior] Zack Rivera is a really good pitcher, so I don’t count those guys out. They’re going to be tough. There’s going to be a lot of different teams in there battling.
“It all depends on who’s going to come out, gel and develop. That’s going to play a major role.”
The Hopewell High School baseball team will have a new coach at the helm this season, but Chris Coennen’s successor is far from a rookie.
Bobby Pershing, who served as the Blue Devils’ head coach from 1988 to 1991, brings 35 years of experience to the position.
He’ll draw heavily from his vast reservoir of knowledge as he attempts to guide the Blue Devils through the always-competitive Central District with a roster that is well-stocked in quality but lacking in quantity.
“We have some good talent, but we haven’t been blessed with great numbers,” Pershing said. “We only have 13 on the varsity, but I think if we stay healthy we’ll have a shot to win some games this year.”
Pershing said navigating the district with a baker’s dozen will be a tough proposition, but added that it helps to have a player of Zack Rivera’s caliber on the roster. A second-team all-district utility player last season, the senior stalwart will be a key offensive and defensive cog for the Blue Devils.
So too will be seniors Tony Chambers and Drake Scearce. When he’s not pitching, Chambers will ply his trade at first base while the fleet-footed Scearce will patrol centerfield for Hopewell.
Pershing also identified Trent Scott, William Avery, Jeremiah Rivera and Joseph Hernandez as promising prospects, among others. “We have a good group of guys and a good mixture of upper- and lowerclassmen,” Pershing said.
Hopewell – which limped to a 5-16 record last year (3-11 in district play) – will open its regular-season schedule at home on Monday against Highland Springs.
The team’s primary goal, according to its first-year coach, is to qualify for the four-team district tournament at season’s end.
“In our district, it’s pretty much always the same group,” Pershing said. “There’s Matoaca, Dinwidde, Prince George, Thomas Dale and Colonial Heights. So if we’re going to get into the top four, that means [two] of them are not going to make it.”