Devils' Talent Breeds Confidence
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Mar 21, 2014, 09:57
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
HOPEWELL — Circumstances haven't been kind to the Blue Devils baseball team starting with an inability to practice outdoors due to inclement weather conditions and a shortage of numbers as only 12 players line the roster of the varsity team. Additionally, the team lost two key players from last year's team and have already seen two defections from the squad in recent weeks.
However, there are reasons to be optimistic for a team that may not have the numbers they would like to have. And it starts with the fact manager Bobby Pershing is returning a solid core of players who are both versatile and determined to win.
Like most teams, Hopewell's success should be determined by the effectiveness of their pitchers — of which the Blue Devils should be well-armed. It starts with two returners who will be leading the staff in both Trent Scott and Will Avery. Scott and Avery are two of the most versatile players on the team, but their contributions on the hill will be critical to Hopewell's success this season.
"Will Avery will probably be our No. 1 on the mound at least based on the preseason," Pershing said. "Trent Scott will also help us on the mound and both of them were keys for us last season.
But something else which will be key for Hopewell is their infusion of youth to mix with the seasoned veterans who have all had varsity experience prior to this season.
While having juniors and seniors on a team generally leads to success, there is something to be said about having enough freshman and sophomores as well. Young players tend to not notice anything about a culture — whether it be a winning or losing one — and instead demonstrate an eagerness and determination to make an impact.
It's why a lot of eyes will be on freshman Cameron Smith at the second base position. Hill made headlines during the Fall for his impact on the gridiron, but the youngster also possesses the skills to be special on the diamond as he's a switch-hitter with a solid bat and arm which Pershing will develop this season.
"He's a pitcher also in addition to being a second baseman, but we are bringing him along slower than the rest of the team," Pershing said of the freshman. "He's a switch-hitter, too. It's unusual to have one switch-hitter but now I have two which is a nice thing to have."
And it's also a small snap-shot of the type of versatility Pershing has on his team this season. Although it's true a team needs versatility when they have a limited number of players, it's usually by necessity, but this Hopewell squad has players who can actually field multiple positions.
One look around the infield which included last year's second-team All-District selection Will Avery, Scott and Hill shows how each player can easily switch positions when needed. It's something which will be leaned upon often during the season as the team's top pitchers are also starters in the infield.
"When Will's pitching Romen (Accord) could play third and when Scott is pitching, you might see Hill playing short," Pershing said. "Each day I could have an entirely different infield than the previous game. But we have too and it's important they have game experience in each of those spots."
Yet, perhaps the biggest strength of this Blue Devils team is up-the-middle.
Take a glance around the majors and a team can almost be assured of success if they have solid players behind the plate, at the middle infield positions and in centerfield. Fortunately for Hopewell, they possess everything a team would want in those areas.
Behind the plate for the Blue Devils is Travis Hogan and his production will be closely monitored by the coaching staff. Hogan missed all of last season, so he has entered the season behind some of the other players when it comes to timing, but his strong-arm, ability to control a pitching staff and solid bat makes him a key piece to Hopewell's puzzle.
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
Then, besides Scott and Hill in the middle infield spots, having Jeremiah Rivera in the centerfield spot has the makings of a solid defender. Rivera has the total package one looks for in a centerfield as he takes good routes to the ball, has great speed and a plus arm. It all should all combine to be a positive for Hopewell.
"That's certainly one of our strengths on this team," Pershing said. "From the catcher position all the way to centerfield is strong and the corners that I have, I'm not discouraged by them at all. I feel like Will can really hold down third base for us. He comes prepared all the time. Our first baseman was one of top hitters from last season, so we are pretty strong even in our infield."
But a big part of any sports season this year has been the effects the realignment will have on certain teams. For his part, Pershing does not know much about the Richmond public schools which now reside in Hopewell's conference but assumes they are likely to deal with the same types of participation issues.
Additionally, Pershing spoke highly about the opportunity his players have to continue their season no matter what happens during the regular season by entering the conference tournament — of which the first two rounds will be played in Hopewell. But the success of Hopewell lays directly on the shoulders of his players.
"I think we can be as good as we want to be," Pershing said. "The guys we have here are the ones who are committed and want to play. And the coaches are excited about the mixture of talent we have here between young and old."
Whether the mixture of young and older players turns out to be the right recipe for success won't be determined until the conference tournament, but Hopewell is confident the pieces are in place for a deep run.