Knights Rolling After Tough Start
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
May 1, 2014, 09:01
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
CHESTER — There was no team entering the 2014 season more confident than the Thomas Dale baseball squad and they had good reason to be. The Knights had qualified for the Regional Tournament for the first time since 2009 and were returning a lineup full of experience after being eliminated by Cosby last season.
The Knights took their loss to Cosby as a learning experience, one in which they learned what was needed to be done in order to win and were ready to catapult to the top this season. After all, they had a returning roster of riches which leaves plenty teams envious.
All-District players Collin Fleischer, Tommy Barron and Maurice Gothe returned to the team for another go-around and it led to a confident group. In preseason workouts, the team would gather around the batting cage inside the auxilary gym at Thomas Dale High School and marvel at the type of hitting they had up-and-down the lineup.
Then, they also knew they had a pitching staff which would be led by Barron who pitched like an ace in big games all of last season as only a sophomore. Yet, as the season opened against Matoaca, things did not start the way they planned.
Barron's movement on his fastball — the pitch which set him up for success all of last season — disappeared and the offense failed to get on track in a loss to Matoaca. The Knights would stumble to a 1-3 start, skewed by a 1-0 loss to Cosby in which Thomas Dale proved they were on the level of the No. 38 team in the nation on Maxpreps, before righting the ship.
Since their loss to Varina on a walk-off suicide squeeze, Thomas Dale has reeled off five-consecutive wins in completely dominating fashion. The win-streak has included wins over a tough Manchester team and a surprising Colonial Heights squad as Thomas Dale has outscored their opponents 44-5 over the span.
Even manager Chris Marshall was in awe after his Knights defeated the Colonials last week as the pitching staff continued to roll.
"It's been unbelievable," he said at the time. "Early in the year we walked a lot of people, so we've limited that and now we're making plays. You've got to give the defense a lot of credit, too, making plays behind them ... defense and pitching are carrying us."
He wasn't understating his staff's importance during the win-streak either with the most impressive hurler being junior Nathan Eaton after what threw what was deemed 'one of the great pitching performances in Thomas Dale history.'
Eaton had already lost a 1-0 decision to Cosby and defeated Prince George the day of Spring Break and on his return to the mound against Manchester, he had the most special day. The junior pitching a complete-game, one-hitter while striking out 14 and walking none, dominating one of the better teams in the city.
However, Fleischer has also tossed two complete-games of his own, including a no-hitter over Meadowbrook and sports an unblemished 3-0 record. But most importantly, Barron has turned around his season with his latest start. After having two rough starts to begin the campaign, Barron rediscovered his trademark movement as Petersburg lifted the ball into the air for just one-out, while striking out four times in three scoreless innings against him.
"I wanted him to get that confidence back," Marshall said of Barron. "We're going to need him. It hasn't been the greatest start, but the kid was all-district last for pitching. He'll get it going."
And so has his offense and it starts with the top of the lineup.
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
Brian Goodwyn and Eaton have formed a dangerous one-two punch in the first two slots of the lineup with their ability to get on base and cause havoc once there. Eaton and Goodwyn's penchant to steal bases bothers opposing pitchers and helps set the table for the rest of the lineup to drive them in.
It has helped Blake Hartman, Taylor Trueheart, Corey Johnston and Gothe drive in critical runs in the second half of the lineup over the last few games. It's lengthened the Thomas Dale lineup with everyone producing and increased the type of confidence the team has in itself.
"Everyone, after the first few games and the first few losses, realized we needed to buckle down," Eaton said during practice Monday. "The bottom of the lineup has been coming up with clutch hits and know that they can do that is fueling us at the top to produce even more."
All of it adds up to a confident team riding a five-game win-streak, hoping they get a chance to avenge two losses to Cosby over two years, during a Conference 3 Tournament that the Knights could be the team-to-beat by season's end.