Hopewell Baseball Ready For Postseason Play
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
May 28, 2014, 10:26
Trent Scott's hot-bat and pitching have helped Hopewell all season long.
HOPEWELL — Before the season began, there was an overwhelming sense of optimism around the Blue Devils' baseball program. While the team possessed a relatively young roster, conference realignment had given them hope they could still contend for a conference crown. That optimism seemed to fuel Hopewell in the early part of a challenging schedule in which they won three out their first five games.
However, Hopewell would run into troubles over the rest of the season, capturing just three additional wins. Although the losses piled up, the growth of the Blue Devils was evident. The team rarely found themselves out of games early and routinely had opportunities to win, but struggled in the big situations. Failures with runners in scoring position jumped out as the key description of the Blue Devils' season until the final few weeks when the program defeated Conference 26 foe Huguenot.
The 11-1 win on May 12, in addition to the Blue Devils' win over Petersburg and schools of bigger classification such as Meadowbrook and Highland Springs, put the team in position to earn a first-round bye. After the final points were added, Hopewell was awarded a bye and as a result, will play in their first postseason in a decade.
While Hopewell had their struggles this season, manager Bobby Pershing could not discount the job his budding young team overcame the issues, grabbed key wins when they needed to and put themselves in position to contend for a title.
"Getting the bye is an advantage of course," Pershing said before practice Tuesday afternoon. "For us, we were lucky enough to not only play teams of higher classification, but beat them, giving us more points to give us the bye. We were really happy about that ... Over the last 10 years, after our last game we would be handing in our uniforms and saying our goodbyes."
But this Hopewell team did not have to say goodbyes and instead have an opportunity placed in front of them.
With the benefit of a first-round bye, Hopewell is now able to get some of their key pitchers some extra rest while setting themselves up with the best possible chance to win in the tournament. The tournament also represents a new season of sorts for a team that wants to leave a mark on the program.
The fact has not escaped the team that they are the first squad to reach the postseason in a decade and they both are honored to be a part of the pioneer group and have high expectations for themselves. They realize they have played better of late and have faced tough competition all season which prepared them for this point.
"I feel like this is a foundation sort of like the way we felt on the football team this past season," Hopewell shortstop Trent Scott said during practice. "It's a step up. We know what to expect now and how to prepare ourselves. I'm hoping this is going to lead to something bigger."
Based on the recent play, Scott's wish may be fulfilled.
Against Dinwiddie, Hopewell executed their small-ball philosophy to great success. While they have struggled to advance runners and get big hits, it was not the case against the Generals. Following a Neeyamyah Nunez double to lead-off the 2nd inning, Jordan Lowe successfully laid down a sacrifice-bunt to advance Nunez to third base.
Then, on a 2-2 pitch, Andy Howell made sure to not swing through the offering and pulled the ball to the right-side, allowing Nunez to score with the Blue Devils first run. Additionall, with Cameron Hill and Scott reaching base in the 3rd inning, Will Avery lined a two-out, two-strike base-hit into left to score both to give Hopewell an early lead.
With each passing success, Pershing believes his team is buying into the small-ball mentality and knows it can lead to a few big wins this week.
"When we played Dinwiddie, we had a lead early in the game and the way we got the lead was having runners in scoring position followed by guys putting the ball in play," Pershing explained. "I think they finally realized our approach to trying to score runs is a good approach for our team."
Cameron Hill has immediately made in an impact as a freshman for the Blue Devils
And there is no doubt what the Hopewell team would like the approach to lead to — an eventual showdown against old Central District rival Petersburg for a Conference 26 Title.
Hopewell captured the first meeting between the two teams with a one-run victory and held a three-run lead into the 5th inning of their second meeting before rain washed away the game before it could be completed. The Blue Devils would not only like to prove they are the better team, but win the first Conference 26 Title by defeating the Wave and solidifying their place in program history.
"They're in our district, so we always have competition with Petersburg," Scott said of the possible match-up. "It's always a good game and the last time we played them, we didn't get to finish. There's a lot of 'maybes' and 'what ifs.' I'm hoping we can play them and play to our greatest ability, so we can show everyone we are ready to compete."
Hopewell may have reached the postseason for the first time in 10 years, but they are not satisfied with an appearance. They have their eyes set on a great prize and with a small-ball mentality proving successful, capturing a title is within their grasp.