Rebels Blast Past Royals In Regionals
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Jun 3, 2014, 23:06
Prince George gathers by its dugout after the final out was recorded in their season.
GLEN ALLEN — Prince George's baseball team entered the 2014 season with a lot of inexperience lining the roster and faced the unknowns of whether they would have success this season. However, those questions which persisted through the early part of the season when Prince George won just five of their first eight games, were pushed away late in the year.
The Royals won five consecutive games in April, including a statement win over Monocan, giving them confidence heading into a tough Conference 12 Tournament. And while the Royals would fall short in the the finals, they did enough to earn a Region Tournament berth.
But when the pairings were set, Prince George's players and coaches knew what they were up against.
The Royals would have to face a Douglas Freeman side which rolled through the 2014 campaign by winning 22 of 23 games with a strong pitching staff and a lineup which is dangerous from top-to-bottom. Yet, as the game's first-pitch was thrown by Freeman's Daniel Lynch, Prince George's relentlessness never wavered.
Junior Brandon Pearce and Lynch dueled each other through the first three innings with only an RBI single from Sam Cox in the bottom of the 2nd inning, resulting in a 1-0 Freeman lead. However, the Rebels would deliver what seemed to be the back-breaking blow with a grand-slam off the bat of Jack Gerstenmaier to take a 5-0 lead in the 4th inning.
Yet, the scrappy Royals would not surrender. Prince George would load the bases in the 5th inning and push across three runs by putting the ball in play, resulting in two Rebels' errors. Unfortunately, a bare-handed play from Lynch to record a force-out on a dribbler cut the Prince George rally short and ultimately the game in an eventual 12-4 loss in the 5A South Region Quarterfinal.
"In the 4th inning, if we made that play, we would have gotten out of it with no runs allowed. Then in the 5th, I know their pitcher made a couple of mistakes, but the one play he did make was huge," Prince George manager Mickey Roberts said after the game. "You have to give them credit. They lifted some balls that got out here and that's the difference in the game."
However, while the Rebels blasted three home runs off of Prince George pitching to end their season, it does not overshadow the type of season the Royals completed. On a team which had just five seniors on the roster — just two of them starters — Prince George reached the Region Tournament in their first season in the newly formed Conference 12.
Led by seniors Mark King, the team's solid shortstop, and Brody Rotzoll, the team's vocal catcher, the Royals improved throughout the course of the season to play their best brand of baseball over the last few weeks. Without any true power threats, the Royals found ways to manufacture runs by stringing together hits, pushing liners through vacant positions on hit-and-runs and working the count to get on base.
It resulted in a 14-win campaign and both Jordan Nase and Conner Daly earning All-Conference 12 second team honors. And while Nase was the table-setter for the Royals' lineup all season long out of the lead-off spot, other players like Daly — just a freshman — Jackson Rivera and Bryce Harrup also improved.
And it showed in Prince George's loss to Douglas Freeman in which Harrup went 2-for-3, Nase, Preston Stringer and Trevor Myers all had good at-bats against Lynch, the University of Virginia commit.
"They've done what I want every team that I coach to do," Roberts said. "As season goes on, they've gotten better and better. That's what they did this year. I'm very proud of them because we scrapped and hung in there. There were some games where the other team was better than us, but we played hard and were able to pull some wins out."
Although the season ended on a sour note, the future looks bright for the Royals. Stringer, just a freshman this season, looks to be an impact player for years to come with a quick and compact swing. Nase is a born leader on the field who plays solid defense, has a strong arm and is a jump-starter to the offense. His baseball savvy on the baseball paths allows him to swipe bags without elite speed and should continue to help the Royals next season.
Rivera showed how good he could be in spurts on the hill, dominating Thomas Dale in a short relief stint back in May with some good velocity which should only increase while getting stronger and the return of Pearce leaves a veteran in the rotation.
Additionally, Roberts looks to a group of younger players who will be able to make immediate impacts next season along with the 12 returners who were taught a valuable lesson moving forward. All week in practice Roberts stressed needing to shorten swings against pitchers of Lynch's caliber and the struggle to string hits together furthered his point. It's why Roberts looks forward to the next season already, one in which the Royals can improve on what they built this past season.
"I'm losing Mark King, so that's a big one in the middle of the infield, but we do have a lot of guys coming back and a good group JV wise coming in," Roberts said. "I'm excited. We'll have a lot of potential for next year."
Twelve returners, young players and experience gained from this past season could have the Royals heading toward more success next year.