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MILFORD – The Caroline High School baseball team was scheduled to kick off the 2013 season this week, hosting King William on Friday.
Coach Frank Dow, who shared Battlefield District coach of the year honors a year ago with two other coaches in the district, conceded at the end of the 2012 campaign that the Cavaliers would be in rebuilding mode for the following season. The Cavaliers will be bolstered, though, by a number of players who turned in a stellar junior varsity season last year.
Only three players return from last year’s squad – which graduated 10 seniors – although two earned Battlefield District accolades. The three returnees are all seniors, Rory Smith and twin brothers Joe and Will Shiflett.
Smith and J. Shiflett turned in solid performances on the mound last year, and the Cavaliers will be looking for more good innings this season. Both also will have playing time in the outfield. W. Shiflett, who has played catcher in the past, is making a move; he will get time at third base and first base. All three players are known for their batting performance, too.
W. Shiflett earned second team All-Battlefield District honors in 2012, and J. Shiflett earned an honorable mention.
Last year J. Shiflett allowed only six earned runs over 26.3 innings for a 0.2 ERA and 36 strikeouts. W. Shiflett, often counted on to bolster the middle of the line-up, batted .479 with 13 RBI and Caroline’s only home run. Smith often batted lead-off and hit .382.
Other Cavaliers expected to get time pitching are juniors Justin Pitts, Adam Desjarlais, and Jonathan Didlake; sophomores Collin Hess and Ryan Hickman also are expected to see action as the season progresses. Stepping in for W. Shiflett behind the plate will be Hickman and Pitts.
Those underclassmen – Desjarlais, Didlake, Hess, Hickman, and Pitts – played on a JV team in 2012 that went 17-2 overall, 13-2 in the district, and won the district tournament. Didlake was the ace of the JV squad while Hess, Desjarlais, and Hickman were leaders at the plate.
“Playing ball in this district boils down to two things,” said Dow, “execution and who is on the mound. How a team responds to the opposing pitcher is crucial. This season is going to be a question of who versus who on the mound.”
A Virginia High School League rule change taking effect this season impacting pitchers likely will make staffing a pitching squad much more of a chess game than in the past. The change takes more of an interval approach to innings pitched. Pitchers are allowed to throw up to 14 innings per week, but a certain number of days of rest is mandated in between turns on the mound depending on how many innings they threw. For example, a pitcher who goes nine innings on Monday must take three full days of rest; if he threw four innings on Monday, he would have to take two days of rest before throwing again.
Dow would like to see more consistency in team batting this season, he indicated. “Last year we had several games where our bats were silent, and we lost by only a run or two.”
The Cavaliers will be aggressive on the bases as they have in the past. Dow is known for coaching players to manufacture runs by taking extra bases when they have the opportunity, and this season will be no different.
The Cavaliers pretty much have a new infield but good talent, noted Dow. Unfortunately, inclement weather has put a dent in practice time.
“The weather has worked against us so far,” said Dow. “With all the rain, we have not had as much time doing field work as I would have like to have had.”
Last year’s Caroline baseball team produced three members of the All-Battlefield District team plus four honorable mentions. First team honors went to ace senior pitcher Sean Pico. Besides W. Shiflett, senior Larry Green also was named to the second team. In addition to J. Shiflett, honorable mentions went to seniors Chris Carter, Tyler Daig, and Kendrick Draper.
The 2012 Cavaliers closed out the season with a 15-5 record and in a three-way tie with King George and Spotsylvania for first place in the Battlefield District. They lost their semifinal game in the district tournament.
Caroline is scheduled to open the season this week at home with a 5 p.m. game Friday versus King William.
Next week the Cavaliers are scheduled to visit King William on Tuesday and visit Spotsylvania on Friday.