High school baseball outlook

James Wood and Millbrook battled it out last season for area high school baseball supremacy and it could be a repeat this spring.

The Colonels handed the Pioneers their only loss during the Class 4 Northwestern District regular season as the two teams split and then knocked them off 9-4 for their first district title since 2007.

Both teams would fall against eventual state champion Broad Run, with Millbrook losing 7-2 in the semifinals and James Wood tumbling 13-3 in the finals.

The Colonels (13-4 overall last season) lost a good chunk of last year’s squad, but have a solid core of players to build around. Shortstop Bodie Pullen (Shepherd), outfielder Brody Bower (Eastern) and outfielder Jacob Roy (Richard Bland) have each signed college letters-of-intent.

Bower (.391, 17 runs), Pullen (19 runs, 13 RBIs, area-best 16 steals) and Colin McGuire (.371, 10 RBIs) are the leading returners on offense.

Coach Adrian Pullen has two solid juniors returning as starters on the mound. Nick Bell (3-3, 1.51 ERA) was especially strong down the stretch last season. He threw 14.2 scoreless innings of relief in the postseason. Bell has excellent control (1.05 WHIP) and struck out 40 batters in 37 innings. McGuire had a 3.00 ERA and was used in key relief situations.

Millbrook (13-3) certainly will bring back the area’s strongest pitching staff, with three players with an ERA of 2.05 or better.

Jerrod Jenkins (4-2, 1.11 ERA) is the ace. Jenkins is a hard-throwing right-hander who tops 90 mph with his fastball and has a knee-buckling curve. He fanned 67 batters in 44 innings and had a WHIP of 0.89. Jenkins is headed to NCAA Division I Dallas Baptist, which advanced to the NCAA Super Regionals last season.

Ethan Burgreen (6-1, 2.05 ERA) doesn’t throw as hard, but has excellent control, striking out 34 in 27.1 innings with an 0.84 WHIP. Burgreen, also a shortstop, is headed to Shepherd.

Senior Aiden Henry (2-0, 1.81 ERA) gave Brian Burke a crafty left-hander last season. Henry struck out 24 in 19.1 innings.

The Pioneers have to replace a lot of offense. Third baseman Nate Brookshire (.405, 14 RBIs, 16 runs), outfielder William Croyle (.405, 10 RBIs, 16 runs), catcher/shortstop Carl Keenan (12 RBIs, 19 runs, 10 steals) and Burgreen (13 runs, homer, 7 steals) lead the Pioneers’ offense.

Sherando (7-6) lost all of its offensive leaders from last season and its top starter.

Longtime Warriors coach Pepper Martin will have to rely on a mostly new starting lineup. Zach Symons is the only experienced returning pitcher.

Handley (2-11) did not get a win in district action.

Coach Pat Wingfield does return the area’s top hitter in shortstop Austin Smith, who batted .469 with 13 RBIs. Kaplan Ambrose also batted .378. Griffin Hott gives the Judges experience on the mound.

The Northwestern District race should be a dogfight, with Kettle Run and Fauquier also in the mix.

Unlike last season that was affected by COVID protocols, the district will return to awarding the regular-season champion an automatic berth into the Region 4C tournament. The other region qualifier will be the district tournament champ or the team that advances to the district tourney finals if the regular-season champ also advances to the district tourney final.

Clarke County (5-7) did not have the benefit of ace Luke Lyman for a full season last spring. In limited action, Lyman had a minuscule 0.89 ERA with an area-best 0.70 WHIP. The hard-throwing right-hander, who will pitch in college for Division I Morehead State, struck out 29 batters in 15.2 innings.

Lyman also swings a big stick for Mike Smith’s Eagles, hitting .409 with a homer last season. Shortstop Matthew Sipe also hit .341.

James Wood Coach: Adrian Pullen, second season

Last year: 13-4, 8-2. Class 4 Northwestern District Tournament champion, Region 4C finalist

Key losses: Luke Gross, Jayden Nixon, Aden Payne, Kaden Spaid, Andrew Waters, Jaden Ashby

Top returners: Brody Bower (Sr., OF); Ryan Clupp (Sr., C/UT); Bodie Pullen (Sr., SS/P); Jacob Roy (Sr., OF); Nick Bell (Jr., P/IF); Colin McGuire Jr. (P/INF).

Top newcomers: Clayton Braithwaite (Jr., IF); Daniel Franceshi (Jr., P/IF); Michael Jackson (Jr., P/UT); Eli Miller (Jr., UT); Jared Neal (Jr., UT); Ethan Pingley (Jr., P/IF); Hayden Rinker (Jr., UT); Tyler Whitacre (Jr., P/IF); John Copenhaver (So., C/UT).

Pullen’s outlook: “We hope to play sound and fundamental baseball. We expect to throw strikes, play defense, and get the timely hits that will put us in a great position to win the ballgame. We lost five seniors and potentially a senior this year in Jaden Ashby due to an injury suffered in football, so we have some holes right now, but I believe we have the players coming up that will fill those holes. We really got something started here last year, and we hope to keep that going.

“Our district is a tough one — very competitive from top to bottom. I believe we have some of the best coaches in the state in our district, and they all bring their teams ready to play. We were fortunate last year to beat some really talented ball clubs to get to the region final. We did that because we work hard, and we have the drive to succeed. We know that year in and year out Millbrook, Sherando, Kettle Run, and Fauquier are always at the top of the heap, but you can never count out Handley and Liberty. We hope to play with those teams and find a way to win.”

First game: Thursday, vs. Riverside

Millbrook Coach: Brian Burke, 11th season

Last year: 13-3, 9-1. Class 4 Northwestern District tournament runner-up, Region 4C semifinalist

Key losses: Yogie Hartigan, Harrison Madagan, Hayden Burke, Sebastian Tringali

Key returners: Jerrod Jenkins (Sr. P/C); Ethan Burgreen (Sr., SS/P); William Croyle (Sr., OF); Aiden Henry (Sr., P); Brandon Mullins (Sr., P); Nate Brookshire (Jr., 3B); Carl Keenan (Jr. C/UT).

Key newcomers: Ryan Liero (Jr., 2B); Chase Ford (So., OF); Cam Comins (Jr., P); Lladel Esquea-Rodriguez (Fr., P).

Burke’s outlook: “We should have the pitching to make us competitive each game. We are looking to get better with each game at the plate and defensively to help support our pitching. We’d like to put ourselves in position to be successful and play for a chance at a district title. We’re coming off of a good season last year where we got good pitching and the top of the rotation is returning. We will need to find a way to produce runs at the plate.”

Next game: Friday vs. Warren County

Sherando Coach: Pepper Martin, 28th season

Last year: 7-6, 6-4 Class 4 Northwestern District

Key losses: James Harris, Andrew Plunkett, Mason See, Drew Franchok, Cole Armel, Parker Clendenen, Saxton Garver, Tanner Muller

Top returners: Terrell Roberts (Sr., OF); Zach Symons (Sr., OF/P); Tyler Campbell (Sr., C/DH); David English (Sr., 1B/P); Donovyn Willis (Jr., 2B).

Top newcomers: Jamie Tinsman (Sr., 1B/P); Aydan Willis (Sr., UT/P); Cole Orr (Jr., 3B/P); Ty Helmick (Jr., OF); Tyler Strosnider (So., SS/P); Trey Williams (So., CF); Neil Holborn (So., SS/P); Gary Keats (Fr., 3B/P); Dylan Frazier (Fr., C).

Martin’s outlook: “We are dealing with a lot of unknowns heading into the season as our roster includes only three returning full-time or part-time varsity starters and features nine first-year varsity players. Zach Symons is our lone pitcher with any varsity mound experience, but we are carrying eight pitchers on the roster to provide some pitching depth. At least early on we will be pitching more by committee this year until we can settle in on three starting pitchers and define the roles of our relief pitchers. We are counting on our returning starters, seniors who are getting their first opportunity to start, and some of our talented younger players to help fill the offensive void left from graduation. We have decent team speed and our roster includes a number of players who are versatile at multiple positions. Our immediate team goals are to establish the roles of our pitching staff, provide our younger players an opportunity to gain some valuable playing experience, work hard to get better each week, and be competitive in every game.”

First game: Friday at Loudoun County

Handley Coach: Patrick Wingfield, eighth season

Last year: 2-11, 0-10 Class 4 Northwestern District

Key losses: Jacob Stewart

Key returners: Austin Smith (Sr., SS); Josh Stickles (Sr., C/3B); Jacob Duffy (Sr., P/CF); Bobby Crosen (Sr., 2B); Griffin Hott (Jr., P/UT); Kaplan Ambrose (So., UT).

Key newcomers: Charlie Allen (Fr., C); Jack Thome (Sr., P/IF).

Wingfield’s outlook: “We are coming into this season with a lot of optimism. Outside of first baseman Jacob Stewart, our infield returns every player and backup from last year. We also return all our pitchers from last season. As a team, pitching has been our biggest weakness in the past. It will be a blessing to be able to build off our improvement from last year from our ace Griffin Hott down to a plethora of short relief pitchers. As the team that has found themselves in the cellar of the district more often than not in recent years our district goals are very much one game at a time. I feel that we have a squad to make some inroads in the district but we have to find a way to both outwork and out-focus our competition each and every game.”

Next game: Tuesday at Liberty

Clarke County Coach: Mike Smith, fifth season

Last season: 5-7 in Bull Run District

Key losses: Jonah Cochran, Ben Thompson, Brody Caton

Key returnees: Luke Lyman (Sr., P/IF); Caleb Childs (Sr., IF); Matthew Sipe (Jr., IF); Theo Wood (Jr., IF); Quenton Slusher (So., OF); Owen Garber (Sr., C); Dagan Kitner (Jr., P/IF); Hunter Norton (Jr., IF/P); Jacob Plotner (Sr., P).

Key newcomers: Cordell Broy (Sr., OF); Tyler Chinn (Jr., P); Wilson Taylor (Fr., UT), Sam Goode (Fr., OF).

Smith’s outlook: “My expectations are to be competitive every time we take the field. We have a good group of returning players that have varsity experience. Year-in and year-out the Bull Run District has quality baseball teams. We are very fortunate this year to have two arms (Lyman and Kitner) who can win a lot of games. If we can put all phases of the game together, we have a great shot of making some noise in the district.”

First game: Friday vs. Strasburg

— Contact Walt Moody at
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