Kettle Run baseball preview: Indoor all-stars waiting to prove selves outside
Bailey Moneymaker will be one of Kettle Run's top starting pitchers this season. --Fauquier Times Staff Photos/Randy Litzinger
Almost everything the Kettle Run baseball team did this preseason looked great.
Unfortunately, for the most part, that encompassed fielding balls off of a hardwood floor and hitting balls off tees into a net hung in the Kettle Run gym.
"We've been an all-American indoor team," Cougars coach Ty Thorpe said.
Snow and rain have frequently kept the Cougars off the baseball field and confined to the basketball court this March, which has often been the case during recent years. Kettle Run has practiced fully or played outside only a few times thus far, giving Thorpe little of value with which to evaluate his team.
What he has seen, however, he's liked.
Thorpe said Kettle Run has better depth than ever before, particularly in its pitching corps. Defensively, the Cougars appear to be a traditionally strong unit despite newcomers in the middle infield. And, offensively, they showed great promise during a 19-4 scrimmage win over Manassas Park on March 15.
"I'm hoping for a bounce-back compared to where we were last year," Thorpe said.
The Cougars went 7-11 in 2013, which ranks as the worst mark in the history of the sixth-year program. They also failed to qualify for their region tournament for the first time since going 10-10 in 2009.
Following last season, Kettle Run lost only four senior starters to graduation after losing seven following the 2012 season. The program also got some new talent in 2014 thanks to the best turnout for tryouts in history – 57 kids.
Thorpe designated 19 players for varsity and 18 for junior varsity.
"The largest group I've even kept," he said. "For the most part, things have been really crisp. The kids have responded well and they're working hard. It's a pretty good group."
Kettle Run hopes to return to the region tournament after making three consecutive appearances, 2010-12, and twice advancing to the semifinals.
"It's baby steps this year," Thorpe said. "We want to get a good seeding in the conference tournament and get to the region tournament and see what happens there. … Every team wants to get to state, but you've got to be hot at the right time."
The Cougars will compete in Conference 27 and the Class 3A East Region, a change that came with VHSL realignment after previously playing in Region II.
"That's the great unknown with so many teams you've never really played before," Thorpe said. "I think it's going to be good baseball."
Kettle Run will also play for an Evergreen District regular season championship, but unlike seasons past there will be no district tournament. The Cougars went 5-3 during the 2013 district regular season, but lost their first tournament game, 11-7, to Fauquier.
Donnie Forgacs was named 2013 Evergreen District Player of the Year as Kettle Run's No. 1 pitcher and starting shortstop. He then graduated along with all-district second baseman Marc Henry, who also pitched.
Those vital middle infield positions have been filled this season by sophomore shortstop Hayden Lilek and junior second baseman Jason Alvarez.
"It's always tough to replace guys like that who have tremendous instincts and worked real well together," Thorpe said. "But we have a pretty solid core.”
Alvarez played some at second base on varsity last season. Lilek started at shortstop on junior varsity.
"He has good range and arm strength," Thorpe said. "So far we haven't missed a beat."
Graduation also claimed third baseman Josh Kannard and right fielder Matt Tingle.
Regardless, Kettle Run played a relatively clean first scrimmage and has looked solid during practice.
"It's mostly fielding a ball off a frigging basketball court," Thorpe said. "But if you can handle the way the laces bounce off the floor, you should be able to handle it outside."
"Our pitchers are not going to blow anybody away, but they're going to throw strikes," he said. "We need to be able to field behind them."
Seniors Bailey Moneymaker and Joey Cloud will serve as Kettle Run's main starting pitchers with five to eight relievers rounding out the bullpen.
"I have 10 guys that can throw strikes right now. That's helpful," Thorpe said. "With the pitching rules you can only do so much. … If we're stockpiled up with a lot of games in a week we've got a lot of kids that can help us on the mound."
Alvarez, senior Rollin Buffington, junior Reid Merriken, junior Justin Vaclavicek and sophomore Brenton Doyle should get significant time behind Moneymaker and Cloud.
Thorpe has less clarity with his batting order because the Cougars faced very little live pitching prior to last Saturday. He expects the top of Kettle Run's order to include some combination of Alvarez, Lilek, junior first baseman Tyler Johnson, sophomore third baseman Brian Reinaldo and Doyle, the left fielder. Johnson and Doyle are all-district returning starters along with Buffington in center field.
"That's some table-setters and some guys that can drive in some runs," Thorpe said. "We've got to get those guys in the top of the order on and move them over and get some timely hits. It's the same puzzle pieces every year."
The Cougars did a good job of that against Manassas Park.
"They were aggressive early in the count," Thorpe said. "I'm hoping it carries over" to the regular season.
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Projected starting lineup
SP Bailey Moneymaker, Sr.^
C Randy Bardell, Sr.
1B Tyler Johnson, Jr.*
2B Jason Alvarez, Jr.
3B Brian Reinaldo, So.*
SS Hayden Lilek, So.
LF Brenton Doyle, So.*
CF Rollin Buffington, Sr.*
RF position battle†
†Juniors Nick Burrell, Justin Vaclavicek, Adam Nibecker
^Battle for No. 1 spot with Joey Cloud, Sr.
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Recent final records
*District regular season champion
^District tournament champion
†Region semifinal appearance
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