NEWPORT NEWS — Asked about his best attribute as a starting pitcher, Menchville graduate Tyler Knapp did not turn to velocity or command.
Instead, the 6-foot-5, 210-pound right-hander discussed his unflappable persona relative to other high school pitchers.
"Mentally, a lot of kids get pretty frustrated when they have a bad inning or they walk a batter, whatever, but I stay pretty composed," Knapp said.
That calm under pressure allowed the Monarchs' staff ace to push his team to the Group 5A state semifinals and helped earn him Daily Press Player of the Year honors.
Yet Knapp admitted he used to have quite the opposite demeanor on the mound.
"If I struck out or started walking people, I'd just get mad," Knapp said. "I'd just dig deeper holes and I'd never get out of them."
He could not trace the exact path from then to now, but he had an inkling of when the change began.
After his freshman year, he transferred to Menchville from Warwick and made the varsity baseball team. He credited Monarchs coach Phil Forbes and his new teammates with spurring his dedication to the sport.
"Before I came here, I was a decent ballplayer, but I just kind of coasted," he said. "I was a bigger kid and I threw hard, and that was enough. I never really worked hard."
Knapp's approach changed by necessity at Menchville. If he wanted to crack the lineup, he needed to keep pace with a deep roster in general and his stacked Class of 2017 cohorts in particular. Knapp and eight of his classmates moved through the ranks together, and all contributed significantly as seniors this season.
Also around the time he came to Menchville, he also realized pitching and not playing the field represented his future as a baseball player. So he applied his new work ethic to improving his discipline as a pitcher.
"I thought, 'I've got to figure this out. All the major leaguers, they keep their cool up on the mound,' " Knapp said.
The change came so gradually he barely even noticed, but three years later, he has become a different player and a better player.
"This last offseason, I watched him work on every part of the game: pitching, conditioning, fielding," Forbes said. "I could see he was in the right frame of mind to be successful this year."
Knapp struck out 57 batters across 52 innings and posted a 2.15 earned-run average over the course of a dominant season, including one of his finest performances as a Monarch: a three-hit shutout against 5A South favorite Hickory in the first round of the regional tournament.
He will play for NCAA Division I Longwood next year, and his focus on pitching will become narrower still.
When he was not pitching for Menchville, Knapp served as a utility player, able to fill in at first base, third base, outfield or designated hitter. He ended the season with a .358 average, 15 runs and 20 RBI.
He will miss batting, he said, and he will miss high school. However, he looks forward to his next challenge, which he will start with a summer session at Longwood in July.
"I'm going to miss playing out here," Knapp said, looking out at Menchville's baseball field after the end of his senior year. "But it feels good. I'm ready for next year. I can't wait to go to school."
Pitcher | Ryan Devine | Jamestown | senior. His season was worthy of his 4A state Player of the Year recognition — 9-1 pitching with an 0.94 ERA and 75 strikeouts in 74 1/3 innings, plus a .368 batting average with 19 RBI.
Pitcher | Gray Goodrich | Tabb | senior. In leading Tabb to the Conference 27 title and its best season in nearly a decade, Goodrich was 8-1 pitching with a 1.22 ERA and 76 strikeouts in 68 2/3 innings.
Pitcher | Hunter Williams | Windsor | senior. Landed on the 1A all-state first team on the strength of an 8-1 record, 0.34 ERA and 140 strikeouts.
Catcher | Kevin Mooney | Jamestown | senior. The first-team all-state receiver's arm and glove (no errors) kept opponents scoring low. His bat — producing a .394 average, 11 doubles and 17 RBI — helped fuel the offense.
First base | Michael Schmidt | Jamestown | senior. The Eagles' hottest batter during a 20-game win streak, Schmidt hit for a .412 average, scored 22 runs and drove in 16 more.
Second base | Rayvon Patrick | York | senior. An All-3A East Region pick, Patrick batted .369, scored 16 runs, got on with 18 walks or hit-by-pitch and fielded well all season.
Third base | Andrew Barrow | Jamestown | senior. His 4A all-state season included 38 strikeouts in 26 1/3 innings pitched, a .310 batting average, 25 runs and 25 RBI.
Shortstop | Cam Ochsenfeld | Denbigh | senior. This Old Dominion signee moved into the leadoff spot for the Patriots this season and thrived there: He batted .529 and slugged .804, with nine stolen bases.
Outfielder | Trey Fortner | Gloucester | senior. A first-team all-state selection in Group 5A, Fortner excelled defensively in center field for the Dukes, with zero errors on the season. The Jacksonville State signee also led his team with 29 hits and posted a 0.93 ERA in 15 innings pitched.
Outfielder | Justin Bowers | Grafton | junior. A .404 batting average, 21 hits (10 for extra bases), three home runs and 21 runs paved the way for a 4A all-state first-team selection.
Outfielder | Jacob Council | Windsor | junior. Council batted .500 with 28 hits, scored 25 runs and drove in 12 runs to earn Group 1A all-state honors for the Dukes' state semifinalists.
Designated hitter | Riley Sweeney | Menchville | senior. Sweeney's .418 batting average and 24 RBI helped power the Monarchs to the Group 5A state semifinals, and he also garnered a second-team all-state selection.
Utility | Tanner Schobel | Walsingham Academy | freshman. His contributions to the Trojans' VISAA Division III state semifinal run were 30 RBI, 23 runs, 22 walks and 50 strikeouts pitching in 35 1/3 innings.
Utility | Chase Bauer | Lafayette | senior. Bauer helped fuel the Rams' surge after a slow start with a .397 batting average, 15 RBI and a tied-for-team-high 38 innings pitched.
Utility | Joey Santos | Bethel | senior. Committed to Norfolk State as a left-handed pitcher, the southpaw averaged two strikeouts per inning pitched but also starred for the Bruins on defense as a center fielder and at the plate.
— Kate Yanchulis and Marty O'Brien