Lafayette, Jamestown baseball teams eyeing deep postseason runs

Contact Reporterkholtzman@vagazette.com

Rewind to that searing June Saturday afternoon last year as Lafayette celebrated winning the first baseball state championship in school history on Liberty University Baseball Stadium's baking artificial turf.

Rams' pitcher Andre Lipcius had just finished off a complete-game win after his twin brother Luc hit the go-ahead home run to set up the 5-4 victory over Loudoun Valley, the previously reigning 3A champion.

A celebratory dogpile ensured near home plate, where Lafayette's seniors would soon have their commencement ceremony since they were away from their graduating classmates in Williamsburg.

It's hard to imagine a more perfect finish for Lafayette, which finished the season 19-6 after taking second to Jamestown in the Bay Rivers District.

Fast forward to preseason practice Thursday on an overcast evening at Warhill Sports Complex as the Lipcius brothers and fellow returning senior first baseman Mitch Barrick get a stern talking-to from coach Rick Schenk about the level of focus he expects in practice and how that translates to games.

The honeymoon period is most definitely over for the Rams.

"Big weight," Luc Lipcius said, "big expectations."

"There's a little more on our shoulders this year because everybody expects us to go back and do it," Andre Lipcius added. "Everyone's going to be coming for us, especially since we won the state championship. It's going to be a little tougher, but I think we can do it if we come together."

This season it will have to come in 4A, where one of Lafayette's biggest competitors could be right down the road at rival Jamestown.

Rams reload

A few key pieces are gone from Lafayette's championship team, but led by the University of Tennessee-bound Lipcius brothers, the Rams have nine returning players.

"They all played," Schenk said. "Whether it was playing outfield or infield or throwing, they were all part of it. I'm not hurting."

The top arms in a deep pitching staff for Schenk are the Lipcius brothers, Chase Bauer, Jared Antle, and Chase Smith. The innings will be greatly spread around, as has been Schenk's rotation model the past few seasons although Luc Lipcius isn't likely to see much time on the mound because of past arm issues.

Smith, a sophomore, will also catch. John Keane will, too, after spending time as a backup last season to his reliable brother, Matt, a freshman for William and Mary.

Jared Antle is likely to fill in at second or third base when shortstop Andre Lipcius isn't on the mound.

Andre Lipcius last season batted .400 with 21 RBIs while center fielder Luc Lipcius hit .380 with 21 RBIs and 16 stolen bases.

Other returners for Lafayette include all-conference honorable mention selection Austin Cohn as well as John Barton, who lined a pinch-hit, game-clinching knock to send Lafayette into the state semifinals last year.

Barton's hit was indicative of how everything just seemed to fall in place last season for the Rams to win it all, following district titles in 2013 and 2014.

"We were good (last year)," Schenk said. "I thought the team the year before that was an even better team and we couldn't get out of regionals because of a bad break here and there. We got all the breaks (in 2015). If there was a play to be made, we made it. If there was a play the other team needed to make, they didn't make it."

New chapter for Eagles

New coach John Cole hopes Jamestown will remember the sting of last year's disappointing conference semifinals exit to Powhatan that followed the Eagles' first Bay Rivers title in 13 years.

"Hopefully it does bother them so it gives them motivation for this year, but nobody has really said too much about it," Cole said. "Hopefully it's in the back of their minds that they live and learn and want to advance."

Cole has more than 25 years of college coaching experience including most recently as Christopher Newport University's pitching coach. He was head coach at the University of Pennsylvania for eight seasons and led New Jersey's Rowan University for seven seasons and to two Division III World Series appearances.

Cole, also a former William and Mary assistant, inherits a talented Jamestown side led by senior Evan Lowery, who will play for Navy next season.

Lowery hit .500 last season with 23 RBIs and a school-record nine home runs.

"He's our leader," Cole said. "He's a very disciplined kid. He'll run through a wall for you. He's physical. He's just a tough kid who plays hard. He's a great guy to have in your dugout."

Lefty Kent Klyman (N.C. State) and outfielder Chris Jones (Liberty) join Lowery as Division I recruits.

With what should be a loaded batting order, pitching looks to be the primary concern for Jamestown, which has three 2015 graduates on college rosters in Sean Hughes (Boston College), Corey Williams (Christopher Newport) and Ryan Mason (Bridgewater College).

Garrick Colorado and Brady Vandygriff are in the pitching mix this season and Cole also thinks Ryan Devine, now armed with a submarine-style delivery, could be a sleeper.

Klyman finished last season with a 1.80 ERA while hitting .293 at the plate with 16 RBIs.

Klyman, Lowery and infielder Michael Schmidt give Jamestown three formidable left-handed hitters in the lineup.

"I think you can put any one of our nine guys anywhere in the batting order and they're going to produce," Klyman said.

Some of the other expected contributors are Cameron Mays, a first-team all-conference selection last season who hit .323, along with catcher Roger Romero, versatile junior Andrew Barrow, steadily-improving Josh Nellis, and second baseman Noah Scruggs.

Klyman said the Eagles have put last year's playoff loss behind them and are thinking beyond winning just a district title.

"I think it's really going to turn out to be special season this year," Klyman said.

Work in progress

After a six-win improvement from 2014 to last season, Warhill features an inexperienced group with one all-conference performer back, sophomore first-baseman/left-handed pitcher Reece Koon.

Projected standouts for the Lions are seniors Cam Fowler (second base), Adam Ball (right field/LHP), Aharon Davidson (LHP/first base), and junior catcher/third baseman Trey Drummond.

Warhill, which opens the season Tuesday against Lafayette at Warhill Sports Complex, lost each of its top-four run-producing hitters from last season and Koon is the top returner after batting .314 with nine RBIs.

"We will have some young pitching prospects that could surprise some teams," Warhill coach John Corbin said. "Our overall team speed and contact hitters could cause problems for our opponents."

Eye on execution

Bruton lost six games last season by one run while also snapping a 52-game district losing streak.

The 2015 campaign ended with an extra-inning loss to King William, which advanced to the third round of 2A East play.

A competitive scrimmage with King William earlier this week gave new coach Feenie Carter reason to believe his young Panthers will be just fine.

"I think we'll be right there in our 2A conference," Carter said. "We'll take our bumps and bruises in the Bay Rivers District, but I think we'll be competitive."

Carter was an assistant last year at Bruton and the 1970s York County baseball star also previously served as head coach for Phoebus.

Some Bruton players to keep an eye on are seniors Zack Calloway, Alec Pallas and Kevin Zamubio. Shortstop/outfielder Calloway was one of the Panthers' top hitters last season, Pallas will play in center field and Zamubio will catch and hit in the middle of the lineup.

"If we make routine plays," Carter said, "we'll be in ballgames."

Holtzman can be reached by phone at 757-298-5830.

Rivals collide

Lafayette at Jamestown, March 22

Jamestown vs. Lafayette, April 29

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