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Josh Ross led the Valley Regional baseball team with a .444 batting average this spring. The junior catcher helped the Warriors win 13 games in Brian Drinkard’s first full season as the club’s head coach. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Senior pitcher Samuel Swap had a stingy ERA of just more than 1.00 on his way to winning Valley’s Pitcher of the Year Award in the 2018 season. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Senior shortstop Chase Morris took on a lot of responsibility as a leader and earned Player of the Year honors for the Warriors’ baseball squad this season. Along the way, he posted a .402 batting average. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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The Valley Regional baseball team improved upon its accomplishments from the 2017 season during its first full year with Brian Drinkard as head coach this spring. After winning 10 games last season, the Warriors finished 2018 with a record of 13-10, including an 11-0 victory over Old Saybrook in the Shoreline Conference Tournament quarterfinals.
Coach Drinkard was pleased with the progress that he saw from his squad as he felt the Warriors displayed mental toughness that kept them continuously moving in the right direction. Valley proved that it wasn’t going to buckle under pressure and wound up posting a record of 7-1 in one-run games on the year.
“Last year we were about .500, and we got bounced out in round one in the postseason. This year, we won 13 and got a win in the Shoreline Tournament, which was nice to get,” Drinkard said. “The biggest thing for us this year was that we were 7-1 in one-run games. The one game we lost, we scored five runs in the top of the seventh to make it one run.”
Players like junior catcher Jeff Ross exemplified the Warriors’ toughness this season. Coach Drinkard said that Ross’s approach at the plate, behind the plate, and in the dugout stood out to him throughout the year. Ross led the Warriors in batting average with a .444 clip to win the team’s Batting Title Award. Ross, who scored 22 runs on the season, also did a great job of working with Valley’s pitching staff. He was presented with the team’s Coach’s Award at the conclusion of the campaign.
“We don’t really name a captain, but to all the coaches and players, he’s a team captain,” said Drinkard of Ross. “We honored him at the banquet as a captain along with Chase Morris. Taking nothing away from Chase, but Josh is just a special kind of leader. No doubt about it.”
Morris had a stellar senior season for Valley Regional and was selected as the squad’s Player of the Year. In addition to being a defensive stalwart at shortstop, Morris provided a solid bat at the plate with his .402 average and 12 RBI.
“He hit in the 2 spot for us all year, and he could have hit in the 3 spot, as well,” Drinkard said. “He hit .400 and played a solid shortstop. Any time he was up at the plate, I felt good about our chances. He had a way of coming through.”
Senior Sam Swap led the Warriors on the mound and finished the year with an ERA just a shade more than 1.00 to go with his 62 strikeouts. Swap earned Valley’s Pitcher of the Year Award and garnered All-Shoreline Conference First Team honors in recognition of his performance.
“There’s not much to say about him other than he was lights out every time he was out there,” said Drinkard. “He just went out there and did his job every time, and it showed in his ERA and strikeout numbers.”
Another offensive asset for the Warriors was senior Zach Stevens, who received a share of team’s Coach’s Award for his effort on the diamond. As a senior, Stevens hit .387 and drove in 17 runs for Valley. Much like Morris, Coach Drinkard always felt a positive result coming when Stevens stepped into the batter’s box. Stevens proved that Drinkard’s faith in him was well-deserved when Stevens worked the game-winning walk in 3-2 walk-off victory over Old Lyme on April 20.
“Along with Chase, I probably had the most confidence when Zach was up to bat. Zach was clutch,” Drinkard said. “He came up big in a walk-off against Old Lyme. Zach had a day off, but he came in and got a pinch-hit walk-off in the bottom of the seventh for us. That was a big win early in the season.”
Junior Jake Robertson was another Coaches’ Award recipient after he hit .285 with a home run and 14 RBI. Robertson also showed his skills on the mound by earning the win when Valley notched a huge victory against Coginchaug on May 11. The Warriors prevailed 3-2 against a Blue Devils’ team that made it all the way to the Shoreline Conference Tournament final.
“The Coginchaug win was a big one with Jake Robertson pitching and shutting them down when the score was tied 2-2 late,” said Drinkard. “It kept us in the game for Morris to walk us off in the seventh.”
The future of Valley baseball looks good as sophomores like Nate Robida and Cade Ensinger gained another year of varsity experience this spring. Ensinger posted a .340 average and had two homers to go with 14 RBI, while also pitching for the Warriors. Next year, he will help fill in at shortstop with the graduation of Morris.
“He’ll probably be moving into our pitching rotation and play middle infield. He was in right field and center field this year,” Coach Drinkard said. “I think his natural position is shortstop, but he never had a shot at it while Chase was there. He filled in all around the field, and he had good numbers for a sophomore.”
Robida notched a .287 batting average, while constantly hit the ball hard this year. He, too, will be taking a larger role for the Warriors in the 2019 season.
“Nate played out of his comfort zone, filling in in the outfield for us, “Drinkard said. “He really hit the ball better than the average would indicate. There isn’t a stat for it, but he had the most outs on hard-hit balls right at someone.”
While the prospects appear bright for Valley, Coach Drinkard knows that it’s difficult to predict what will happen in any given season. However, as long as the Warriors come to the field ready to play hard every day, Valley’s skipper will be satisfied.
“It’s always tough year to year to make predictions,” Drinkard said. “We just hope to be competitive each year.”
From the Sidelines
The Valley Regional baseball team’s roster included seniors Blair Allen, Chase Morris, Colin Sparaco, Zach Stevens, Sam Swap, and Jacob Yaeger; juniors Jacob Kately, Jake Robertson, Joss Ross, Jeff Sypher, and Gharrett Watrous; sophomores Evan Benson, Ben Conrad, Nathan Robida, Chris Sparaco, and Dylan Sparaco; and freshman Kyle Metz.
Head Coach Brian Drinkard completed his first full season at the helm of the Warriors after serving in an interim capacity year. His coaching staff included Charlie Wolfe and Lou Rolon.
The Warriors notched wins in the regular season against New London (16-9 and 9-8), Hale-Ray (8-1), Ledyard (4-3), Morgan (12-7, 3-2), Old Lyme (3-2), North Branford (11-10 and 5-4), Creed (17-4), East Hampton (8-0), and Coginchaug (3-2).
Valley’s regular-season losses came against Old Saybrook (8-5), Cromwell (5-1 and 14-2), Haddam-Killingworth (4-2 and 8-3), Westbrook (9-8), Portland (14-4), and Coginchaug (5-2).
The Warriors defeated Old Saybrook by the score of 11-0 in the Shoreline Conference Tournament quarterfinals, before taking a 4-1 loss to Coginchaug in the semis.
As the No. 16 seed in the Class M State Tournament, Valley lost a 4-2 decision to No. 17 Northwest Catholic in the first round.
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