ROCKINGHAM — It will be difficult for the Richmond Senior baseball team to duplicate some of its achievements from last year, but that doesn’t mean coach Ricky Young isn’t planning on trying.
The Raiders lost its season opener to Terry Sanford 2-0 on Feb. 27, then it took just under three months for the team to lose again. During this stretch, Richmond set a school record by reeling off 28 straight victories before losing the last two games of the 4A East Region championship series to Fuquay-Varina to finish with a 28-3 mark.
Also during the season, pitcher Nic Bullard hurled 37 1/3 scoreless innings and finished with a 10-1 record with a save and a 1.52 ERA.
Young acknowledges how special the 2013 season was and knows it is time to turn the page on focus on the present.
“Last year was great, we moved into the top 30 on Maxpreps.com,” Young said. “We would have liked to have finished it off with a state championship. The success from last year will help us as we continue to build a program here. We have a tough schedule with teams like Charlotte Christian and Terry Sanford.
“It will be difficult to repeat what we did last year, but our goal is to win every game. We will go out and do what we do. We are going to play the same way we always do.”
And Young’s way is being aggressive on the bases, playing solid defense and relying on strong pitching.
In addition to having Bullard back, James Buie and Cody Leviner also return to the Raiders’ rotation. Buie was 8-1 with a save and a 1.85 ERA last season. Leviner went 7-0 with two saves and an 0.82 ERA.
Young believes the trio will pitch the majority of the innings this season, but knows he has several other arms at his disposal. Brandon Gibson saw action in six games as a pitcher last year and recorded two saves with a 1.91 ERA. Ethan Baucom, Joe Butler, Dylan Carpenter and Cody Mullen all pitched in the summer league for the Raiders.
“We are blessed to have so much depth,” Young said. “Nic was all-state, James and Cody were all-conference. That’s going to be our strength. We are going to try to get the others in when we can.”
Even though Young lost his top two base stealers — Drew Butler and Jeremy Smith — from last season, he believes his team can create more havoc on the basepath. He said it will all start with Mike Rush, who had 13 steals as a courtesy runner and a part-time starter at second.
Young added he expects this year’s team to have a little more pop at the plate.
“The big key is going to be the top of the lineup,” Young said. “We lost Jeremy and Drew and you couldn’t prepare for their speed. Mike and whoever we hit second need to get on base because the middle guys can drive them in. Mike has the capability of having a big year. I think we are going to swing the bats a little better.”
If there is an area of concern Young has heading into today’s season opener at Porter Ridge is in the field, especially up the middle. He lost his shortstop (Butler), second baseman (Adam Sweatt) and center fielder (Smith) from last season’s team and his catcher (Bradley Brown) is coming back from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
“The key is going to be defense and how long is it going to take for us to gel,” Young said. “Plus the weather really put us behind. It may take us a little longer to gel.”
— Sports editor Shawn Stinson may be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14 or on Twitter @scgolfer.