Dukes young and old bring confidence

Published 11:08 am Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Cumberland High School’s varsity baseball team experienced a rough start to the 2017 season, but it is bringing confidence with it to the diamond this year.

“Our team expectations are to compete every day, whether that is in the classroom, on the practice field or during games,” Dukes Head Coach Paul Nelson said. “Our team thinks when healthy, we can compete with everyone we step onto the field with. We also recognize that we are playing some much larger schools on our schedule, but through hard work and team effort, anything is possible.”

The challenge will be substantial, at times, as indicated by the Dukes’ 18-0 season-opening road loss to Goochland High School on Thursday.

Cumberland is coming off of what Nelson described as a transitional year. The Dukes went 2-16 in 2016, falling in the first round of the Conference 42 tournament to Mathews High School.

Graduation claimed three players from the program, including Sean Stinnett, Coleman Phillips and Josh Tyson.

“All three seniors brought a respect for the game and a ‘hard-hat’ mentality of getting the job done,” Nelson said.

While they will be missed, Cumberland has seven seniors on the roster this year, five sophomores and one junior.

Returning starters include sophomores Braden Gilman, Garrett Jensen and Tristan Stinson.

“It’s a nice mixture of younger guys who were called up as freshmen last year and outperformed their grade level and seniors who have spent three or four years with the program,” Nelson said.

Expected starters include the following outfielders: senior Brandon Leabough, Jensen, junior Darius Kyle and senior James Booker. The infield features senior Kaleb Boyles, Gilman, senior Dustin Clark, senior DeShaun Liggins and Stinson. Junior Cole Fillman is playing catcher, and sophomore Caleb Johnson, senior Austin Hernandez and senior Wyatt Long are utility players.

“Seniors Brandon Leabough, Kaleb Boyles and Wyatt Long have spent their entire high school career playing baseball for Cumberland,” Nelson said. “They look to lead this team as leaders on and off the field.”

The coach added that the team is also lucky to have Stinson, Gilman and Jensen back to “expand off their great ‘rookie’ year last year.”

Referring to Fillman, Nelson said, “We feel like we have a solid and underrated catcher.”

Clark drew praise as one who will bolster the starting rotation while also bringing some senior leadership.

“New additions to the team this year are Darius Kyle, Austin Hernandez and James Booker, great athletes who look to add outfield depth and speed to our lineup,” Nelson said.

The coach highlighted Liggins for a strong finish to the 2016 season.

“We’ve seen a lot of growth from him in the offseason in terms of hitting prowess and his fielding ability at (second base),” Nelson said.

He also noted that Johnson “has been a very hard-working individual who will be playing all over the field,” including possibly second base, third base, catcher, pitcher or a corner outfield position.

“Our biggest obstacle is getting everyone on the same page,” Nelson said. “We’re a team with five new players, so getting everyone comfortable with their individual role on the team takes time. A lot of teams play together for years and are able to mesh from the start. We’re still looking at getting everyone together in that team effort.”

Cumberland (0-1) hosted Amelia County High School on Tuesday and hosts Buckingham County High School on April 4 at 5 p.m. after spring break.