By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
Shady Spring’s return to Class AAA didn’t end the way the team would have liked, with an early ouster in the sectional tournament.
The good news, however, is that the core of that team returns, a year wiser and more experienced. That lends itself to more confidence as the Tigers’ goal remains the same as it is every March.
“We did lose a few guys off last year’s team, but I’m real excited with the guys coming back,” veteran Tigers coach Dave Shaw said. “This year’s expectations are as high as ever. We expect to win the state title, and that’s our expectation every year.
“I had a talk with the kids about setting goals, and leading up to that and what they want to achieve personally as well as team-wise. Hopefully, that will get embedded in their minds.”
The early returns suggest the players listened.
Shady Spring got its season started Thursday with a 24-5 win at James Monroe. The Mavericks are in a rebuilding mode after finishing as the Class AA runners-up in 2010, but the Tigers brought their hitting shoes.
Offense is where the Tigers’ strength seems to lie. They got 10 hits in five innings against James Monroe, and much of the production came from the bottom of the order. The last three hitters in the lineup — Michael Hill, Austin Wood (three runs batted in) and Brandon Thompson (five RBIs) — went a combined 3-for-6 with eight RBIs and 10 runs scored.
Shaw spoke highly of each of his players, including a starting outfield of seniors Jordan Meadows in center field and Timmy Culicerto in left, and Thompson in right. Meadows brings a lot of experience to the top of the lineup, Culicerto gained experience at Woodrow before transferring in August and Thompson, a junior, can bring it back around to Meadows as the No. 9 hitter.
John Linkous will move from shortstop to third base, with Hill taking short. Linkous hit .348 and drove in 14 runs a year ago. Hill got a lot of experience last year as a freshman.
Senior Drew Green played both middle infield spots last year but will stick almost exclusively at second. Wood, a freshman, is the starting first baseman. Shaw expects good things from Wood once he gains experience.
Senior Brendan Schack is one of the area’s top catchers. He transferred from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., his sophomore year and cracked the starting lineup at third base about halfway through the season.
“I think we’re going to be pretty good,” said Schack, who hit .342 with eight doubles and had a .415 on-base percentage last season. “We’ve got a lot of good players out there. If we just come together as a team we’ll be real solid.”
Junior Ryan Snodgress is back to lead the pitching staff. He had a 2.65 earned run average last year.
Sophomore Brian Schack, Brendan’s brother, was the designated hitter against James Monroe. Shaw said he is quickly “turning our heads.”
Shaw also mentioned senior John Duncan and John Lively as players who will lead the team off the bench.
The Tigers’ next game is scheduled for Monday at St. Albans. Shaw said the step up to Class AAA means little to his team’s ability to compete.
“Baseball is baseball, and I’ve always said that,” Shaw said. “You still have to hit the ball, still got to throw the ball, still got to catch the ball. I don’t think it had any effect on us, as far as detrimental. I think we can compete. I think we will compete. I think we are going to go out with the attitude that we are going to put out our ‘A’ game every day. The triple-A teams are just teams on the schedule that we are trying to beat.”
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