It’s The ’Backs And The Bucks Again
But Title Series Shorter
HARRISONBURG — Dominant throughout the season, Stuarts Draft and Clover Hill were bound to meet for the Rockingham County Baseball League championship, and that’s what they’ll do beginning tonight at the Diamond Club.
This will be the fifth title series involving the two teams in the last six years, but the 2013 edition will be different. For the first time, the pennant-winning Diamondbacks and second-seeded Bucks will vie for an RCBL title in a best-of-five series.
The change from the best-of-seven format was enacted this year to safeguard against the playoffs dragging deep into August when more and more players become unavailable, often because they have to return to college.
Not everybody supports the shorter string.
“I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all,” said Clover Hill’s Addison Bowman, who won his fourth MVP this week. “I like seven games. … I just think seven games is more realistic and gives you a better deal of who the better team is.”
The Bucks beat the Diamondbacks in a championship series each year from 2008-11. Two of those four series went the full seven games, including 2009, when Draft took a 3-1 lead before the Bucks charged back to win three straight games and the title.
Draft broke its 1990s-Buffalo-Bills-like championship slump last year with a six-game win over Bridgewater — but it didn’t beat the rival Bucks.
“Us winning it last year without facing Clover Hill, I’m sure they want to come out and play against us because we didn’t go through them,” said Draft’s Wes Dimitt, the league’s most dangerous power hitter in 2013.
Stuarts Draft (24-4 in the regular season) and Clover Hill (23-5) are both loaded with talent.
Each of the league’s top five hitters in terms of batting average are from one of those teams, as are 13 of the top 25 in the category. As a team, Draft leads the RCBL in pretty much every offensive statistic, while Clover Hill is second in most areas.
Meanwhile, Clover Hill had the league’s best ERA (2.50) and Draft was second (2.78). The Bucks’ Kevin Chandler was named Pitcher of the Year; the D-Backs’ Derek Shifflett, who will start Game 1, was runner-up.
“They’re a very good team,” Chandler said. “They’re solid all the way through up and down the lineup. Pitching-wise they’re solid, too. … I did not pitch against them in the regular season, but watching from the side, they are one of the deepest lineups. I’ll tell you one thing, I wouldn’t want to face our lineup, either.”
Draft and Clover Hill combined to win 89 percent of their games that weren’t against each other.
The teams split the regular-season series 2-2, with the D-Backs outscoring the Bucks 22-16.
So this championship could go deep, which, in 2013, means five games.
“A lot more riding on the first couple games, you know,” Chandler said. “With a Game 7, one year we were down 3-1 and we came back and won. It’s just going to make every game, every out, every pitch more important.”
While Bowman voiced his displeasure about the best-of-five format, his counterpart Dimitt likes it.
“With people going back to school, a seven-game series can go a little long,” Dimitt said. “Five games, I like a little more. Make it a little shorter. Not everyone has five or six pitchers who can be competitive every night.”
Both teams have gone 5-0 in the opening two playoff rounds, but Stuarts Draft, which punched its ticket to the finals on Sunday, appears to have its pitching lined up a bit better than Clover Hill, which finished a tighter-than-advertised sweep over Luray on Monday.
After Shifflett, Draft can throw reigning finals MVP Ryan Cooper in Thursday’s Game 2, and then possibly turn to Chris Henkel, who dominated Montezuma on Sunday, for Saturday’s Game 3.
The Bucks will start Chandler in Game 1, and then take it day by day after that. Manager Mike Martin said late Tuesday night that he did not have a blueprint for what his rotation might look like during the series, but eventually talked his way through one.
“I don’t know for sure at this point,” he said. “Rotation might look something similar to what we did in the second round from here on after Kevin. We got Jordan Showalter available for a start, we’ll have Andrew Armstrong available for a start, Joseph Lucas available for a start later on. Then we got several arms that we can do an inning at a time to keep them fresh.”
Of concern for the Bucks is the health of infielder Christian Simmers, who left Game 3 of the semifinals Monday with an injured right hamstring. Martin said he texted Simmers Tuesday morning for a diagnosis, and Simmers texted back “Pretty rough.” Simmers, a Bucks mainstay who typically hits second, will be a game-time decision.