Back-to-back Conference 26 crowns as well as the school’s first trip to the state playoffs: what can the Spotsylvania baseball team do for an encore?
With seven starters back as well as the team’s designated hitter, the Knights are poised for another strong showing during the 2018 season. The squad figures to be led by fourth-year varsity players Jon Rivard, Eugene Snyder, Max Harper and Danté Fairchild.
“It’s cool we all came up together at the same time and it’s our last year and we’re trying to do something great here,” said Harper, the team’s staring first baseman and cleanup hitter. “I think we’ll make a pretty good run and be the team to beat in the Battlefield District.”
While some might view four years being on the same team as boring, Snyder begs to differ. “Playing is like muscle memory for me. I’m on the mound or at third base, I don’t have to think about it now: It just comes natural,” he admits.
A year ago, the Knights posted a 15–10 record, falling 1–0 to Turner Ashby in the Class 3 state semifinals. Two standouts have graduated and our now playing college baseball: Danny Brooks at George Mason University and Caleb Stowe at the University of Charleston, W.Va.
“I learned from him [Brooks] to focus on location: Throwing the ball where you want it,” said Rivard, who figures to share the bulk of the starting pitching assignments with Snyder when not playing right field. “He [the batter] may be expecting fastball, but if you put it out of reach or if you get him off-balanced, it’s hard to hit.”
The 6-foot-1 senior has been compared favorably to onetime Atlanta Braves standout Greg Maddux.
Analyzing his potential staff, coach Travis Payne is confident it can hold its own in the competitive Battlefield.
“We’re blessed with two, three, possibly more, good [pitchers],” the 2010 Spotsylvania High alumnus reflected. “Both Eugene and Jon work hard, just fine-tuning some small things. ... I expect big things from both of them this year.”
Waiting in the wings is junior Trevor Croson, a standout in last year’s playoff run, who figures to be the primary reliever to open the season.
In Tuesday’s season opener, the Knights hit well in the early innings en route to an 11–6 victory over Culpeper.
“I think we could have done better pitching and, at the plate, taking better approaches,” said VMI-recruit Fairchild, who garnered VHSL All-State honors while patrolling center field last season. “We have high expectations this year. I’m trying to lead the team, get us back to where we were and go even further.”
In an oddity, the Knights might find it more challenging to qualifying for the district playoffs rather than the regional competition. While eight of the 12 regional challengers advance, only the top four Battlefield teams qualify for the district tournament.
Fairchild relishes his role as the Knights’ leadoff hitter, getting on base by any means possible, then setting up possible steals of second and third base. His uncle Layton Fairchild was a multi-sport standout in his playing days at Spotsylvania.
The foursome share other family ties. Snyder’s father John led the Courtland baseball team to a state title in 1995; Rivard’s father Jeff was a standout ice hockey player in Rhode Island who later coached the sport in high school in Washington state; and Harper’s father Brian played a pivotal role in his early leanings toward the sport.
Fairchild, Harper and Rivard share another bound: all playing for the summer showcase team coached by Chris Stowe, a former Chancellor High School standout and a former No.1 pick of the old Montreal Expos.
“I’ve always looked up to [Stowe], showing me the ropes and everything,” Harper said. “He always told me to work hard. [He said] ‘It’s what you do when no one is looking.’ That’s the biggest thing.”