The state's first fully sponsored travel team for college-bound high school
players, the Virginia Cardinals, finished up summer play at the end of July, and
rapidly turned their attention to the fall and beyond.
After spending their June weekends at James Madison, Virginia Tech and Radford,
and in Virginia Beach, the Cardinals sped into July at wood bat tourneys at UVA
and then at Perfect Game's World Wood Bat Association 17u championships in
Georgia. The team then returned home for Triple Crown's 17u National
Championship, before wrapping up play at the Dynamic World Series in Greenville,
Through it all, the Cardinals amassed a 24-8 won-loss record. The team hit its
stride during the week in Georgia, finishing tied for 17th out of 216 teams
participating. The only Virginia-based team to win a playoff game at the event,
the Cardinals hurled the most shutouts of any team in the tourney (four out of
their seven games), while also scoring enough to take four of their wins by
invoking the mercy rule.
The Triple Crown event was played in extraordinary heat, but perhaps conditioned
by their time in Georgia, the Cardinals were unfazed. They swept all seven of
their games, taking the title while posting three more shutouts along the way.
With college programs moving up their evaluation and recruitment time tables
again this year, the Cardinals found fast and repeated success for their
players. James River LHP Nathan Kirby entered the summer having already
committed to UVA the preceding fall, and after an impressive performance at
Perfect Game's National Showcase in early June, found himself ranked as the top
pitching prospect in the state's rising senior class. By the Cardinals' second
weekend, two of Kirby's teammates from both James River and the Cardinals - Kit
Scheetz and Tyler Carrico - found themselves weighing multiple
offers. By month's end, Scheetz would commit to Virginia Tech, while Carrico
would opt to join Kirby at UVA.
Radford landed three Cardinals 2012 teammates in Dinwiddie RHP/1B Daniel
Bridgeman, Grassfield C Nykolai Ellis, and Western Branch OF/RHP Shane
Johnsonbaugh, while William & Mary lined up middle infielder Brian
Lee. And AA All State phenom Tyler Allen, a 2013 OF from Powhatan,
chose UVA from among multiple suitors.
The recruiting isn't done, as there are still several talented players on the
Cardinals roster who will return to the field in the fall to continue the
process into the more traditional fall recruiting season. Several of those
players will spend time in August taking invited, "unofficial" recruiting visits
to various colleges.
What explains the run of success for a program in only its second summer of
operation? Head coach Rich Graham outlined the keys:
"First, you cannot fool anyone. The players have to demonstrate talent, and they
have to show that they play hard and come to compete every day. That's what we
look for in our players - guys whom we know we can help to get where they
belong. In particular this year, we built a strong and deep pitching staff. With
a power lefty like Kirby, or a guy with a slider like Carrico's, you can see the
pure stuff. But then you get consistently outstanding performances from guys
like Kit Scheetz, Daniel Bridgeman and Joe Manion - guys who prove they come to
compete every time out. That means you can start every game with the mindset
that you're going to win.
"Second, we made a commitment from the very start of our program to be a fast
and athletic team. We have some power, don't get me wrong, but we are not a
bunch of husky sluggers. We are fast at all our outfield and infield positions.
Our lineup regularly has six or even seven guys with 60 speeds between 6.5 and
6.9. We put that speed on display every game, on both offense and defense. In
the new era of BBCOR bats, college coaches are looking for speed players, and we
made it a point of emphasis to have a lot of them.
"And of course, you just cannot underestimate the importance of our being fully
financially sponsored. Sure, some of our guys could afford to play for any team
out there. But some honestly could not. Being sponsored means we can serve all
of the players who could make the cut, regardless of their financial situation.
"As we head into our summer tryout, we're looking to continue and to get even
better going forward."