By Brian Hoffman, Sports Editor
The William Byrd baseball players were looking forward to a good season before the coronavirus put the season ice. The Terriers were looking to contend in the post-season with a talented and experienced club.
Byrd was looking to build on two years of playing with a young team. In 2018 they fielded a lineup with a majority of the team being freshman and sophomores, and went 10-12. However, they got better as the season progressed and stunned Class 4 state favorite Liberty Christian Academy with a 4-3 win in the region tournament.
Last year the young kids improved to 16-7, ending the season with a 1-0 loss to LCA in the regional, and this year the progression figured to continue with 14 juniors and six seniors on a deep and talented roster. The good news is, if things are back to normal Byrd should be really good in 2021 with 14 seniors returning. However, that doesn’t do much for the seniors on this year’s team.
“We have a good team,” said coach Neil Zimmerman. “This was the year it was supposed to all come together. We have guys with experience all around and a strong and deep pitching staff. I really feel bad for the seniors.”
The six seniors on the team are shortstop Ethan Spraker, centerfielder Jacob Johnson, outfielder Nate Hayes and pitchers Logan Baker, Nathan Sullivan and Jacob Brammer. Baker was also battling for an outfield spot when he wasn’t pitching.
This was going to be the best pitching staff Zimmerman has had since he took over as head coach in 2015. He has 11 pitchers he’s not afraid to put on the mound, three leftys and eight righthanders, four seniors and seven juniors.
Lefthanders include junior Isaac Fix, a third year starter who has committed to Davidson, Baker and junior Ethan Tinsley. Among the righthanders is Tyler Dean, a hard-throwing junior who has committed to Virginia Tech. He’s been the closer for the past two years.
Sullivan and junior Luke Taylor saw extended time on the mound last year and other righthanders include seniors Spraker and Brammer and juniors Tyler Martin, Seth Hodges and Zach Moore. Zimmerman has been especially impressed by how Spraker, the starting shortstop, was throwing in the preseason.
“We have guys battling for time who would be the number one pitcher on a lot of teams around here,” said Zimmerman. “We have some really good arms.”
The old expression is a good team has to be strong up the middle, and Byrd is just that. Along with a talented staff junior Dylan Hatfield returns for his third year as starting catcher. He’s also committed to play at Tech. Spraker, at short, and Dean, at second, give Byrd a doubleplay combo that would have been together for their third year and Johnson is one of the top centerfielders around.
Hayden Lyle, a junior, is the backup catcher. First base figured to be shared by newcomer Bryson Lutz, who looked good in preseason, along with Martin, Fix and Baker. Taylor, Hodges and Moore can all play third and junior Joey Johnson, younger brother of Jacob, can play any infield position.
Jacob anchors the outfield in center and the corner spots were still being contested when the virus came. Hodges, Tinsley, Hayes, Baker and juniors Carson Journigan and Dylan Marron were all in the mix.
Landon Jacobsen, a former professional pitcher, returns as pitching coach and two former Byrd players are also assistants, Chris Carr and Brad Greenway. Both played in college and Carr also was a head coach for the Terriers prior to Zimmerman.
Larry Light returns as jayvee coach with assistants Doug Pence and Timmy Meador. Brian Jones is the middle school coach and he was assisted by Bryce Boothe, Kevin Witcher and Justin Dent.
The Terriers dropped from Class 4 to Class 3 this year, and although they’re in with smaller schools that doesn’t mean it’s a less talented group. In fact, LCA also dropped to Class 3 and the likes of Tunstall, Abingdon, Christiansburg, Cave Spring, Lord Botetourt and Staunton River are all strong teams in Byrd’s region.
“We’ll have more good teams in our region in Class 3 than we did in Class 4,” said Zimmerman.
Unfortunately, we may never know how good this team could be. Although the Virginia High School League has yet to officially declare the season off, things look bleaker as the weeks go by.
“I think there’s a chance we’ll have some sort of season, but when it starts is a question mark,” said Zimmerman. “Schools will have issues with it conflicting with travel sports in the summer, but I would hope our guys would stick around and participate in whatever the VHSL decides we are permitted to do.
“Baseball and other sports have taken a back seat to the overall well-being of our society, as well it should. A lot of us are disappointed, but I think most people understand that it impacts everyone, not just us, and that has made it a little easier to handle from a players perspective.”