Knights battle back from slow start, target set on Cosby in Conference play

After starting the season unexpectedly slow, dropping three of their first four games, the Knights have battled through slumps and adverse weather conditions to win their last five games. Now with a 7-3 record, the Knights are ready for the stretch run and hope to get another shot at Cosby in the Conference 3 tournament.

“To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best,” said centerfielder Maurice Gothe, who committed to Hampden-Sydney last week.

Cosby, more so than ever, are the “Titans” this season, as maxpreps.com has them ranked as the top baseball team in Virginia, and the fourth best team in the nation. The Knights battled behind Nathan Eaton, who struck out eight batters in a 1-0 loss that ended with a Dale batter thinking he was walked on ball three, causing a pick-off of the runner on third base to end the game.

After an 8-7 loss to Varina, the Knights have kicked things into high gear, reeling off the victories, despite a bevy of weather related postponements, ranging from snow to ice to torrential downpours.

The core of the Knights roster has been strong as expected, but the team has gotten a major jump start from Eaton, a junior who was primarily a shortstop last year that has stepped into the spotlight as Dale’s big-game pitcher.  The hurler is 3-1 with a 1.12 ERA and has 34 strikeouts. He’s also hitting .393 on the year.

Eaton pitched sparingly as a sophomore, but showed flashes of the brilliance he’s displayed this season. In addition to his performance against Cosby, Eaton also struck out 14 in a Dale victory over Manchester. On the bump, he employs a zippy fastball, a hard breaking curve and the occasional knuckleball.

 “We kept him at shortstop last year because defense was a weakness of the team,” said Thomas Dale Head Coach Chris Marshall. “We probably set a record for errors last year and he’s a great defender so we needed him out there.”

This year, the Knights have the luxury of using him at both positions, as defense has improved overall.

One added sparkplug on defense and offense this year has been second baseman Brian Goodwyn, who missed a large portion of last season with a stress fracture in his back. Doctors said the injury was likely caused from him working too hard in the gym. The Hampden-Sydney commit is tied for the team lead with a .500 batting average and leads the squad with 14 RBI out of the two-hole in the Thomas Dale batting order.

“The time away and recovering from the injury made me realize how much I missed the game,” said Goodwyn.

Marshall and assistant coach Keith Goulder are impressed with Goodwyn’s work ethic, hustle and skill on the diamond.

 “He’s (Goodwyn) a high effort player,” stated Marshall. “I’m sure he was tentative at first returning because he’s diving for balls and hustling,” he continued. “He’s not tentative anymore.”

Collin Fleischer has turned in an excellent effort as expected for the Knights, hitting .500 with four doubles, a home run and 10 RBI to go along with a 3-0 record on the mound and a 1.83 ERA. The Knights have also gotten a great offensive effort from first baseman Taylor Trueheart who’s hit at a .407 clip.

The success of the Knights has come with three key players slumping a bit. Both outfielders Michael Domowicz, a Danville Community College commit and Gothe have had their struggles at the plate, and pitcher Tommy Barron who dazzled as a sophomore started slowly but rebounded with a victory against Petersburg.

“When you’re in a slump, you try not to press too much,” said Gothe. “We’re all taking this one game at a time.”

Gothe’s attitude has remained upbeat throughout his struggles, and he’s still helped the team with his aggression on the base paths and playing perfect defense in centerfield.

Baseball is a game of highs and lows, and with players slumping, there are surprises such as third baseman Corey Johnston who is hitting .500.

“We saw good things from him in practice and expected a good year, but he’s exceeded those expectations,” Marshall said.

Exceeding expectations is something Thomas Dale will need to do to topple Cosby. They’ll likely get their chance in the Conference 3 tournament final, should both teams advance there.  Follow us on twitter for a complete spring sports scoreboard @VNewsSports.

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