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Friday, March 29, 2013
Ricky Lonker's teaching of discipline at Cave Spring High School is art. In a pinch, he could also conduct a history lesson, particularly when the topic is Knights baseball.
The past came up earlier this week when new Cave Spring coach Lonker and his ballclub were squishing around in the mud at their ballpark in the process of conducting a cold and windy workout. As for the immediate past that included the five-game losing skid with which the team began the season, for the art teacher and his new team, it was not always a pretty picture.
That's where the history lesson came in.
"We start off slow and come on later," he said. "I don't know. Maybe we're a warm weather team."
No doubt the going has been on the chilly side in the history of season starts going back the past five years. Adding up the first five games of the past five season, the Knights are 10-15. That's a 2-3 record for each of the five seasons leading up to this one - slow starts by any measure.
"But not this slow," senior center fielder Griffin Stanley said.
Everybody at Cave Spring was feeling better about things after the Knights won 10-6 at Northside on March 28. The fact is, though, if there's anybody who shouldn't bother to get too worked up by a sputtering launch, it's the Knights.
The last four years of the David Dunstan coaching administration, Cave Spring started slow and ended as follows (most recent campaign first): state Group AA semifinals, state quarterfinals, state quarterfinals, Region IV quarterfinals.
Lonker was elevated from an assistant's job last year when Dunstan opted to become a full-time teacher and family man. Lonker had coached previously on the staffs at William Byrd and Northside. He also is an assistant football coach for Cave Spring. He's popular with his athletes fall and spring.
"He's funny," said catcher/first baseman Jordan Bryant, who plays both sports. "He'll get on you, but it's nothing personal. He wants you to build character and be a better man."
It must be partially the artist in him, but Lonker is big on paying attention to detail. Everybody dressed in matching Knights gear for workouts, throwing to the right base, hitting cutoff men - those are the small things he doesn't overlook. It's in his background.
"You know where I came from," he said.
His own high school ballplaying was done at old J.J. Kelly under coach Mack Shupe. Kelly, which has since undergone consolidation and is part of Central Wise High School, claimed nine state baseball titles. VHSL Hall of Famer Shupe also has a state-record 539 victories, most of them at Kelly. Shupe is old school. Lonker is an honors graduate.
Lonker says things have been "frustrating" at times in his new gig. It hasn't been helpful that iffy weather has interfered with workouts and games, thus fouling up routine preparation.
"We'll come around," he said.
History says he's right.
Spring break is underway at many schools. Some of the baseball programs are taking advantage of the time off by attending out-of-town tournaments.
A couple of the traveling parties will set out from Hidden Valley and Jefferson Forest. The Titans will be at the Rock Hill, S.C., Wheels Invitational next week. Jefferson Forest goes to the Tarboro, N.C., Easter Invitational.
The Cavaliers, defending champions at that event, are appearing there for the fourth straight year. The other teams include Lawrence Academy, N.C.; Timber Creek, N.J.; Bunn, N.C.; Jefferson Area, Ohio; Southwest, N.C.; St. Maria Goretti, Md.; and Tarboro, N.C.
Jefferson Forest has been to a spring tournament 10 times since 2002.
"It tells you a lot about your team in terms of the chemistry and makeup when you've got the kids together 24/7 basically for four days," Cavaliers coach Jim Thacker said. "It allows us to play competition we've never seen before, which is good exposure for the kids. It helps up prepare for district play, playoffs, and that sort of thing."
The Cavs were rolling before the trip south, winning four of their first five. Jon-Ryan Breeden, had pitched to a 2-0 record with 11 strikeouts in 11 innings and a 0.00 earned run average. Cal Hodgert was hitting .345 with a home run and four RBIs. Drew Phemister was hitting .323 with two steals and four RBIs.
Foul early season weather can make for some strange scheduling. Take Radford, for example.
The Bobcats' first of two games with Craig County didn't go off as planned. When attempts were made to find an alternate date, it was arranged that the Rockets would bus over to fellow Pioneer District member James River, where Radford had a scheduled non-district game March 22, and play the Bobcats there.
Taking advantage of lights on James River's field, Craig County then played Radford in what was for the Bobcats the first game of a twi-night double-header. Radford then thumped Craig 21-2 in a shortened five-inning game before losing 8-7 to James River in seven. After the first game, Craig County loaded up on the bus and headed home.
"I can't believe Craig agreed to do that for us," Radford coach Darden Freeman said. "We really appreciated it."
Weather JournalPossible scrape with snow Tues