Special to the Recorder
Following the departure of three graduating seniors currently playing baseball at the Division 1 level, including Florida Gators starter Jacob Young, one would believe that expectations would be lowered for the 2019 Ponte Vedra Sharks.
The Sharks were also dealt a bitter blow when last year’s leading hitter, Sebastian Rothman, sustained an offseason knee injury that will sideline the South Georgia JC commit for the season.
There is plenty of optimism, however, for the current Sharks squad, which returns several veterans who played major roles for last year’s district champions. The returning veterans, coupled with the emergence of some promising newcomers, have propelled the Sharks to a nice start for the current season.
After a perfect preseason sweep over St. Joseph Academy (9-3) and Atlantic Coast (10-3), the Sharks have begun the season with a pair of victories and two defeats.
The Sharks began their regular season with a 2-0 road win over Valdosta’s Lowndes behind the shutout pitching of returning ace Tony Roca and sophomore newcomer Scott Griesemer. With the victory over Lowndes, Roca won his 12th career victory and has climbed into fifth place in all-time wins for a Shark hurler.
Roca combined with current Jacksonville University pitcher Kevin Faulkner to form an effective one-two combination the past couple of seasons. Projected to replace Faulkner in this year’s rotation is senior Brody Maynard. The 6-foot-4-inch, 215-pound Maynard sat out virtually the entire 2018 season with a shoulder injury before returning very late in the season. Maynard came on in relief to post a save in the Sharks’ district championship win over Clay. A healthier Maynard is poised to take on a much more meaningful role this season.
After a somewhat shaky start to this season in the Sharks’ come-from-behind 9-8 victory over Mandarin, Maynard has shown some great potential by striking out nine opposition batters in less than six innings of work thus far.
Neither Roca nor Griesemer saw action on the mound in the second week of play in the current year’s schedule. Entering his 11th year as the head coach of the Sharks, veteran head coach Tom Stanton has traditionally mixed up his lineups early in the season as he points towards his Sharks playing their best ball come tournament time.
In the Sharks’ first loss of the season to Bartram Trail, the Sharks’ opening pitcher gave up six runs to the Bears, a deficit that would prove too difficult to overcome as the Sharks fell 14-4 to Bartram Trail. Four other pitchers used in the contest also proved ineffective against the host squad.
Playing in the spacious confines of the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, the Sharks dropped their second contest to Fletcher in a final score that was in no way indicative to what was a very tight game up until the final inning.
Trailing by a 1-0 score entering their half of the sixth inning, the Sharks, playing without some of their best hitters, loaded the bases with one out but failed to produce a run against the Senators. A deflated Sharks team then saw Fletcher tally seven runs in the bottom half of the inning to cement the victory.
Insert paragraph about Nease game
With more than 20 games remaining in the very young season, coach Stanton will welcome back a number of veterans that return from their district championship team from 2018.
A big reason for Stanton’s optimism is the return to the infield of a now healthy Matt Barnhorst. The Cornell commit was relegated to just a hitting role in 2018, as an arm injury kept him out of the defensive lineup. Beginning his junior season, Barnhorst captured a starting role in his first year as the Sharks’ second baseman. Now fully healed from his arm ailment, Barnhorst will be the starting shortstop for the Sharks and is currently hitting a hefty .500.
Ponte Vedra should be very solid up the middle defensively as slick fielding junior infielder Alex Oritiz will move from shortstop to second base. Junior Porter Jordheim saw considerable action at third base last year, while the Sharks should expect to be very solid once again at first base with the return of the 2018 starter Tony Roca. When Roca is pitching, coach Stanton will have a very capable replacement at first base in Brody Maynard.
Stanton, a former minor league catcher, will return his entire three-man catching staff from 2018. With another year of experience behind them, the trio of seniors Mason McLeod, Michael Soncrant and sophomore Trey Powers, the Sharks should be much improved behind the plate.
Stanton also welcomes some valuable regular returnees in the outfield. Carter Page, a three-year starter with a career .319 batting average, returns in left field, while sophomore Cody Nelson will again patrol the outfield in centerfield. As a freshman, Nelson hit at a .300 clip offensively and led the Sharks with an on-base percentage of .540. The Sharks expect more productivity out in right field this season with sophomore Dillon Haines slotted as a replacement for last year’s right fielders who hit well south of .200.
After Tuesday’s with Nease, the Sharks will conclude their limited two-game schedule this week by traveling Thursday to Orange Park to take on Oakleaf. The Sharks will then spend their spring break with a three-game tournament at nearby Providence High School, where they will first face Tarvares High School on Monday at 4 p.m.