TODAY'S SPORTS

Ikenberry capitalizing on Valley’s baseball talent




James Madison coach Marlin Ikenberry doesn't want the Shenandoah Valley's high school baseball talent to stray too far.

"That's one of our niches we're trying to do, to keep the local kids in the Valley and keep 'em here at JMU," Ikenberry said. "It's something that we believe in and we have several local kids on our roster and we feel good about it."

He also has a good feeling about his incoming Rockingham County product, and rightfully so.

Recent Turner Ashby graduate Justin Showalter, a Madison-bound pitcher, heads the county's crop of 2017 baseball products going off to the Division I and II levels, joined by former TA teammate and VMI commit Cody Warner as the only D-I signees. They leave TA as 3A state champions, helping the Knights end a 10-year title drought.

Spotswood product Cameron Irvine is en route to Virginia Tech as a walk-on, and fellow ex-Trailblazers Adam Dofflemyer and Nathan Rebich signed with Division II King University in Bristol, Tenn.

"I know how good baseball is in that area and it's somewhat under-recruited a little bit," said King coach Blaine Brown, who managed the Valley Baseball League's New Market Rebels from 2004-06, "so it's an area we've tried to get in and put a foothold in and we've had some success with some pretty good players."

James Madison has also been able to pluck talent from the surrounding high schools in recent years.

The 2017 Dukes roster included Page County grad and middle infielder Tanner Dofflemyer, former Stonewall Jackson pitcher Colton Harlow and ex-Spotswood pitcher Tucker McCoy, who were all juniors this past spring.

Showalter, the 3A state Player of the Year after a remarkable senior season for TA, has given Ikenberry plenty of reasons to be optimistic.

"He's kind of a silent assassin. I mean, he just kind of goes about his business," Ikenberry said. "Watching him compete in between the lines this year was a lot of fun because obviously that's what you want as a pitcher. No matter if he has his great stuff or not, you always want 'em to compete."

The 6-foot-2 right-hander almost always brought his best stuff for TA — and even when he didn't, his senior-year record showed otherwise.

Showalter finished the 2017 season 11-0 with an earned-run average of 0.87, and he overpowered hitters for 91 strikeouts with just 19 walks and 42 hits allowed over 72 2/3 innings. Of the 12 games he pitched in, he completed 11 of them — the last one a gem in the state semifinals, beating Spotsylvania 1-0 in Salem.

The hurler was also awarded the Conference 29 and 3A West Region Player of the Year honors.

"He's a good kid and he works extremely hard," said Ikenberry, who will be in his third season coaching JMU in 2018. "We knew that, that he's going to work hard and he's a great academic kid. Him being Player of the Year this year just shows how hard he's worked over the last few years."

Showalter's grandfather, Ray Heatwole, was the Dukes' coach from 1990-93, in between two highly successful stints coaching Turner Ashby.

Ikenberry said Showalter is "absolutely" capable of contributing for JMU right away, with the biggest questions being how the pitcher's change-up develops and whether he fits into the pitching staff as a starter or reliever.

Ikenberry, whose Dukes finished 24-27 this season, said the program likes Showalter's natural fastball movement, the progress of his slider and his ability to consistently throw strikes.

"He's a student of the game, too," Ikenberry said, mentioning Showalter's relationship with JMU pitching coach Jimmy Jackson. "Those guys talking pitching is pretty impressive. His mind for pitching is pretty advanced."

VMI landed the other Division I-bound senior from TA's title-winning squad.

"What an outstanding run, huh? Getting guys that know how to win is huge, any head coach would tell you," VMI coach Jonathan Hadra said. "That's one of the things we love about Cody. Coming from a program like TA where they're always competitive, he's going to bring a ton of value to our program because of that."

Warner, the 2017 Valley District Player of the Year and a 3A all-state first-team choice, led the area with his .468 average. His left-handed swing helped him top the district with a 1.366 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging) and slug four home runs with 25 RBIs.

Also an all-state football player in his time at TA, Warner joins VMI as a versatile fielder who manned the TA outfield for the first time this spring after starting at catcher.

"The only thing that is guaranteed is that he'll have the opportunity to play right away," Hadra said.

The Keydets went 24-34 in 2017, Hadra's third season as coach. Warner, who has described VMI as his dream school, signed with VMI in November, the same time Showalter inked with James Madison.

"He's a high-character individual and somebody who's going to fit in tremendously to our program," Hadra said of Warner. "You couldn't ask for a better kid, so I think it's going to be a very easy transition for him for that standpoint."

The only male athlete from the city/county's 2017 class joining a Power Five athletic program is Irvine, a shortstop who committed to the Hokies (23-32) in May over William & Mary.

After hitting an area-best .569 as a junior, the 6-2 Irvine hit .377 this spring with 18 RBIs and a .958 OPS, earning an All-3A West Region second-team accolade and Virginia High School Coaches Association All-Star selection.

"The video looks like he'll be a guy that can compete for a job and a spot for at-bats," new Hokies coach John Szefc said. "He's certainly going to be a very welcome guy in our program.

"We got a really open mind for all these new guys, the young guys, because we're trying to build something for the future. It appears that he's a pretty good option for the program for the future."

Irvine's father, Blazers assistant Daryl Irvine, played for Ferrum College after graduating from Spotswood and went on to pitch for the Boston Red Sox from 1990-92.

Szefc said it "certainly" appears the recent SHS grad can handle high-level college baseball. He added that Irvine will be among three Hokies competing to start at shortstop, where Tech graduated a senior from 2017.

"Hopefully he's the guy, man, for the short term and the long term," Szefc said.

Brown's Tornado, owners of a 19-27 record in 2017, are hauling in a pair of former Trailblazers in Dofflemyer and Rebich, who signed with King in November.

"First and foremost, they're both great kids," Brown said.

They also offer the Tornado a pair of left-handed options at the plate and on the mound. At Spotswood, Dofflemyer and Rebich both patrolled the outfield and logged innings on the rubber.

The ex-Spotswood players fit the Tornado's approach of seeking versatile players, and they'll determine roles and positions when the 2018 season — Brown's eighth — arrives.

"Just find the best possible baseball players we can find with the tools that we're looking for," Brown said. "I mean, you can never have enough left-handed pitching, so both of them from the get-go will have some opportunities from a pitching standpoint."

Dofflemyer, a three-sport athlete at SHS, was a first-team All-Valley District selection and a VHSCA All-Star selection. This past season, he posted a .268 average, 19 runs scored and .411 OBP at the plate with a 1.60 ERA and 23 strikeouts over 30 2/3 innings.

Rebich batted .256 in his senior year with a .484 OBP, two home runs and 14 RBIs. In 31 innings, he went 3-1 with 34 strikeouts and a 3.84 ERA.

And from the beginning at King, they'll already have a degree of familiarity that Brown believes could be beneficial.

"I think having someone there that kind of knows them and knows what they're about will help them when they go through the trials and troubles that most freshmen do," Brown said. "It'll allow them just a bit of leeway to have someone to lean on and will probably give them an advantage over some other freshmen."

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