By Julia Stumbaugh
After the Strasburg Express took Game 1 of the 2017 Valley Baseball League’s best of three final series, it was do or die for the Charlottesville Tom Sox. The team claimed Game 2 to stay alive— and eventually win the Valley Baseball League Championship— in large part due to two reasons: Justin Sorokowski and Sean McCracken, the pitchers that combined to throw nine tightly-pitched innings, holding the Express to just five hits and allowing the Tom Sox to coast to an 11-5 win.
Fans who remember the magic of that must-win victory will be thrilled to hear that both Sorokowski and McCracken are returning for another summer in Charlottesville. And that’s not all— in total, 11 players from the 2017 championship team coming back for the 2018 run. That includes 2017 league MVP Michael Wielansky, three VBL All-Stars, five pitchers and two hometown players.
“We are thrilled to have such a tremendous core of players returning from our 2017 Championship season,” said Tom Sox Vice President Jeff Burton. “We take some huge unknowns out of the equation when we sign players to come back here from prior seasons. In these 10-12 returnees, we have high-character, team-oriented, talented ball players who have shown they know how to win.”
Here’s a rundown of those familiar faces you’ll be seeing at C-VILLE Weekly Ballpark this summer as the Tom Sox return to defend their title as VBL Champions.
|Jake Allen, a Charlottesville native and alum of Saint Anne’s Belfield baseball, is returning for his third summer with the Tom Sox. The Harvard catcher played a full summer in Charlottesville in 2016 and was a key part of the championship team in 2017 as the primary postseason catcher.|
|Eric Jones, 2017 VBL All-Star, returns for 2018 after leading the Davidson team with a program-best 61 starts as a third baseman and 60 hits at bat. Jones was one of the Tom Sox’s most consistent hitters in 2017 with 35 hits, 15 walks and 22 RBI. After batting .315 over the regular summer season, he upped his game to bat .462 in the playoffs.|
|Jack Barry rejoins the Tom Sox after a standout postseason performance in the summer of 2017, including a strong showing behind the plate as catcher in Charlottesville’s must-win Game 2. After topping Salisbury in 2017 with 12 home runs, he again is leading the team with eight home runs and a batting percentage of .423 so far in 2018.|
|Max Bazin’s 2017 summer finished early with a season-ending injury he sustained diving for a ball just two weeks into his time with the Tom Sox. The fact that he was injured while giving his all in a defensive play tells you everything you need to know about the determination of Bazin, who will now return in 2018 for another shot at playing for the VBL championship. With Davidson this season, he is currently batting .278, with 45 hits and 24 runs on the season.|
|Jack Morris is another hometown player. The Miller School graduate returns to the Tom Sox after a summer away from the VBL, where he made a name for himself in 2016 as the Charlottesville leader in runs (23) and plate appearances (162). He comes off a season at North Greenville batting .239, with 26 hits and an on-base percentage of .344.|
|Nick Roth III picked up two wins as a pitcher for the Tom Sox last summer with a 4.26 ERA. He rejoins the Tom Sox with a current record of 9-1 with Randolph-Macon, where he leads the team with 73 innings pitched and is maintaining an ERA of 3.33.|
|Jeb Bemiss pitched 17 innings for the Tom Sox in 2017 and returns to Charlottesville this summer after pitching 30 innings for Cornell in the 2018 season, earning a 2-2 record and picking up one save.|
|Cole Maye returns for 2018 from Florida having picked up two wins in 14.2 innings pitched for the Tom Sox in 2017. He highlighted his summer season by throwing a no-hit five innings against the Woodstock River Bandits in late July to claim a shutout victory for Charlottesville.|
|Justin Sorokowski hopes to follow up a 2017 summer of clutch pitching with another championship run as he rejoins the 2018 team. After going 3-1 with the Tom Sox last season, including a W in that must-win Game 2, Sorokowski currently holds a 5-1 record and an ERA of 2.35 with Tallahassee Community College, where he leads the team with 65 innings pitched.|
|Sean McCracken, another 2017 VBL All-Star, rounds out Charlottesville’s contingent of returning pitchers. In 2017, he led the Tom Sox with 38 innings pitched, allowing an ERA of only 1.65 and going 2-0 on the regular season before pitching nine more innings in a victorious playoff run. McCracken currently holds a record of 6-2 with Johns Hopkins, with an ERA of 3.76 in 67 innings pitched so far in 2018.|
|Michael Wielansky, 2017 All-Star and league MVP, is last but certainly not least in the list of returning players. After leading the league with a .432 batting percentage, 67 hits and 38 runs in the 2017 summer season, Wielansky was named Player of the Year by the VBL. He then topped that off with 13 hits and eight runs on the way to the title. Wielansky will be rejoining the Tom Sox for their 2018 run after another outstanding season at Wooster, where he continues to maintain a batting average of over .400 and leads the team with 69 hits and 69 runs so far in 2018.|
These familiar faces will be taking the field to defend their title on June 4, as the Tom Sox host their 2018 home opener at C-VILLE Weekly Ballpark at Charlottesville High School.
Julia Stumbaugh is a college student at the College of William & Mary and is interning with the Tom Sox this summer.
Follow her on Twitter @julia_stumbaugh