CORBIN’S CORNER: Opening Weekend Observations

The Charlottesville Tom Sox kicked off their ninth season of summer ball action over the weekend with wins in two of their first three ballgames under the guidance of first-year ‘Sox Head Coach Randy Tomlin. Corbin Lathrop gives his takeaways from opening weekend.


Editor’s note: Corbin’s Corner is a weekly wrap-up column written by Tom Sox web editor & staff writer Corbin Lathrop.


The Charlottesville Tom Sox kicked off their ninth season of summer ball action over the weekend with wins in two of their first three ballgames under the guidance of first-year ‘Sox Head Coach Randy Tomlin.


After falling 9-8 in a season-opening heartbreaker at the Staunton Braves on Friday evening, the Tom Sox returned to Willie T. Barnett Field at Charlottesville High School where they quickly bounced back to earn a pair of dominant, home-opening wins over the Culpeper Cavaliers (final score 10-3) and Waynesboro Generals (final score 16-1) on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.


With opening weekend in the books, here are four observations from a fun few days of baseball in the Valley League:


The Tom Sox bats are already in midseason form


The ‘Sox have some serious offensive firepower on the roster this summer and it didn’t take long for them to prove it. Charlottesville scored at least eight runs in all three ballgames and posted double-digit hits in two of three.


Robbie Lavey (George Washington) leads the squad in hits (9) and batting average (.600) on the young season after a four-hit game on Friday and a three-hit performance in Sunday’s blowout of the Generals. A big sophomore from Oakton, Va., Lavey has quickly made himself comfortable in the heart of the Charlottesville order and is driving in runs in bunches (6 RBI).


Setting the table so far for the ‘Sox is junior Johnnie Lopez (Seminole State College). Saturday and Sunday’s lead-off hitter, Lopez had at least three hits in all three ballgames and joins Lavey as one of two ‘Sox with hits in over half of his at-bats (.538 AVG). A switch-hitter from Deltona, Fla., Lopez has been all over the basepaths since bumping up in the order from seventh to first and is second on the team with five runs scored.


Charlottesville’s ability to get on base was on display all weekend as Lavey and Lopez are joined by Cale Stricklin (Auburn) — who went 3-3 with 3 RBI on Sunday — and Ethan Gibson (Virginia Tech) — who tied a team record with four walks on Saturday — as ‘Sox who have reached base in at least half of their plate appearances so far.


It certainly wasn’t just bloops and walks hurting opposing pitchers this weekend, however. The Tom Sox have hit 45% of the Valley League’s home runs as of Monday morning, and five ‘Sox have an OPS of at least 1.399 (Gibson, Lopez, Stricklin, Lavey, and Cale Belyeu (Auburn)). Charlottesville’s five home runs through three games this season set a new team record and the ‘Sox have four doubles to go along with the long balls.


Especially promising is that it hasn’t just been the top of the order doing damage. The ‘Sox got nine hits from the seven through nine spots in the lineup over the weekend and C’Ville has looked incredibly disciplined at the plate from top to bottom. The ‘Sox consistently forced long at-bats — their 13 walks as a team on Saturday is tied for the second-most all-time — and they’re not letting opposing pitchers off the hook when they’re struggling.

Cade Belyeu is smashing dingers like they’re going out of style


The ‘Sox bats were alive all weekend, but no one brought the fireworks quite like Belyeu. The 6’4 center fielder showed off some SEC power with a three-run, go-ahead home run in the fourth inning of Friday’s opener in Staunton and then followed it up with a pair of blasts at Charlottesville High School on Saturday evening.


Belyeu became the first Tom Sox player to hit a home run in consecutive games to begin the season and dating back to the end of his collegiate season with the Tigers, Belyeu has now smacked seven long-balls in his last eight times on a diamond.


After starting in 26 games (.284 AVG, 8 HR, 20 RBI) as a true freshman at Auburn this spring, Belyeu brings some high-level experience to this Tom Sox lineup and will be a lot of fun to watch in the heart of the order this summer.

The ‘Sox pitching staff showed some early resilience


The Charlottesville staff was roughed up a bit by the Braves on Friday, overshadowing a solid offensive performance, but the arms quickly settled in over the weekend.


Trevor Booton (Auburn), Brett Gastman (Charleston Southern), and Thomas Whelan (Davidson) threw three innings apiece on Saturday, combining to allow just three runs (two earned) on five hits while punching out nine Cavaliers. With a lively home crowd behind them, Saturday’s pitching trio did a tremendous job settling the staff down and paved the way for James Hays (Georgia) to shove on Sunday afternoon.


A 6’2 righty from Hawkinsville, Ga., Hays only has two collegiate appearances under his belt, but showed why he was a highly regarded prospect coming out of high school with a stellar performance against the Generals. Hays threw four dominant no-hit innings, surrendering just one walk while striking out four batters before Nick Sulpizio (Old Dominion), Garrett Mason (Virginia Tech), and Daniel Powell (Kennesaw State) combined to close the door in the final three innings.


Hays and company quickly put to rest any early concerns with the pitching staff as they turned in a commanding sixteen innings of work on Saturday and Sunday. It’ll be interesting to see who emerges as the premiere arms in the ‘Sox pen this summer, but it looks like pitching coach Adam Dofflemyer has a depth of capable arms to work with as Charlottesville rolls into the second week of Valley League action.

There’s no better place for baseball right now than C’Ville


The only place that rivals the fun of Tom Sox baseball at Charlottesville High School right now just might be down the road at Disharoon Park where the University of Virginia baseball team came out on top of the Charlottesville Regional with a win over Penn and a pair of nail-biting W’s over Mississippi State.


The Hoos and ‘Sox combined to go 5-0 in the baseball capital of the world this weekend, and just as UVA will be back in action at the Dish next weekend, there’s plenty more Tom Sox baseball coming down the pike in Charlottesville. 

The Tom Sox will play consecutive road games vs Harrisonburg and Covington on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, before returning home for Star Wars Night on Thursday against the Staunton Braves. Sunday, Charlottesville will get set for a matchup with the reigning Valley League champion Harrisonburg Turks at 3 p.m. on Little League Day.

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