The Thomas Nelson baseball team played many home games at War Memorial Stadium in Hampton.
When the Thomas Nelson baseball season came to an end, in a 12-10 loss to Rockingham Community College in the NJCAA Division III Region X tournament, the Gators had the bases loaded. A hit could have tied the game.
“That was kind of the story of our season,” said Todd Barker, who just finished his second year as coach of the Gators.
A look at the results proves his point. The Gators went 5-26, but lost four games by one run, three by two and another three by three. If they had won half of those games, their win total would have doubled.
“We never stopped competing, never rolled over, never gave up,” Barker said. “It showed a lot about their character, they way they competed.”
The Gators won four of their first nine games before being hit by injuries.
“I think we were missing about three key pieces. We had some injuries early on, we lost two guys for the season that we were counting on,” Barker said. “Hindsight’s always 20-20, but if we had a couple of those pieces, I think it would have been a little different season in the win-loss column.”
Even with those pieces, he admits the team wouldn’t have been a powerhouse, “but I think we would have been closer to a .500 team, which is probably more indicative of the talent level we had this year.”
A number of players did stand out for the Gators, among them pitcher Kirkland Owens, outfielder Wade Clements, infielder Nakenje Jones, and pitcher/utility infielder Pablo Veras.
Owens, out of Gloucester High School, went 3-5 with an ERA of 5.87, and 44 strikeouts in 38 1/3 innings. He pitched six shutout innings in a 5-0 win over Southern Virginia University, and a seven-inning complete game in a 4-1 victory over CCBC (Community College of Baltimore County) Catonsville.
“He was by far our most competitive pitcher in conference,” Barker said, adding Owens also had a 4.0 GPA.
Clements, a product of Prince George High School, was a second-team all-region outfielder. He hit .296 with six doubles, one home run and 16 runs batted in.
“He was one of our more consistent hitters all year,” Barker said.
Jones, the Gators’ starting shortstop and leadoff hitter out of Heritage High School, was named second-team all-region. He finished the season second in the nation in stolen bases with 33, and batted .275. He also earned one small college player-of-the-week honor.
Veras, from Menchville High School, was 1-2 on the mound, and made the all-region defensive team as an infielder, earning playing time at second, third and shortstop.
With all that was going on in regard to COVID, including the 2020 season being canceled after just 15 games, Baker said he wasn’t going to judge this year’s success on wins and losses.
“For me, the most important part of it was just having a season,” he said. “And we got through the year, and that was the biggest thing.”
He’s losing only four or five players, and the majority of his recruiting for next season is done. He expects to have about 40 players for fall baseball, and if there is a normal summer and fall schedule, things could look a lot different in 2022.
“Expect big things from us for next year,” Barker said.