Western Albemarle High School’s senior-heavy varsity baseball team was 17-3 and full of optimism when it met Lynchburg’s E.C. Glass High School and their right-handed ace pitcher Mike Harpster in a first-round regional playoff game. Down by one run in the last inning, Western had the bases loaded with two outs and needed a hit that didn’t happen. They came home from the 2-1 loss with their season ended, seemingly too soon. It was one of the best in school history. The team went 13-1 in the Jefferson District.
“It’s baseball,” said Head Coach Skip Hudgins philosophically. “It depends on who takes the mound. We saw one of the better pitchers in Virginia. Probably every team that advances has at least one ace that is division one [talent] on their staff.”
Hudgins just finished his 39th year running the program. His first team was in 1983. He is assisted by coaches Sam Parkins, Ryan Sukovich and Jim Freeland, who keeps stats and handles the team’s website. Western is fortunate, Hudgins said, in that it has a complete set of stats for the team’s history. The school opened in 1978 and the first baseball coach, Francis Stahl, was a good recordkeeper. With the stats there, “You can’t lie about your career,” Hudgins noted.
“These 10 seniors have been playing four years,” he said, “but they go cheated by Covid, and then there was the half season [where schools were closed to in-person classes]. He ranked the team as “among the top five” in his coaching career.
“[Pitcher] Andrew Barrese did a great job against Glass. They shouldn’t have scored a run. He had a terrific year for us.”
“James Meenan is co-player of the year in our district. Last year, he was the player of the year.”
“He was at third base last year and we needed a catcher, so he switched,” noted Freeland.
“He’s had a terrific career,” added Hudgins. “He’s one of the best athletes we’ve ever had here. And that’s saying something because we’ve had some really good ones.
Of the ten seniors on the team, seven were starters.
“Ben Winslow had a great year,” said Hudgins as he went through team superlatives. “He was pitcher of the year last year. (Winslow’s ERA on the season was 0.51!) And Barrese was also a first team all-district pitcher. Issac Sumpter has been outstanding at shortstop all four years. Two outfielders, Luke Craytor and Cooper Nelson, made the first team all-district. Craytor was also our leader in RBIs with 24. Tommy Williams at third base was also first team all-district. Michael Holzwarth is the best first baseman defensively we’ve ever had.”
Three of that group had chosen to go on to play Division III in college, Barrese at Patrick Henry Community College, Craytor at Lafayette University in Pennsylvania, and Sumpter at Bridgewater College. Meenan, Craytor and Holzwarth could have played in D-3, Hudgins said, but chose to go to other colleges. (The first two are headed to Virginia Tech and Holzwarth to Penn State.)
“We are really going to miss that group of kids,” Hudgins said.
“It was a close-knit team and they sincerely supported each other,” said Freeland. “It was really neat. I’m going to miss them.”
“All that group wanted to do was be successful and they certainly were,” said Hudgins. “In their last two years, they went 27-7. They’ve played together since they were kids in Peachtree League. And what a wonderful group of young men they are. They’ll be good men and good husbands. The measure of that group goes way beyond athletics.
“Peachtree has been instrumental—a huge part of our success. I’m very grateful for that—all the way back to 1983. And [coach] Buddy Clark does a great job with the JV team.”
One highlight of the season, he said, were the two games against Lynchburg’s Liberty Christian Academy.
“They came here and it was a 13-0 loss for Western. Then the next night we went there, and we beat them there. And they only had two losses on the season!
“Baseball has always been a big deal at Western. That goes back to Peachtree, too. Our goal is to win a district championship during every kid’s career on the team. We’ve almost done that. We’ve had very few losing seasons, maybe three or four.”
Freeland noted that this year’s team Earned Run Average was 1.72. “That very good,” he said.
Hudgins, preferring to hedge on his predictions, said, “We’ll be okay next year.”
“We’ve got four really good pitchers on next year’s team,” Freeland added, more optimistically.