Billings and Crew Stand in the Gateway
By Dave Norman
Turks Play by Play Announcer
It was very clear to Turks coaches, teammates and fans early in the season that Turks leadoff hitter and centerfielder Shane Billings (Wingate) was a special athlete with budding abilities.
Shane made the league take notice as well and his terrific season has been recognized with the 2015 Valley Baseball League Most Valuable Player Award.
Billings led the league in batting (.418), hits (64), runs (45) and tied for the league stolen base crown (21). A converted infielder, Shane continued the legacy of great players to patrol centerfield for the Harrisonburg Turks. That is an article unto itself.
The scary part for opposing pitchers is that Shane has only scratched the surface of his baseball potential. Congratulations to Shane and best wishes on another great season at Wingate and for the Turks!
The Turks had another fantastic season and Billings had a lot of company on the All-Valley League Teams.
2nd-year Turks infielder Steven McLean’s (Baylor) development from last season was a testament to hard work and determination. In addition to the steady, versatile defense, Steven hit .318 and proved to be a top situational hitter for the team.
Nearly unrecognizable from his freshman season, McLean’s game is better in every area. Talent, leadership and a steady temperament remind Turks faithful of a Thomas Smith (Georgia Tech) type player.
Turks third baseman Tyler Straub (Texas-San Antonio) also had a strong season. Tyler hit .317 and was 2nd in runs batted in. Normally a shortstop, Straub showed terrific range and hands in making a variety of stellar plays from the hot corner. Another player with a bright future, it is easy to see why the projections for Tyler are high.
One of the steadiest players in the Valley League was Turks left fielder Jared Baker (Oklahoma City University). Jared seldom waivered from the .320 to .350 range all season, settling in at .333. Baker also had a robust .390 on base percentage and led the team in runs batted in (23). His 46 hits were 2nd on the club.
A tough hitter to defense because of his ability to hit the ball hard to all fields, Jared is a Star for “OKC” and certainly was an All-star this summer for the Turks.
The top pitching staff in the Valley Baseball League had many contributors. Two in particular are All Valley-League selections.
Left-handers Matt Hartman (Arizona) and James Ziemba (Duke) were successful and consistent all summer.
Hartman, a highly-thought-of freshman, did not pitch much at Arizona and relished the innings on the bump for the Turks. Matt had 41.2 IP, surrendering just 28 hits, struck out 38, walked just 14 enroute to posting a 5-1 record.
Already with advanced mound presence, Matt is cut from the same cloth of many Turks left hand pitching Alumni, (Brad Mills, Derek Tate, Jason Martinez….). Prospects for Matt are very good as he continues to develop physically and heads to the hill for the Wildcats next season.
After a struggling 2014 freshman season at Duke and in Harrisonburg, James Ziemba used all of it as fuel for the fire. A simplified, repeatable motion led James back to the strike zone and success quickly followed.
The pitching highlight for James and the Turks was his rain-shortened, 5-inning no-hitter that truly signaled he and the team, were on a roll.
What a season for this fine six-pack of players as they spearheaded a 5th straight 30-win season and another national ranking for the Turks.
The moniker for the Valley Baseball League is fittingly: “Gateway to the Majors”. One thing is certain, the best of the Valley League always get their chance to chase the dream and step through the gateway.