The Riders baseball team overcame plenty of injuries along their way to a state-tournament berth and “Team of the Year” honors.
“Guys stepping up with others injured really helped us,” said fourth-year Head Coach Richard Szvitich. “We didn’t finish what we started, but the kids really worked hard to get there.”
After finishing the season 14-5, including their first-round loss in the state tournament to Milford, most of the players were left thinking about what could have been, if not for a few key injuries.
“We never got down on ourselves,” said all-conference Brendan Horne, Caesar Rodney’s team captain, who missed half the season after suffering an arm injury in the team’s second game. “We always had a chance.”
Following the injury to Horne, the team’s star pitcher, many new players were called upon to fill the void. Two of them were Joe Shlan and Aaron Briggs.
Briggs, another member of the all-conference team, threw six innings in a combined no-hitter with Travis Dill against Delmar.
“I expected really big things from him,” Horne said of his pitching teammate, Briggs.
Shlan, who Szvitich described as the team’s biggest pitcher last season, didn’t expect the new role as the team’s starter every other day.
“I wasn’t expecting to pitch as much as I did,” Shlan said. “I got a lot more wins than I expected.”
As the season progressed, Caesar Rodney improved – both at the plate and in the field – but they still missed the extra pitching lost due to injury.
“Our pitching staff was really hurt by all the injuries,” Shlan said.
For all state center fielder Kevin Clavier, the early exit from the state playoffs left its mark.
“We worked a lot this off season,” said Clavier, who hit over .400 this past season for the Riders. “We should’ve done a lot better [in the playoffs].”
The returning players, who have mostly been playing on the same team since they were eight years old, expect to improve even more next season.
“Winning the state championship is our expectation every year,” Szvitich said. “We have a good nucleus of young kids.”
With plenty of players coming back for next season, Szvitich’s team hopes a healthy season leads to a longer run through the state tournament. While maintaining focus and preparation for next season were among Szvitich’s concerns, he wasn’t ready to let this special group of players go quite yet.
“It was a fantastic four years,” Horne said. “I don’t have any regrets.”