Home Local Sports SEASON PREVIEW: Pitching, defense strengths for Raiders in 2023

SEASON PREVIEW: Pitching, defense strengths for Raiders in 2023

Head coach Rob Ransom (center) addresses the Raiders ahead of their scrimmage on Wednesday. (Kyle Pillar, sports editor)

ROCKINGHAM — If Wednesday’s scrimmage was any indication as to how the upcoming Richmond Raider baseball season will go, head coach Rob Ransom is feeling confident, and so is the team.

With the start of the 2023 high school baseball season just days away, the Raiders impressed with a combined no-hitter against St. Pauls High School. 

Two innings each from Camron Seagraves, Ethan Locklear and James Eason, and one inning from Mason Murray, kept the Bulldogs hitless.

Although it was just an exhibition, Ransom was pleased with the efforts of a much younger squad than the Richmond team that took the field a season ago. 

With 16 players on this year’s team, the Raiders will begin their second full season within the 3A/4A Sandhills Athletic Conference on Tuesday.

The team and Ransom, who enters his fourth year at the head of the program, have spent much of the fall and winter months gearing up for the new campaign.

Despite losing eight players to graduation, the Raiders’ roster boasts five returners who picked up significant innings last spring, headlined by Seagraves, a junior Campbell University commit.

As the team’s No. 1 pitcher, Seagraves returns to the bump this spring after leading the Raiders in wins (5), innings pitched (42.2), earned run average (1.64) and strikeouts (43) as a sophomore. 

Seagraves, the only returning All-Conference player, will also play shortstop when he’s not on the mound, and look to contribute at the plate toward the top of the lineup (batted .258 last year). He had a pair of singles in the scrimmage.

Senior Ethan Locklear and junior James Eason, both two-year varsity players, are the two other pitchers Ransom has designated to the starting rotation. 

Locklear, who also starts in center field, didn’t pitch as a junior but impressed during Richmond’s summer league. Last year, Locklear hit .278 with 15 hits, and is expected to produce more this season.

Eason, who can play various positions around the infield, racked up the third-most innings pitched as a sophomore (27.1 innings). He returns as Richmond’s leader in hits from a season ago (19) and hit .258 in 2022.

Seniors Ashton Phifer (outfielder) and Ethan Clayton (first baseman/catcher) are also both offensive and defensive catalysts for Richmond who return for their second varsity season.

Phifer served as the Raiders’ leadoff batter over the summer, and is fast and shifty on the basepaths and in right field. Clayton brings with him the team’s highest returning batting average (.304), who had 17 hits and 8 RBIs last season.

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A wealth of youth rounds out the lineup card, as six juniors, three sophomores and one freshman join the varsity team.

Juniors Davis Faw (outfielder), Cain Hunsucker (catcher), Zaviar Lowry (infielder), Javian Drake (outfielder), Zane Searcy (infielder) and Isaac Hinshaw (infielder) all played with the varsity team over the summer, something Ransom said helped build the team’s chemistry.

All three sophomores — Murray, Landon Taylor and Allen Taylor — are pitchers who fortify the team’s depth and are guys Ransom hopes to utilize in different roles this season around the field and at the plate. 

Landon Taylor is the only lefty on staff, Murray pitched during Wednesday’s scrimmage and Allen Taylor pitched with the varsity team over the summer.

Caden Nolan, the team’s lone freshman, collected two hits and two RBIs during his debut with Richmond against St. Pauls. An infielder, Ransom brought him on board to help out in the batting order.

Freshman Caden Nolan watches as his two-RBI line drive single sails into left field during Wednesday’s scrimmage. (Kyle Pillar, sports editor)

Last spring, the Raiders tallied a 14-9 overall record and a 5-7 mark in the SAC, placing the team in fourth place. Ransom expects the team to move up in what he described as a “very tough” and “competitive” conference, with the Raiders aiming for their first SAC title since 2016.

Another goal for Richmond is to return to the 4A East state playoffs, an achievement reached last spring for the first time during Ransom’s tenure.

Finishing second of the three 4A schools in the SAC, Richmond defeated Cleveland High School in the first round before falling to conference foe Pinecrest in the second round.

Defense is another area of the game that Ransom and the Raiders have focused on heavily during the preseason. 

Working in Richmond’s benefit is the fact that numerous players can play multiple positions in the field, allowing Ransom some flexibility with pitching and defensive positioning..

The Raiders will head to Gray’s Creek High School on Friday for their final preseason scrimmage, beginning at 5 p.m.

Opening day is set for Tuesday, as Richmond will travel to non-conference Butler High School. First pitch for varsity is slated for a 7 p.m. start.

SEASON SCHEDULE: Click here for an updated season schedule for the Richmond baseball team.

Follow The Richmond Observer on Twitter @ROSports_ for live updates, interviews and more.

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Kyle Pillar is a 16-time North Carolina Press Association award-winning sports editor with The Richmond Observer. Follow the sports department on Twitter @ROSports_ for the best in-depth coverage of Richmond County sports.