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The 'big time': Ronnie Roberts Senior Classic offers recent senior baseball players chance at closure

The 'big time': Ronnie Roberts Senior Classic offers recent senior baseball players chance at closure

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Among players, coaches, family members and other baseball fans, the opinion was unanimous. Saturday’s game for area amateurs, at Lynchburg’s biggest stadium, was a home run.

The Ronnie Roberts Senior Classic, the showcase featuring recent high school seniors — who had their swan song seasons dashed by the coronavirus pandemic — offered a chance at closure, complete with all the July 4 accoutrements.

Fireworks followed the 10-inning game, when all of the more than three dozen players got a chance to pitch, bat or play the field. And 1,000 fans — friends and family of the players from all eight Seminole District schools, along with other baseball fans in the area — enjoyed ballpark favorites as they took in a game that featured a diving catch, singles roped into the outfield and some crisp pitching.

“It’s really great to be out here with my guys again,” said Brookville’s Hunter Brown, the owner of one of the evening’s highlights thanks to his bare-handed fielding of a grounder to third and running throw to first for the out. “I’ve missed these guys so much.”

Brown and his Brookville teammates joined a Western Division roster also made up of Jefferson Forest, Heritage and Liberty High players. In the first-base dugout, Rustburg, Amherst, Liberty Christian and E.C. Glass players teamed up to form the Eastern Division roster.

After five innings — when the lineups on each side turned over completely to filter in all players — the Western Division led 5-0 at Bank of the James Stadium, where the minor league Lynchburg Hillcats, whose season recently was canceled, normally play. The West won, 7-4.

In two days of practice earlier this week and before Saturday’s game, players were excited to play the game they loved again after a months-long layoff. But they also expected a competitive contest.

Brookville’s Brennan Abbott started the game on the mound by striking out four of six batters he faced before he was pulled to give a teammate a chance to pitch. Later on, Luke Beisser stepped in to stanch the bleeding for the East squad, striking out six consecutive batters (eight total) and retiring eight straight.

In between, others made big plays in the field and at the plate.

Logan Orange made a diving catch in center field early in the game to record a big out, and his Liberty teammate Nathan Porterfield recorded a two-run single. JF’s Powers Muller also had a pair of RBIs.

Although Saturday was a chance for players to enjoy themselves, they also wanted to make the most of the opportunity not normally gifted to high school players.

“We grew up around the area coming to watch the Hillcats games and wanting to be out here playing,” Amherst’s Tyler Hargis said. “Now, some of us get that chance. It’s really awesome. I’m really enjoying it.”

Brown said the atmosphere energized him and his teammates, comparing the night to what he and Brookville saw in 2019 during their state tournament run.

“The energy here, it’s matching up to some of the games we got to play late in our season last year,” Brown said.

The special jerseys and caps, adorned with a Ronnie Roberts Senior Classic logo, set the mood. Red, white and blue bases and Hillcats logos set the patriotic mood. And seeing their faces up on the big video board helped complete the unique feel for the high school players.

“This is big time,” said Barbara Holloran, Abbott’s grandmother.

Players, who’d been able to see live pitching and field ground balls with something on the line only this week, would’ve jumped at the chance to play with friends and teammates again anytime, BHS coach Chris Glaize said. But that Saturday’s game was July 4, a day normally reserved for the pros, made the event all the more special.

“They would’ve played anytime. It didn’t matter when — July 4, didn’t matter. But it makes it extra special to come out here on July 4 in front of a home crowd with 1,000 people,” Glaize said. “It’s really, really cool.”

Fans, including Sandra Carr, thought the same.

Spending the holiday at the ballpark enjoying an American pastime and cheering on her grandson, Rustburg’s Jackson Perkins, was “definitely the best” way to celebrate July 4 for Carr.

“I’d rather come to the ball field than anywhere,” added Patricia Jefferson, a Hillcats season ticketholder who was able to satisfy her baseball fix Saturday amid the ongoing sports drought. “This is the best place to be on the weekend.”

Members of the Hillcats front office staff said they aim to hold the Ronnie Roberts Senior Showcase annually, though they hope social distancing at the stadium — and on the football side of City Stadium, where 1,000 more seats for the postgame fireworks were up for grabs — won’t have to be factored into plans.

After missing out on the chance to play dozens of games, there always will be the “what-ifs” for the participants, Brown admitted, but Saturday’s event goes a long way to remedy that.

“It helps to fill some of that gap, but I’ll always miss what I didn’t get to do with those guys,” Brown said. “… But I think this is a pretty good [way to make up for it].”

Emily Brown covers the Hillcats, ODAC and high school sports for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5529.

Emily Brown covers the Hillcats, ODAC and high school sports for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5529. 

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