Rebuilt Raiders finish as state runners-up

Published 7:00 pm Wednesday, May 29, 2024

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A young Southampton Academy varsity baseball team demonstrated a return to excellence for the program during the 2024 season while also helping longtime Head Coach Tim Nixon reach and surpass the 200-win milestone in his coaching career with the squad.

The No. 2-seeded Raiders took on perennial powerhouse No. 1 Walsingham Academy in the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association Division III state championship game on Sunday, May 19, at Shepherd Stadium in Colonial Heights.

The Trojans went on to win their fifth straight state title with a 7-0 victory over Southampton, but the Raiders, who had some key injuries to their pitching staff, showed grit and kept the game closer than their two regular-season showdowns with Walsingham.

“Against this team, we played very well,” Nixon said shortly after Sunday’s game. “They are a very dominant team in this league.”

He noted that the Trojans “are a very mature team, and our guys are very young, but we played with them. They didn’t blow us out, and we hit the ball a lot, we just aren’t as strong as they are.”

Walsingham’s defense was stellar, but Raiders sophomore Grant Applewhite got on base via a hit in the top of the sixth inning.

Nixon made it clear he was not trying to make excuses for the loss, but he noted, “We had some injuries going into this game from our pitching staff. We had to put together a pitching staff, but I’m proud of them.”

Applewhite started on the mound for Southampton.

“He hadn’t started all year,” Nixon said. “We had a kid, David Brantley, who was 7-0 and got hurt about three weeks ago, and that’s who we relied on early, and once we lost him, we just started improvising. We had other pitchers, and they did well — you can tell by our record.”

The Raiders finished the season with an overall record of 16-6, including a 9-1 mark in the Virginia Colonial Conference, of which they were the champions.

Nixon was named the 2024 VISAA Division III State Coach of the Year.

Having just completed his 14th year as head coach of the Raiders, Nixon reached the total of 200 career wins on April 30 when his team hosted Fuqua School.

Though he was not inclined to draw attention to the achievement, he indicated it meant a lot to see his players help him reach that number of wins.

“What means the most is when the kids come back,” he said Sunday. “I’ve got a lot of them here today, older kids that come back to see me and thank me and are doing very well for themselves now.”

He described the keys to success for the SA baseball program across the last 14 years.

“We’ve got good kids, and we’ve got good rec teams in our area,” he said, and then he emphasized the importance of a temperate approach to coaching that has established trust with the players. “They come to us with a lot of things, and they trust us, and as long as we’ve got that trust with them, we’re going to do fine.”

He estimated that the Raiders have made it to the state title game eight times during his tenure.

“We won it three years in a row one time, but then we really had a blip during COVID,” he said. “We lost a lot of players. We had a lot of seniors that time, and we kind of had a program going, and when that hit, the program kind of… we had to build it back up.”

This season represented the first time Southampton was back in the state final since 2019.

Nixon noted that the 2024 Raiders were a team that exceeded expectations, and with only one senior and two juniors, most of its young members will be back for multiple years.

“We’ve got a lot to look forward to,” he said.

SA was supported Sunday by a strong contingent of fans that appeared to outnumber those on hand supporting Walsingham.

“Our fans are great,” Nixon said. “Our fans follow us very well, and that means a lot to these kids. It’s just like a family.”