Although Tennessee Tech's baseball season ended in May, three
Tech players continued to play all-star caliber baseball throughout
Pitchers Adam Liberatore and Jared Dobbs, and third baseman Evan Webb were named Valley League all-stars in July, all playing for the Waynesboro Generals . Liberatore went on to lead the league in ERA during the regular season, and was named Valley League first-team all-league at season's end, while Webb earned second-team honors.
"Anytime you can do well, no matter where you are, it helps your confidence," Tech baseball coach Matt Bragga said. "But when you're talking about one of the top summer leagues in the country, and you can go out and do that, that's huge."
The Valley League was formed in 1923, and has been an NCAA sanctioned league since 1961. The league, which plays a 44-game regular season schedule from June to August, is partially funded by Major League Baseball, and has produced 18 current MLB players.
"It's a very high level of competition," Liberatore said. "It gives you a chance to learn and get better. The fact that you're getting out on the mound and getting a chance to work, that helps more than anything."
In addition to leading the league in ERA, and posting an ERA of 1.36 after the postseason, Liberatore led the league in opponent batting average (.170), and was second in wins (6) and innings pitched (66 1/3).
"He just continues to mature as a person, and as a player," Bragga said of Liberatore. "Summer ball has helped add to that maturation process, that's one thing I see advantageous to the summer leagues."
Liberatore said one of the biggest benefits of playing in the Valley League was getting the opportunity to add to his pitching repertoire, making him an even more dangerous pitcher by the time he came back to Cookeville in the fall.
"Going into the summer I had a good fastball and a good breaking ball," Liberatore said. "Coach Cole wanted me to work on my sinker, something I started working on a little bit last year. By the end of the summer I was real comfortable with it, and it was very successful."
Bragga expects to see that work pay off in the 2009 season.
"It's huge to take that with you and continue to work on, and refine that pitch," Bragga said.
Webb also had a spectacular season, leading the league in RBI (43), plate appearances (227), and at-bats (197), while starting all 49 games, including postseason, for the Generals. Webb finished the season batting .279 with 55 hits, including 11 doubles and six home runs.
"I learned to have patience at the plate," Webb said. "As a hitter up there you definitely have to have patience. You play everyday, so you can't let one thing get you down. If you make an error, or strike out, that is going to happen. You just have to stay on top of it, and that mentality helped me out in the long run."
In addition to his impressive numbers from the plate, Webb also turned heads from the hot corner, with a fielding percentage of .915 on 153 chances, and turned six double plays.
"He is the best defensive third baseman I've ever coached," Bragga said. "He's just a tremendous baseball player who really knows the game."
Webb said that playing baseball at a high level on a daily basis helped keep him on his best game throughout the summer.
"You just want to work on everything, and improve all around, they key is just staying in the game," he said. "The competition this summer was as good as any that I will see this year."
Dobbs, a teammate of Liberatore and Webb on the Generals, posted a 4-1 record in 34 innings pitched, while opponents hit just .207 off of him.
"They already knew that they're good," Bragga said of his top performers in the Valley League. "They're already confident guys, but there's no denying that this is going to elevate their game."
The success of the three Golden Eagles playing for the Generals led to a dominating regular season performance, with Waynesboro winning the Valley League's south division by six games, and Manager Lawrence Nesselrodt earning Coach of the Year honors.
Golden Eagle pitcher Ryan Dennick also played in the Valley League this summer, pitching for the Fauquier Gators. Dennick posted a 3.59 ERA in 42.2 innings pitched, including one complete game, while opponents batted .247 against him.
"Coach Cole does a great job of placing our guys in the summer," Bragga said. "It's a wonderful experience, and we love for our guys to go out and play."
Other Golden Eagles who played in the Valley league were catcher/first baseman Tate McMillan, and RHP Thomas Gray.
"It's cool to show up to the field knowing you're going to see one of your buddies who you haven't seen in a while," Liberatore said.
The Golden Eagle's fall practices are underway, as they prepare for the 2009 season, which begins in late February. Coach Bragga continues to move the program in the right direction, winning 35 games in 2008, the second most in school history.
2008 Valley League first-team all-league
1B - Blake McDade, Staunton (Middle Tennessee State)
2B - Brandon Sizemore, Waynesboro (Charleston)
3B - Mickey Wiswall, Winchester (Boston College)
SS - Gabriel Saade, Waynesboro (Duke)
OF - Jeff Jefferson, Luray (Liberty)
OF - Drew Johnson, Harrisonburg (San Francisco)
OF - Max Most, Staunton (Old Dominion)
C - Marcus Nidiffer, Covington (Kentucky)
DH - Tyler Townsend, Winchester (Florida International)
SP - Adam Liberatore, Waynesboro (Tennessee Tech)
SP - Lance Baxter, Staunton (South Alabama)
SP - Travis Smink, Luray (VMI)
RP - Shawn Griffith, Fauquier (George Mason)
RP - Tyler Thornburg (Charleston Southern)
2008 Valley League second-team all-league
1B - Mike Marshall, Woodstock (Stanford)
2B - Rico Noel, Covington (Coastal Carolina)
3B - Evan Webb, Waynesboro (Tennessee Tech)
SS - Adam McClain, Luray (Memphis)
OF - Joe Agreste, Winchester (West Virginia)
OF - Kevin Dietrich, New Market (UNC Pembroke)
OF - Ryan Gauck, Fauquier (Marist)
C - Bryan Izzo, Staunton (Lincoln Memorial)
DH - Jeremy Cruz, Luray (Stetson)
UT - Jesse Henry, Front Royal (Shenandoah)
SP - Andy Altemus, Waynesboro (Potomac State)
SP - Taylor Hill, Winchester (Vanderbilt)
SP - Tucker Prior, Front Royal (North Florida)
SP - Drew Rucinski, Luray (Ohio State)
RP - Daniel Gentzler, New Market (Maryland)
RP - Jon Luke Jacobs, Fauquier (Auburn)