On the hottest weekend of the year, the Virginia Commonwealth Games All-Star baseball tournament kicked off on Friday night at Liberty University in Lynchburg.
The tournament is one of the premier places for high school baseball players in Virginia to get noticed as coaches and Major League Baseball scouts flock to the games looking for the next big thing.
The Commonwealth Games tournament features the top 15-17-year-old high school players in Virginia and the players represent four regions of the state in the eight-game playoff. To be on the team, each player must try out and be selected.
This year, two rising seniors on the Halifax County High School baseball team — Joey Duffer and Leo Noblin — were selected to be members of the West All-Star team. Noblin was tapped as the starting pitcher in the second game of the tournament, and Duffer played catcher and first base in the games.
Duffer started off the tournament with a bang on Friday night as he went 3-4 with two home runs in the West team’s opening game against the Central All-Stars. The West ended up losing to Central by a score of 12-10 after coming back from a large deficit but fell just short.
In Saturday’s first game for the West, Noblin took the mound as the starting pitcher for the team against the East. Noblin pitched 3 2/3 innings and struck out three batters and allowed only four hits.
“I felt good off the start, everything was solid. They (East) were a good team with some good sticks, and I hung a few balls and they got a few good hits but I felt like I threw the ball pretty good,” Noblin said after the game.
Noblin battled the heat and that caused him to walk several batters during his start. Noblin fell behind several batters and battled back from 2-0 and 3-0 counts to get two strikes on the batters, but ended up walking several.
“That is really what killed me that last inning,” Noblin said. “Just getting down 3-0 in the count and then coming back and throwing three strikes. If I would have just gone ahead and threw three strikes I would have just shut somebody down, but I still felt pretty good,” he added.
Duffer had a tough time at the plate in the first game of the day on Saturday, going 0-3, but in the second game of the day for the West against the North, Duffer was able to redeem himself. Duffer had three RBIs in the evening. He grounded out in his first at bat, but that scored a run. In his second at bat, he ripped a single into left field with the base loaded to score two runs.
The West fell to the East 8-6 in the second game of the tournament, but they came back to defeat the North team 17-8.
Duffer missed an opportunity to perform in last year’s games due to a thumb injury he suffered just weeks before the games began.
“This is something I have been looking forward to for two years and finally getting up here felt good last night,” Duffer said.
Duffer knows the opportunity that comes with being a part of the games, and after missing his junior season with Halifax due to the coronavirus, getting to play in front of college coaches and scouts is something important.
“I think that the Commonwealth Games are one of the best opportunities you can get to get in front of some Virginia schools, especially if you would like to go to a Virginia school,” Duffer said. “There is some great competition up here, and if you can get in front of the scouts that is always good,” he added.
Noblin and Duffer are both in unique situations, along with every other rising senior who has aspirations to play baseball at the next level. Missing a chance to play their junior season puts them well behind where other players their age usually are in the process, making the Commonwealth Games, and every other tournament this summer important.
“This spring everybody was hot and coming out healthy after having worked hard all winter, but then the coronavirus throws you off for three or four months and you don’t get to really do anything,” Noblin said.
“Being two rising juniors this was a big year for us especially for colleges and recruitment, and this upcoming fall we can officially sign with a college and with the coronavirus college coaches are limited to what they can go out to and what they can do and who they can see,” Duffer said.
This summer is important for Duffer and Noblin, along with the other Halifax baseball players heading into their senior seasons that are looking to play baseball at the next level. With no junior season and travel baseball and showcases delayed for several months, these chances to get exposure mean more than ever.
“These next two months are the most important for me and him basically because there is no guarantee you are going to have a spring baseball season so these last five or six tournaments, if we don’t get fall ball, could be the last six tournaments we ever play,” Noblin said.
Duffer laid out what is at stake in only a few words, “All we can do is grind hard and try to earn a scholarship.”