Manassas Journal Messenger | Raider marching on

MANASSAS — Andy Devitt issued a challenge to Garrett Smith a year ago: Step into Stonewall Jackson’s lineup and contribute as a freshman.

Smith did. He worked into the Raiders’ pitching rotation and performed well, even though his winless record might not have shown it. Then again, Stonewall’s record as a team wasn’t pretty either at 1-20.

But this year is different, for Smith and the Raiders. Devitt sees a budding leader, and he sees Smith gaining more confidence with each pitch and each at-bat. Smith is the Raiders’ ace – he currently has a 2-2 record with a 2.08 ERA – and he ranks first on the team in RBI (10) and second in batting average (.336).

Not that Smith could tell you that.

“I don’t even know my batting average, and I don’t worry about it,” he said. “I just try to take each day one at a time.”

As a team, the Raiders sit four games under .500 at 5-9, far different from a year ago, when Stonewall didn’t collect its first win until the season was nearly over. Thursday’s Raider loss to Hylton exemplified that: Stonewall pushed the Bulldogs – usually a fixture in the postseason – to extra innings, only to lose 2-1.

“Last year, we would have been satisfied with tonight,” Devitt said after that game. “But we’re a little mad about this one.”

Indeed, it’s a different year.

Smith has done his part to help the Raiders forget about last season, though he might not exactly see it that way.

“I’m just another guy on the team,” Smith said. “I listen to the older guys, work hard in practice, and get the job done.”

His coach sees it differently. Before Smith arrived at Stonewall for ninth grade, Devitt was preparing for the loss of 10 seniors. And since the losses didn’t quite add up to the returnees, Devitt decided to give Smith a shot at an every-day job.

“Last year, we really threw him into the fire. We lost 10 seniors, and he stepped up and played every inning – and he did pretty well,” Devitt said on Monday. “You always worry about bringing up a freshman up [to varsity], with the highs and lows and the inconsistency in their performance. But he stepped up, he was willing to get better and he is getting better.”

Smith thinks his hitting is ahead of his pitching, since he gets a chance to bat three times in every game – but he only pitches once every few days.

But there’s still room for improvement in the leadership department. But that’s not surprising for a kid in 10th grade. Last year, Devitt said, Smith was quiet. This year, he notices him speaking up a bit more.

“It’s tough to put a leadership tag on a sophomore,” Devitt said. “He leads by example. This year, he’s more vocal. He’s confident in himself and he’s confident that the others are going to listen to him. Last year, it’s hard for a freshman to be a leader.

“He’s a great kid, and we love having him. I wish I had nine of him, but I only have one.”

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