A 6-3 loss to South Alabama on June 4th ended the Alabama State Hornets NCAA-tournament run, but brought a barrage of players to the Purcellville Cannons' roster just in time to aid the team in their first year in Purcellville against the elite competition of the Valley League over a 42-game slate.
Position players Ray Hernandez, DeAndre Amion and Eriq White as well as pitcher Brandon Caples have made an immediate impact in the Valley League for the Cannons, and hope they will be recognized as part of the league's top-tier talent when the All-Star game is held at James Madison University on July 10th.
Caples, a right-handed hurler from Montgomery, Alabama, has came in to anchor manager Brett Fuller's starting rotation after posting a 3-1 record and a 3.76 ERA in 12 appearances for the Hornets last spring.
Caples is no stranger to the Valley League, however, making six starts last season when the Cannons were located in Charles Town, West Virginia. Coach Fuller moved the club back to Old Dominion in early 2016 and made sure to bring Caples with him, joining reliever Matt Kaster as the only two returning pitchers from the 2015 roster.
Fuller deemed Caples an "inning-eater" upon his arrival to the team's new home in early June, a title that Caples has lived up to so far in 2016. In four starts this season, Caples is 2-2 with a 3.16 ERA and has thrown at least eight innings in three of those four outings.
Caples last start was arguably his best of the summer, tossing a complete-game in the Cannons' 5-2 victory over the Charlottesville Tom Sox on June 27th. In his last two home starts, Caples is 2-0 with a 1.06 ERA over a 17-inning span. In his second outing in front of the Fireman's Field-faithful on June 14th, Caples authored an 8-inning shutout over the defending VBL-champion Strasburg Express, yielding just six hits and an unearned run in a 4-1 Cannons' victory.
Through 23 games this season, Caples leads the Cannons' pitching unit with 31 1/3 innings on the mound and is tied with reliever Will Reed for the team-lead in wins.
Meanwhile at the plate, infielder/outfielder Ray Hernandez has provided plenty of stability from the 3-hole of the Cannons' lineup.
After helping lead Alabama State to a school record 38 wins and a second straight SWAC title with a team-best 16 home runs and 62 RBI last spring, Hernandez has found his place in Purcellville's lineup. The Orlando, Florida native went hitless in his first two starts of the season, but has since gone on a hitting spree.
Starting with a pair of singles in the Cannons' 5-4 win over the Front Royal Cardinals at Bing Crosby Stadium on June 10th, Hernandez has tallied a hit in every game since, resulting in a hitting streak that reached 17 games when he knocked in two runs with a 5th-inning single in the team's 11-6 loss to Staunton on Wednesday.
During the 17-game stretch, Hernandez has hit .361 while seeing his name climb the Cannons' stat sheet on what seems like a game-by-game basis. In 19 starts this season, Hernandez leads the team in many offensive categories, including batting average (.333), home runs (3), RBI (13), doubles (4), hits (26) and runs scored (13).
It seems accurate that Hernandez be a member of the Cannons, considering that a Cannon is exactly what he offeres from his defensive position in right field. Since being moved form third base to right field on June 21st, Hernandez has welcomed any base runner that dares to move up an extra 90 feet when he's got the ball in his right hand. In 8 starts in the oufield, Hernandez already has climbed the list of defensive statistics, too, tallying five outfield assists, the most of any outfielder in the Valley League this season, even though he spent the first 11 games in the infield.
Opposite Hernandez and Caples, fellow Hornet-turned-Cannon(s) DeAndre Amion and Eriq White have been constant producers in the Purcellville offense.
After DeAires Moses was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 19th round of the MLB draft on June 11th, Amion has done a great job filling in at the center field position. Despite a hamstring injury that caused him to miss a few games, Amion sits at a .328 average at the plate this season, just five points behind Hernandez for the team-lead.
Concurrently joining the Cannons was second baseman Eriq White, who has found his swing in recent contests after a slow start at the plate, hitting .470 (8 for 17) with two home runs, three RBI, six walks and four stolen bases over the last six games. White became the first Cannon since Bradley Jones (an 18th-round selection in this year's draft by the Toronto Blue Jays) on July 9th of last season at Harrisonburg to record a multi-homer game when he knocked two long balls in a 7-5 loss to the Harrisonburg Turks on June 21st at JMU, a venue he would love to return to as an All Star on July 10th.
White and Amion each earned Freshman All-American honors last season at Alabama State. White hit .346 (second highest on the team) and started in all but one of the Hornets' 55 games. Amion hit .320 in 42 starts with five home runs and 40 RBIs.
Despite all the aforementioned success, it has overall been tough-sledding for the Cannons in their return to Virginia, ending the month of June with a record of 7 wins and 16 losses. However, the Cannons did snap an 8-game road losing streak with a season-high 15 runs in a victory at Woodstock on June 28th, while the offense has scored 39 runs over the last 5 games, the most in such a span this season.
Currently sitting two games back of the New Market Rebels for the final playoff spot in the division, the Cannons will look to make up some lost ground when they host 4 of their final 6 games prior to the All-Star break at Fireman's Field, a venue they are 5-6 at this season.
While collegiate accolades at Alabama State have translated into solid numbers in the Valley League this summer, Amion, Caples, Hernandez and White will hope they can represent Loudoun County by sporting their Cannons' club as All Stars in Harrisonburg on Sunday July 10th.
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