Catcher Justin Starke to VMI, pitcher Buck Forbes to Charleston (W.Va).
PRINCE GEORGE - Prince George Baseball saw two of its greatest contributors to the program’s first-ever state championship officially pen their collegiate decisions on Wednesday.
Surrounded by school staff, friends and family (including their coaches and teammates), catcher Justin Starke and pitcher Buck Forbes signed to NCAA Division I VMI and NCAA Division II Charleston (W.Va), respectively.
“It’s a dream come true, really. It’s something I’ve been working for all my life,” Starke said. “For me to make it official today, it really means a lot.”
“It’s just another step in life,” Forbes said. “Big step...making progress.”
Starke joins several Royal alum before him - including Prince George Baseball head coach Mickey Roberts’ sons Sam and Mike Roberts - in choosing to attend and play for VMI. Starke’s trainer, Brandon Massenburg, also played baseball for the Keydets.
“I’ve gotten to know the ropes a little bit from him, just kind of talking to him...he’s kind of showed me a little bit what it’s gonna be about,” Starke said. “Looking forward to it.”
In making his college decision, Starke spoke to looking towards his future.
“VMI...it’s a rare diploma where the job offers after college are just unreal,” Starke said. “That’s kind of what I was looking for...and then just good baseball on top of that. Can’t get any better.”
Forbes said that he got along with the coaches at the University of Charleston, and he added that the way the Golden Eagles’ program runs feels “more like how it’d be here” in Prince George.
Royals head coach Mickey Roberts described both players as the “backbone of the program” for the last two to three years.
“They deserve a lot of the credit for the achievements that we had over the last few years,” Roberts said of Forbes and Starke. “It’s good to see the fruits of their labor come to fruition [with] both of them getting to go on and play in the college level; I think that’s huge.”
In his first three years on varsity, Starke heavily contributed to the Royals’ phenomenal three-year stretch from 2016 to 2018, in which the Royals achieved a then-record 20 wins in 2016, surpassed that with 23 wins while also winning the program’s first-ever regional championship in 2017, and then won the Prince George Baseball program’s first-ever state championship in 2018.
Starke has been a force at the plate, being able to hammer the ball deep - he had a solo homer in his team’ 8-1 state quarterfinals win over Menchville this June - and drive in teammate after teammate with a batting average of .450 over the past couple of years.
He also joined a speedy cast of players in excelling on the basepaths in 2018.
Roberts called Starke “a big-time leader behind the plate” and “a coach on the field” at the catching position.
“He’s able to give us the feedback that we need to help with our coaching decisions,” Roberts said.
As for what he can improve, Starke said: “I can always work defensively behind the plate - I didn’t really didn’t get many opportunities to throw guys out this year - but I can always work and improve and make sure that, if somebody does go, that I’ll be able to get ’em, and as far as blocking and stuff like that goes, that’s a couple of key little things I need to work on. But other than that, I think we’re ready to go.”
Forbes went 10-0 on the mound in his Royals’ championship season, notched a 4:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and concluded his junior season with a less-than-1.00 earned run average.
“I feel like I spotted up pretty good...I move my pitches around, I have good movement,” Forbes said. “I just need to get my velo up, throw a little harder.”
“He’s gonna step up, throw strikes, he’s gonna be in the zone,” Roberts said of Forbes. “We know every time he goes out, we have a really, really good chance of winning...he’s just a tremendous player.”
Forbes started on the varsity mound in both 2017 and 2018, and showed signs of what was to come when he pitched the Royals to the 2017 regional championship over Menchville. Forbes would go on to toss a one-hit shutout in the Royals’ state title-clinching 8-0 triumph over Potomac Senior.
But “that’s in the past now,” Forbes said smiling.
“You just got to look for the next season and not really keep that on,” he said, “because then your head might get too big.”
Both Forbes and Starke, now seniors, have one more high school season to play for Prince George Baseball. The Royals are looking to step up and see if they can repeat as state champions in 2019.
“I think we have a good shot to do that; we just need to have some things go our way much like they did last year,” Roberts told the attendees of Forbes’ and Starke’s signing on Wednesday. “But I think it’s something that’s possible with this group, and these two guys are big factors in that.”
“We want to win another one,” Starke said. “We have one, but we’re not satisfied with that.”
He and his Royals want more; they want to make even more of an impact on Prince George.
“And I’d like to make an impact before I leave and go to college,” Starke said. “Looking forward to this year.”
At VMI, Starke is looking forward to being a part of the brotherhood there - “you can’t find it anywhere else,” he said - while Forbes looks forward to getting to play both on the mound and in the field for the Golden Eagles in Charleston, W.V.
For this coming season, Roberts looks forward to Starke and Forbes practicing hard, playing hard, continuing their leadership and being role models to the younger players on the team
“They’ve meant a lot to the program as leaders, as players, just building great team chemistry,” Roberts said. “Those guys have been the leaders for doing that.”
By Nick Vandeloecht, Sports Editor