Charleston Catholic's baseball team has been in the top five of the Gazette's Class A state ratings all season. If the No. 2 Irish, last season's state runner-up, want to head back to the state tournament, they must get by a very familiar foe.
Catholic (27-8) will host Wahama at 6:30 tonight at Triana Field for the Region 4 championship.
The Irish already own a pair of victories over the White Falcons this season, 7-6 on April 21 at home and 11-1 three days later in Mason.
"I told our guys that if you're practicing at this point in May, you've had a pretty good season," said Charleston Catholic coach Bill Mehle. "We've got a very competitive group of players that just want to play baseball and win. We're fortunate to continue to play after our sectional tournament against a very worthy opponent."
The Irish fell to Man in their second Region 4 Section 2 game, but responded with 10-0 and 6-5 wins over the Hillbillies to advance to the regional final. Mehle says that Nelson McKown's clutch performance was the key to winning the regional.
"During our last game with Man, I emphasized that we needed to hit well and manufacture a run in a tied game," said Mehle. "Nelson led of the seventh with a double that got us the run we needed. I don't think you can ask for a more competitive or more tenacious high school baseball player than Nelson McKown."
Catholic's tenacity can also be found on the mound in juniors Andy Hoyer (9-2, 2.95 ERA, 60 K's) and Kiefer Hovorka (7-1, 2.03 ERA, 87 K's).
"They both have had excellent seasons for us," said Mehle. "We feel very confident with essentially two number one pitchers available for a single game to move on to the state tournament."
Wahama has overcome much this season, from injuries to plugging defensive holes to offensive woes. And yet, the White Falcons (21-17) won the Region 4 Section 1 crown in impressive fashion, 11-1 in five innings over host Buffalo in the deciding game.
"We played quite a few of our guys out of position in the field," said Wahama coach Tom Cullen. "At the same time, we were struggling to hit the ball. But we got our field troubles figured out and the bats came around in time."
Cullen credits sophomore Wyatt Zuspan (.367, 28 RBIs) moving to shortstop as the turning point for his team this season.
"I'd love to have Wyatt on the mound to pitch," said Cullen, in his eighth season with the White Falcons. "But he suffered a shoulder injury during the football season and he's not gotten back from it far enough to pitch. Moving him to shortstop has shored up our defense and sparked our team."
Wahama also has plenty of production from seniors Zach Warth (.446, HR, 29 RBIs) and Tyler Roush (.448, eight HRs, 43 RBIs, 6-4, 2.56 ERA, 82 K's).
"When Tyler's focused, he's really good and we feed off of that," said Cullen. "Our kids have so much confidence when he's out on the mound. Zach's a four-year starter and he's been through a lot of wins with us."
Given the history between the two squads, both coaches know what awaits them.
"[Wahama is] a very good offensive and very-well coached team that is solid defensively," said Mehle. "I think they have flown under the radar here in West Virginia because of all the Ohio schools that they face."
"I've got a lot of respect for Catholic in how well coached and disciplined their kids are," said Cullen. "They've got a solid bunch of kids throughout their lineup. And it's going to be a battle."
Reach Dave Miller at 304-348-1749 or firstname.lastname@example.org