Generals marching without Arnold
Huntington coach Brandon Cassell said his full complement of starters wasn't on the field in either of the Highlanders' two losses to Winfield during the regular season.
But when the teams get together in a Class AAA Region 4 semifinal at 6:30 tonight, it will be the host Generals' lineup that will be incomplete.
Starting centerfielder Barrett Arnold was ejected from Winfield's game at Point Pleasant on Friday and by rule must sit out 10 percent of the season, which means three games.
The Generals have relied on Arnold's offensive production all season as the senior has hit .365 with a pair of home runs and 24 stolen bases. His situation just adds to a game that's swirling with unique storylines but Winfield coach Will Isaacs said he and his players are moving forward.
"We're trying to put it behind us and move on," Isaacs said of Arnold's ineligibility. "It happened, and we're going to have to deal with it. Obviously it changes our team a little bit, but we're not going to cry around - we're going to practice well, try to play well, and compete."
Isaacs said Arnold's replacement would be a game-time decision but didn't hesitate in listing Mason Dillon as the Generals' starting pitcher.
Dillon will have to contend with a tested Highlanders lineup that had to get through tough games against Spring Valley and Cabell Midland in its section.
"[Spring Valley and Cabell Midland] are in our conference and we played each team four times, so we knew everything except for their shoe sizes, I believe," Cassell said. "Our guys have been playing against these kids since they were 12 and they had beat them at Huntington High and we finally put an end to it this year and it's a good feeling. We're battle-tested."
Tested and, by all accounts, peaking. The Highlanders feature seven hitters with a minimum of 50 at-bats with batting averages over .300. Joey Mundy leads the Huntington hit parade with a .380 batting average and a team-high 39 RBIs. Mundy has struck out an incredibly low six times in 108 at-bats.
"Really, two and a half or three weeks ago, we just started hitting the ball on the screws," Cassell said.
One thing is for sure, the Highlanders (18-16) haven't been able to get their offense on track against Winfield so far this year. The Generals edged the Highlanders 3-2 in the first game and rolled 15-3 in the second.
But Isaacs will be the first to say that the second game was an aberration and not the norm.
"The second game's score is not indicative of the type of team they have," Isaacs said. "Both times we beat them, they put the ball in play, so we've got to make plays and we can't give them any free bases."
Cassell believes whichever team makes the fewest mistakes will have a drastic advantage.
"We want to get on base and play fast," Cassell said. "We can't play fast enough. We want to put the ball on the ground because high school kids will make mistakes. They're a great team and they hit the ball well. If we aren't fundamentally sound, it will be tough to beat them."
Both of the squads' previous two matchups involved more drama than just a couple of Class AAA wins for the Generals.
It was in the first matchup with Huntington that Winfield's Dusty Kincaid was struck in the face by a line drive while pitching. Kincaid was hospitalized and forced to miss the rest of season.
In fact the only action Kincaid saw after the incident came in the second matchup between the teams when he threw out the first pitch as part of a benefit held at Huntington High School.
If nothing else, Winfield (17-14) has already shown the ability to overcome adversity and will have to do so again without Arnold. But Isaacs is convinced his team can and will rise to the occasion.
"We've said all year long that each day we come to the field, whether it's practice or a game, we try not to let the result of the previous day dictate how we approach that day," Isaacs said. "Our kids have done a really good job with that. They always have a good attitude, they work hard and they enjoy playing. They don't mope around - every day they come to work hard and that's one thing I love about this team."
Dillon is 8-1 with a 1.67 ERA with 51 strikeouts in 67 innings pitched, while Zach Gunter leads Winfield's offense with a .402 average with five home runs and 30 RBIs.
Ben Haer is hitting .388 for Huntington with a team-best four home runs and 29 RBIs.
Cassell said lefty Stephen Holland will likely start on the mound for Huntington. Holland sports a 2.29 ERA with 63 strikeouts in 58 innings.
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