Bridgeport and Princeton are two hungry teams.The Indians and the Tigers will collide at 4:30 p.m. today in the Class AAA semifinals, which is also the opening game of the state tournament at Appalachian Power Park.Bridgeport (29-7), which finished second in the Gazette's ratings, lost last year in the regionals to Elkins on a walk-off home run, finishing 28-3. Two years ago, the Indians fell to Nitro in the state championship game."I still think that's in the back of their mind,'' said Bridgeport coach Robert Shields on missing out on last year's state tourney. "I'm just really pleased with our kids."We started off slow. We just kept plugging away and we've gotten better. We had some holes we had to fill and just by trial and error we just had to work our way through some things. Right now we're probably playing the best ball we've played.''No. 4 Princeton (24-8) lost to Nitro in the 2010 semifinals in Tigers coach Josh Wilburn's first season. The Tigers, though, missed out on making the return trip last year."As far as the experience and the way that they've played over the last three years, I'm confident we can compete with anybody in the state,'' said Wilburn, whose team was the Mountain State Athletic Conference tournament runner-up.Bridgeport also has some heavy hearts and motivation with the death of Shields' father, Robert "Timbuck'' Shields, who was a prominent figure in Harrison County athletics and education."It seems like with the passing of my father, who was legendary coach in Legion around here, I think that adds a little bit to it that [our players] want to bring it home to someone,'' said the Bridgeport coach. "It gives them a little added incentive.''
The Indians enter as the hottest team in the entire three-class field, with 15 straight victories."We had some kids that needed to start doing a better job with their plate appearances and I tweaked the lineup just a little bit and it paid dividends,'' Shields said.Junior Cullin Cutright is Bridgeport's top hitter with a .409 average to go along with 29 RBIs. Seniors John Koon (.368, 26 RBIs), Tyler Furbee (.356, 17 RBIs), Brady Weaver (.32, 14 RBIs), Luke Ash (.307, 27 RBIs) and Corey Mann (.287, 33 RBIs), junior Troy Anderson (.326, 28 RBIs) and sophomore Tyler Skidmore (.338, 18 RBIs) round out the offense."They wouldn't be here if they didn't have the kids that could possibly do it,'' said Wilburn of Bridgeport. "They've got several kids in their lineup that can hit for power.''Corey Quick paces the Tigers with a .592 batting average and 51 RBIs while Seth Rose (.426, 53 runs), Austin Southcott (.398, 33 RBIs) and Alex Quick (.354) are capable hitters.The pitching matchup should be a dandy with Bridgeport's Weaver (10-2), who started the championship game against Nitro in 2010, facing Princeton senior J.C. Pennington (8-0, 1.38 ERA).
Weaver, who commands an 85 mph fastball, has struck out 113 in 802/3 innings with just nine walks. Also in a 1-0 sectional win over Robert C. Byrd in 13 innings, Weaver yielded no runs and fanned 17 with just three walks in a 10-inning performance. Pennington carries a 1.43 earned run average."We've just got to come out and get a good pitching performance and put the barrel on the ball and give ourselves an opportunity to win,'' Wilburn said. "Just try to put pressure on the defense. I think we have a good chance.''Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at email@example.com