Charleston Catholic coach Bill Mehle has the Irish in the state tourney for the eighth time in 12 years.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Pressure is inevitable at a state tournament game, so the fewer plays you have to make in the field, the better.
Perhaps that's why Charleston Catholic and Valley will be starting pitchers who can rack up strikeouts in large numbers when they tangle at about 12:45 p.m. today in the Class A semifinals at Power Park.
The Irish (28-9), the No. 2 team in the Gazette's state ratings, will go with one of two senior right-handers - either Kiefer Hovorka (6-4, 1.37 ERA) or Andy Hoyer (9-1, 2.93), who both average well over a strikeout per inning. Hovorka has fanned 77 in 631/3 innings this season and Hoyer 79 in 592/3.
Their counterpart, however, is even better at sitting down opposing batters.
Valley's own senior righty, Arik McGinnis (4-3, 2.62), has whiffed 94 in just 48 innings, nearly two punchouts per inning, making the burden that much easier on his defense.
Catholic coach Bill Mehle is aware of what the hard-throwing McGinnis can do to an opposing batting order.
"We anticipate their senior getting the hill in the first state tournament game,'' Mehle said. "He's very effective, looking at his strikeout total and watching him pitch some. He can throw a good fastball with some movement on it, and has good off-speed pitches. We've got our work cut out for us in preparation for him.
"The key is being able to put some pressure on the defense. That's been our key to success - limiting the amount of strikeouts against whomever. The percentages of the game are that the more often you put the ball in play, the more often the odds are in your favor.''
McGinnis has been bothered the last couple of weeks by an injury to the thumb on his non-throwing hand but pitched two innings of relief in the regional semifinals against Man.
If he has a relapse, the No. 5-ranked Greyhounds (23-7) could go with freshman Druw Bowen (6-0, 2.15, 65 Ks in 39 innings), but he was pulled from his last start against Man after one inning with a sore elbow. He's played infield but hasn't pitched since.
"McGinnis is going as of right now,'' Valley coach Joe Craffey said earlier this week.
Craffey said McGinnis' statistics aren't as impressive as many other Class A aces around the state simply because he elected to use McGinnis against some of the solid Class AAA teams on the Greyhounds' schedule.
"Arik's numbers are kind of deceiving,'' Craffey said, "because earlier in the season we pitched him against George Washington and Greenbrier East. We pitched him against those triple-A schools for the simple fact he's a senior and we were going from an experience standpoint. We needed to get him in there and throw against some of those bigger schools.
"For the most part, Arik has pitched well all year. I cannot think of one bad-pitched game for our pitchers. Sure, we lost seven games, but our pitchers have been solid every game.''
McGinnis will be facing an Irish lineup that features six players hitting over .360.
They're led by Rocco Wilcox (.433, 61 runs), Hoyer (.410), Nelson McKown (.397, 53 RBIs), Connor Golden (.381, 38 RBIs, 22 stolen bases), Hovorka (.368, 20 steals) and Sam McKown (.365).
The Hounds can do Catholic two better - they have eight starters at .400 or higher.
Cody Winter leads with a .477 average, followed by McGinnis (.474, 45 RBIs), Mark Hess (.447), Raeshawn Breckenridge (.424, 41 RBIs, 22 steals), Drew Jones (.422, 41 steals), John Riddle (.411), Todd Coleman (.409) and Bowen (.400, 34 RBIs).
The teams split a pair of regular-season meetings, with Valley taking an 11-8 decision at home on April 18 and the Irish winning 9-1 on May 3 at their field.
Mehle, whose program appears in the state tournament for the eighth time in 12 years, believes his experienced squad - sporting nine seniors, six of whom start - is ready.
"I think we are,'' he said. "In March, we realized we had to work on the little things, and we got better in practice every day so that we can compete in May. I think we're playing our best baseball now.
"Anything can happen in the game of baseball when you go against excellent competition. But I told our players I'd rather be in our dugout than anybody else's in single-A.''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or email@example.com.