Long wait is over for South, Hedgesville
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There probably aren't too many teams hungrier than Hedgesville and Parkersburg South.
The Eagles haven't made it to the state baseball tournament since 1974 while the Patriots haven't made it this far since 1987. The futility ends today when Hedgesville (27-7) takes on South (26-9) at 5 p.m. in the Class AAA semifinals at Appalachian Power Park.
The Eagles, No. 1 in the Gazette's final state rankings, swept through their sectional without losing a game then disposed of No. 8 and perennial power Jefferson (7-1) in the regional semifinals before edging Hampshire 4-3 in the regional final to punch their ticket.
"We had a couple breaks go our way,'' said Hedgesville third-year coach Dirk Webb, "but we had to play fundamentally sound baseball, throwing strikes, getting timely hits and playing good defense. We've been doing a very good job of making the other team beat us.''
No. 4 South swept cross-town rival Parkersburg in the sectionals then defeated No. 6 Wheeling Park (4-2) in the regional semis and No. 7 Morgantown (8-7) in the finals. The Patriots have taken another step this season after winning 25 games and advancing to the regional finals last year.
"They've bought in to what we're teaching,'' said South sixth-year coach Matt Null, whose lineup sports experience with a dozen seniors who had significant roles in last year's run. "They've executed and made plays when it counted down the stretch. We've had good experience in the region the last couple of years. We just try to learn from those experiences.''
Senior Daniel Heleine powers Hedgesville, setting school records for home runs (16) and RBIs (57) while carrying a .478 batting average. Seniors Cody Butts (.379, 29 RBIs), James Wright (.307, 22 RBIs) and Josh Kocher (.389, 17 RBIs) along with juniors Troy Markley (.337, 15 RBIs), Tyler Anders (.304, 30 RBIs) and Matt Frye (.289, 27 RBIs) have also proven to be capable hitters. Butts (6-2, 1.24 ERA) and freshman Mason Riser (5-1, 2.15 ERA) are the Eagles' pitching aces.
"We have a very energetic club,'' Webb said. "I doubt there will be any clubs louder or more obnoxious than we are. It's kind of developed into this thing now to see who can yell the loudest and rev up the team as much as they can.''
Hedgesville has won nine in a row and 13 of 14, but Webb doesn't think the state tournament atmosphere will overwhelm his team, which is led by seven seniors.
"Not with this group of guys,'' said the Hedgesville coach. "I think they're going to adjust just fine. They're a good group of guys that get along well and act as a family. We're going to stay focused in on what we're going to do.
"We've never been in a situation where I thought the moment overwhelmed them too much. I have a lot of confidence in the players and the coaching staff. I feel this group has a purpose and a drive to accomplish more than we've already accomplished.''
Seniors Tre Jackson (.408, 37 RBIs) and Jordan Braniff (.355, 37 RBIs) are South's top run-producers while seniors Jacob Wilcox (.373, 27 RBIs) and Braxton Johnson (.435, 19 RBIs) and junior Tyler Berry (.340, 20 RBIs) have plenty of pop. The Patriots have a stable of capable pitchers in seniors Jacob Braniff (8-0, 2.55 ERA), Brad Brubaker (6-2, 1.96), Wes Mitchem (5-1, 1.99) and Clayton Cottrille (4-2, 1.75).
"We faced a lot of adversity this year,'' said Null, whose team played without its starting shortstop and left fielder for significant portions of the season. "The guys that have gone in and played have done a nice job of carrying the flag for us.
"We've seen some good pitching and our pitchers have faced some good hitting. It all kind of came together late in the season and we've played our best baseball. We beat the No. 1 [pitchers] of both teams we played in the [regional] semis and finals [this year]. We're as prepared as we're going to get.''
Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4811.