BUFFALO — Poca coach Mike Hutchinson wasn’t dealt a fair hand in beginning his first season guiding the Dots.
Wrought with high expectations, Poca began — and will end — the season without Cam Cottrill, arguably the team’s most important player.
The Daily Mail’s Kanawha Valley Freshman of the Year in 2011 tore a knee ligament during basketball season in February and is lost for the season.
He’s spending his time in sweatpants and his jersey doing his part from the dugout.
“It is a lot harder to stand in the dugout,” he said. “I feel like it’s still my responsibility to be with the team. I’m a senior. They look up to me even though I’m not on the field with them. I give advice when I can, because I feel like these guys can learn a lot from me, being here for four years.”
Cottrill finished second in the Kanawha Valley in batting average (.485) and seventh in RBI (36) during Poca’s 23-9 season of a year ago.
“Cam going down, that hurt us pretty bad,” Hutchinson said. “He’s still in the dugout and still a positive influence on the team, but it’s a lot easier to lead and a lot easier for guys to respond to somebody who is out there with them, fighting with them and sweating with them.”
Without Cottrill, much of the responsibility for Poca’s success will be on senior Jacob Payne and junior Noah Frampton.
Payne is the team’s top returning pitcher. He dealt with a Jones fracture of his foot during basketball season and a back injury late last baseball season.
“Me and Cam played together since we were 6, 7 years old,” said Payne, who batted .388 and was 7-2 with a 2.21 earned run average and 53 strikeouts in 44.1 innings last season. “He’s big time. When the bats are struggling, he’s the man to get us out of a slump. It stinks, player-wise and person-wise. He’s a hustle player, makes the big diving stops. We’re going to miss that. You may not think of that, but we’ll miss it.”
The Dots have a tough week ahead of them with a visit to Herbert Hoover tonight and a visit from Chapmanville on Wednesday.
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TWO OF THE HOTTEST players in the Kanawha Valley are at Winfield High School.
Senior shortstop Brandon Wright and junior pitcher Bryan Bosley have exploded out of the gate for coach Will Isaacs’ Generals.
Wright is hitting .541 with eight stolen bases for Winfield in seven games. Already regarded as among the top defensive shortstops in the Valley, Wright batted just .320 last season and stole 23 bases as Winfield finished with a 15-17 record.
Through seven games of the 2014 campaign, Wright has three doubles, four RBI with just one strikeout.
“It’s not even so much that I’m hitting balls on the barrel, but they’re finding open spots on the field,” Wright said. “I might be a bit more aggressive than most leadoff hitters. Most of them might look for walks more often or look for their pitch. I’m just letting it come to me and things are just falling into place.”
Bosley, meanwhile, has a 3-1 record and a 0.70 earned run average in 20 innings. Bosley also has 10 strikeouts and nine walks, but is far ahead of last season when he had a 0-1 record and a 10.28 ERA with 13 strikeouts and eight walks in 16.1 innings.
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BUFFALO COACH Jimmy Tribble is happy to have 10 freshmen on his roster, but, not unlike most West Virginia Class A teams, he’s shuffling his lineup until he finds the right mix.
The Bison opened the season with four wins in their first seven games, which included victories over Cross Lanes Christian and Teays Valley Christian. Buffalo also suffered a one-run defeat to defending Class A state champion Charleston Catholic.
Despite keeping his pitchers on pitch counts and dealing with a lineup that has two freshmen and a sophomore in the No. 7, No. 8 and No. 9 spots, is it too early for Tribble to be concerned?
“No, not for me,” he said. “I had a team down here three or four years ago that was 11-1, No. 1 in the state, won five out of the next 20.”
In addition to the loss to Catholic, Buffalo has beaten Class AA Clay County and lost to Class AA Ravenswood and Poca.
“Ravenswood had four hits and beat us 11-0,” said Tribble, lamenting his team’s early season struggles. “They had hits with bases loaded, we walked people, hit a batter. We’re a single-A school, we don’t have to beat Poca. We have to beat Catholic and Wahama ... Class A teams.”
Buffalo has two Class AA matchups this week, visiting Clay County tonight and traveling to Sissonville on Wednesday.
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SPEAKING OF SISSONVILLE, coach Kenny Harper said he and the Indians are “figuring ourselves out.”
The Indians are off to a 5-3 start, with the losses coming to defending Class AA champion Herbert Hoover and Class AAA schools Capital by a 3-1 score and Ripley by a 4-3 count.
Catcher Dominic Walker is batting .600 with three home runs, including two in the loss to the Vikings. He already had four RBI and two doubles after finishing last season with no home runs, four doubles and 12 RBI.
Last year the Indians had one batter — Kanawha Valley batting leader Zach Null — hit higher than .350. Through eight games, the Indians have four — Walker, junior J.R. Stricklen, sophomore Jacob Fisher and sophomore Josh Landis — batting higher than 400.
“I’m happy but I’m not happy, if you know what I mean,” Harper said. “We’re not consistent enough. The first four games we hit the ball real well. The last couple games we didn’t have many hits and we’re not stringing them together.”
The Indians play three games this week against Class AA Region 4 opponents with road games against Scott tonight, Wayne on Tuesday and at home against Clay County on Thursday.
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4837. Follow him on Twitter @richdailymail.