Rich Stevens: Somehow, this Hurricane team seems different

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Hurricane’s path to the high school baseball state tournament isn’t unlike that of the other 10 teams in Class AAA’s Region 4.

What makes the Redskins’ road unusual is that they have enjoyed more overall talent than the other teams in Region 4, but it never translates to tournament success.

It’s a contentious conversation with the Hurricane faithful who, to their frustration and disappointment, have seen the Redskins come up short on a regular basis.

Is there pressure on coach Brian Sutphin to win it this year?

Sure, but it’s not within.

Quite frankly, the region has been Nitro’s world for the better part of the last decade, seeing a run of seven consecutive trips to the state tournament being halted in 2013 in a not-so-surprising upset in Section 2.

That’s a tough enough section that includes the longtime power and much-respected program at Logan and St. Albans — never to be taken lightly itself.

Still, with the rightful reputation for being a baseball school and the history that goes with it, most folks don’t think Hurricane has quite met expectations.

First, some background.

Seven years ago when Billy Joe Hicks ran the show, Hurricane lost three games — all to Cabell Midland. A sweep in the sectionals began — for all intents and purposes — the Redskins’ residual postseason woes.

Certainly there were others, but Hurricane had two all-state first team pitchers in 2007 and couldn’t overcome Cabell Midland’s small-ball approach to the second season.

One year later, Hurricane won 20 games — only the third time the Redskins had won fewer than 21 since 1989. Hicks stepped down.

Enter Brian Sutphin, whose resume included serving as head coach at Nitro, an assistant-coaching stint at West Virginia University, as head coach at Alderson-Broaddus (2001-03) and as an assistant at St. Albans.

You can thank the talent at Hurricane if you’d like, but his teams haven’t won fewer than 25 games under his tutelage and that has to do with more than talent.

In 2009, the Redskins lost to eventual Class AAA tournament runner-up Nitro in the regional championship. The next two seasons it was losses to Cabell Midland in the 2010 regional semifinals.

Let the jinx talk resume.

In 2012, Hurricane was eliminated in a major upset — a two-game sweep to Winfield in the sectionals. Just last year, Cabell Midland coach Tracy Brumfield ran his postseason record to 11-5 against Hurricane in the Region 4 semifinals.

Little has changed in the form of dominant talent in this region. Huntington’s left-handed breaking baller Stephen Holland has been virtually unhittable this year. If Cabell Midland and 2013 state player of the year runner-up Seth Kinker can’t get past the Highlanders in Section 4 and the heavily favored Redskins knock out Lincoln County, Holland is who Hurricane will face in the regional semifinal.

On the other side, scrappy Winfield and Brandon Wright have to break through against Austen Toler and Point Pleasant before facing Zach Minnick and Logan, Dylan Slack and Nitro or Josh Burks and St. Albans.

The only way Hurricane faces Cabell Midland again this season will be in the regional championship at the Redskins’ turfed field.

One area in which Hurricane has the advantage is hitting. The Redskins are coming off a 22-1 win over the Highlanders, giving them a 2-0 mark against coach Danny Harbert’s team. Hurricane hasn’t seen Holland.

Hurricane has scored 108 runs in its last 12 games, where it has an 11-1 record. The only loss was to Rock Castle, Ky., when the Redskins played multiple reserves for the better part of the game.

Among Hurricane’s biggest issues is the inability to play small ball at the most critical of times — those games that follow the regular season.

Choking up on the bat, shortening up in the box and taking a two-strike approach to put the ball in play is something that sometimes seems foreign to the Redskins.

For some reason, it feels like that won’t matter this year.

Maybe because the shape of the Hurricane team has been altered from being a program that relies heavily on pitching to one that’s hitting the ball at a remarkable pace late in the campaign.

Then again, there’s no telling what will happen in this most balanced of regions.

What we do know is that all eyes will be on Hurricane, and you can bet every other team is fine with that.

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