CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Buffalo High School baseball coach Jimmy Tribble put it bluntly when speaking of one of his seniors, pitcher and first baseman Blaik Caplinger.
“He is one of the best leaders I’ve ever coached,” said Tribble, whose Bison (17-11) will face Wahama (16-9) on May 27 at Gator Field in the Class A Region 4 semifinals. “Last year was a blowout year for Caplinger. He didn’t hit the ball, couldn’t get past the first inning of the game. He blew off practice to go fishing. I was done with him.
“When I saw him the first day of practice, I asked him, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ He said, ‘Yes, I want to play baseball.’
“Lo and behold, he had been lifting weights and did a 100 percent turnaround.”
Caplinger’s rebound from a tough junior year has been symbolic of the Bison’s change of fortune.
Buffalo appeared on the ropes after an 8-3 loss to defending Class A champion Charleston Catholic in the Section 4 best-of-three tournament.
Caplinger pitched in the second game, holding the Irish to one hit in a 2-1 Buffalo victory. The Bison finished off Catholic with a 13-6 victory during which Buffalo didn’t trail after the second inning.
“These seniors weren’t going to be denied,” said Tribble, who has had two stints at Buffalo totaling nine years and an 11-year coaching career at Winfield, winning state titles at both stops. “I was thinking about the teams I’ve had, and this group of kids here, they’re not the most talented bunch in the world, but these kids wanted it.”
With two victories, Buffalo will reach the state tournament for the first time since losing 11-4 to Wheeling Central in the 2008 championship game.
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WITH NO W.Va. Education Standards Test (WESTEST) to interrupt the prep baseball season, many of the sectionals involving Kanawha Valley teams will be completed this week.
Monday at Al Billings Park in Poca, the struggling Dots will try to get past Sissonville in the best-of-three Region 4, Section 2 tournament.
The Indians have reached 18 victories for the first time since the 2010 season — their last visit to the state tournament and the second, and final season, of John Brown’s coaching tenure at the school.
Sissonville (18-13) is led by sophomore Jacob Fisher, who has a .471 batting average. He leads a team that is hitting .340 and averaging 7.4 runs per game. The Indians have won four of their last five games.
The Dots, meanwhile, never got untracked without senior leader Cam Cottrill. The Daily Mail’s Kanawha Valley Freshman of the Year in 2011 injured his knee during basketball season and hasn’t played. Poca, which was eliminated in two games by Sissonville in last year’s sectional, hasn’t won more than two consecutive games this season and suffered through a seven-game losing streak from April 12-22, including back-to-back losses to Sissonville.
Picking up some of the slack for coach Mike Hutchinson’s Dots has been brothers Noah and Luke Frampton. Noah, a junior, is batting .411 and Luke, a freshman, leads the team in average at .417. They also have a combined 47 runs.
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BEGINNING MONDAY, South Charleston and George Washington begin their best-of-three Class AAA Region 3, Section 3 tournament at 6 p.m. at Floyd Wilcox Field.
The Black Eagles are coached by Ken Samms, whose son-in-law is GW coach Chad Campbell.
South Charleston (15-11) ended the regular season with four consecutive victories, marking the sixth time in Samms’ eight years the Black Eagles have won at least 15 games.
One of the Kanawha Valley’s hottest players, Antonio Brown, leads South Charleston. He has hit safely in six consecutive games and is batting .565 with six RBI during that span.
The Black Eagles are expected to pitch either Jared Hill (5-1, 2.01 ERA) or Jacob Marler (4-2, 2.96 ERA), while the Patriots will likely go with either Austin Henrich (4-3, 1.85) or Jeff Wong (3-3, 2.81).
The series will switch to Bryan-McElwain Field on Tuesday and the deciding game, if necessary, will be played at GW on Wednesday.
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HEAVILY FAVORED Hurricane (21-7) will begin its quest for a berth in the state tournament when it faces Lincoln County (7-13) in a best-of-three series at Lola Meeks Memorial Field.
The Redskins have won 11 of their last 14 games with two of the losses coming to Region 4 foe Logan.
Junior J.T. Rogoszewski leads Hurricane with a .388 average and has a 5-1 record with a 1.96 earned run average and 41 strikeouts and 12 walks in 46.1 innings pitched.
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4837. Follow him on Twitter @richdailymail