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Hurricane’s patience pays off

KENNY KEMP | Gazette
Hurricane coach Brian Sutphin (right) celebrates with his players following Saturday’s state championship victory over Riverside.

If patience is a virtue, then persistence has to rank up there pretty highly, too.

Hurricane stayed the course this season and it finally paid off with a Class AAA championship, courtesy of a 9-2 victory against Riverside in Saturday’s finals at Appalachian Power Park.

For the Redskins and sixth-year coach Brian Sutphin, it was equal parts elation, vindication and relief.

Hurricane had spent much of the past six years as the state’s No. 1 team in various rankings and won at least 25 games each season, but had little to show for it — zero previous state tournament berths in that stretch and just one regional finals. To make it worse, three times the Skins fell to neighboring nemesis Cabell Midland in the regional semifinals.

“Certainly, it feels like there’s times where you’re beating your head up against the wall,’’ Sutphin said after Saturday’s win. “But it’s not really about …

“It’s just the kids, and you want it so bad for that group of players. It’s not really about you. It’s about how it affects all of them. You want it for them. I’m gonna be here, and I’m gonna keep coaching. So there’s gonna be more years for me, but for those guys, this is it.’’

One of Sutphin’s departing seniors, pitcher Austin Hensley, took time to savor the journey following his four-hitter with eight strikeouts against Riverside in the title game.

“Coach Sutphin, he’s just the best coach I’ve ever had,’’ Hensley said. “I can’t say anything bad about him. He’s built a tradition here and we finally got this one for him. We got this state championship for him, so I owe it all to him.’’

Hurricane became the ninth different Class AAA champion over the last 12 years and eighth Mountain State Athletic Conference team to capture a crown since 2002.

It also soothed some Redskins fans who saw their team narrowly miss a state championship in basketball three months ago when it lost 55-54 to Huntington.

Three baseball starters were key players on that basketball squad.

“This is what I worked for,’’ said junior infielder Trey Dawson, one of those hoops players. “This is my team and we worked so hard for this moment. It’s just a blessing to be here, and it feels great.’’

Dawson is one of several underclassmen who will return for the Redskins next spring as they chase a third overall state baseball title to go along with the one they registered in 2002. He batted .381 with 35 runs batted in and was 5-2 in limited pitching duty.

The team’s ace, junior J.T. Rogoszewski (8-1, 1.52 ERA) will also be back, along with his team-high .400 batting average and 30 RBIs.

Other starters expected back are catcher Tate Brock (.323), designated hitter Justin Crouch and left fielder Branson Martin.

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Two other programs were also rewarded for their persistence by taking titles Saturday — Bridgeport (Class AA) and Man (A).

The Indians claimed their first crown since 2000 with a 5-2 decision against Independence and the Hillbillies earned their first-ever team championship in a boys sport with a marathon 12-10, 10-inning verdict over Notre Dame.

Bridgeport was making its fourth state tournament trip in five years.

In effect, Bridgeport has become the new Winfield in Class AA, finishing the 2013-14 school year with five state titles, including a sweep of boys and girls track, something the Generals used to do a lot. The Indians also won in football and boys cross country.

(Bridgeport stands as the fourth-largest school in AA with 762 students, while Winfield is the fourth-smallest in AAA at 799.)

Man, meanwhile, also got over the hump after losing in both the 2009 and 2010 finals.

For those who keep track of such things, six of the previous seven Class A state champs in baseball were private schools. Among other high-profile sports, private schools have also taken eight of the last 10 football titles and 12 of 13 in boys basketball.

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Riverside (20-13), which made an unprecedented run to the AAA finals, tied a school record with its 20 victories.

Like Hurricane, the Warriors should be in decent shape next year, as they return six players with starting experience, including top hitter Trevor Smith (.411) and No. 2 pitcher Brady Wilkinson (5-5, 81 Ks in 60 innings).

Other starters back are infielder Brandon Hancock, catcher Andrew Massey, first baseman Jared Phalen and infielder Tony Carfagna.

Pat Vogelsang, who took over as Warriors coach when Trey Barcus resigned after two games, took a few moments to talk to his team on the field following Saturday’s setback. The Warriors even made the unusual move of posing for a team photo after the loss.

“I just can’t reiterate how proud I am of them,’’ Vogelsang said, “and I thanked them for making my year and my life so much better this year. And I apologized at the same time, because I feel what they’ve done for me far surpasses what I’ve done for them.

“We fought hard all year every game. We came in with a fresh outlook, ready to take it one pitch at a time and we took it as far as we could get it. And we lost to a real good team.’’

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Several other Kanawha Valley teams should be able to keep the beat going next year, as all teams with at least 20 wins return a minimum of half their starters:

n Herbert Hoover (25-6) — Shaun Dotson (.447, 39 RBIs), Joel Ridenour (.432, 33 RBIs), Matt Justice (.390), Tommy Parrish, Chase Stover;

n Nitro (24-8) — Matt Harrison (.439, 30 RBIs), Matt Jewell (.385), Kip Brewer (4-2, 2.33), Jacob Bradley (6-0, 2.06), Andrew Stone (.416), Eddie Flores;

n Charleston Catholic (21-11) — Sam McKown (.390, 45 RBIs), Jordan Covelli (.382, 25 RBIs), Thad Jameson, Dave Hamilton, Luke McKown, Michael Martin, Alex Belcher, Dominic Marsico, Trae Swisher.

n George Washington (21-14) — John Thomas (.462, 4-3 pitching), Clayton Anderson (.333, 36 RBIs), Josh Petit (.359), Jeff Wong (4-4, 2.18), Connor Moffatt, Garrett Vogelbach, Austin Henrich and Ty McClanahan.

n Poca, which lost in the regional finals by a single run despite a 12-21 record, returns seven starters in Noah Frampton (.410, 29 RBIs), Luke Frampton (.396), Matt Chandler (.370, 21 RBIs), Bubba Hill (.342), Brett Watts, Skyler Vealey and Carson Cottrill.

Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or

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