By Greg Carey
The Exponent Telegram
BRIDGEPORT — At the outset of the 2017 baseball season, Bridgeport was tasked with replacing perhaps the most successful senior class in school history from a year ago if it had realistic aspirations of claiming a fourth consecutive Class AA state championship.
Much of that responsibility fell to the eight seniors on the Indians’ roster this year. One in particular — catcher Drew Hefner — took it upon himself to help ensure the program would set a state record by notching a fourth straight state title.
The left-handed-hitting Hefner, a standout batter and defensive player, was chosen captain of the Class AA all-state team by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association.
“I’ve put my heart and soul into this game and it’s real awesome to see some of the rewards that come out of it,” Hefner said. “I just wanted to work the count, get my pitch and try to drive it where the guys aren’t.”
In addition to being a stellar catcher who aided the Indians’ pitching staff throughout the season, Hefner was the team’s top hitter with a .434 average, 45 RBIs, 11 doubles and four home runs.
Two of Hefner’s teammates join him on the first team in senior J.T. Harris and junior pitcher Brayden Lesher.
Harris, a leadoff hitter and shortstop, scored 60 runs with a .368 batting average, eight doubles and 30 stolen bases.
Lesher picked up the win in the state championship against Weir with a strong five-inning effort and finished the year 8-1 with 62 strikeouts in 55 2/3 innings pitched. He allowed 19 runs on a mere 33 hits.
“In my mind, those kids did a great job for us filling a role within the team,” Bridgeport coach Robert Shields said. “For us to achieve the goal that we had this year, it had to come from different areas and I’m proud of those three, because when you win, awards come after that and all three kids are deserving.”
The runner-up Red Riders and state semifinalist Wayne each followed with a pair of first-team players.
From Weir, senior pitcher Michael Mills and junior utility selection Chris Gillette were chosen. Mills was 9-1 on the mound with 99 strikeouts after helping his team oust the Pioneers in Charleston. Gillette entered the state tournament with a .432 batting average, two home runs, eight doubles and 20 RBIs.
Senior utility pick Dakota McCloud and junior infielder Cayden Ross were Wayne’s first-team picks. Ahead of the state tournament, McCloud was 5-2 as a pitcher with 73 strikeouts, 14 walks and a 1.83 ERA in 57 1/3 innings. Additionally, McCloud hit at a .432 clip with nine doubles, six home runs and 37 RBIs. Ross was a standout shortstop with a .404 average, 33 RBIs, 31 runs and six doubles.
James Monroe junior Grant Mohler is a first-team infielder after he helped lead his team to a state semifinalist finish. Mohler had a .456 batting average with 40 runs, 16 RBIs and 39 stolen bases.
Lincoln senior Kobie Carpenter rounds out the first-team infielders after keying the Cougars’ offense with a .520 average, 36 RBIs and 30 stolen bases.
Elkins pitcher Adam Riggleman, a senior southpaw, joins Lesher and Mills as first-team pitchers. Riggleman posted a 1.58 ERA in 53 innings and struck out 85.
Liberty Raleigh junior Trenton Begley and Sissonville senior Zac Boggess are the other two first-team utility picks.
Begley was 5-1 with 86 strikeouts and a 1.51 ERA in 46 1/3 innings. He was equally effective at the plate and hit .452 with seven doubles, three triples and 24 RBIs.
Boggess struck out 102 batters and was 9-2 on the mound with a 2.30 ERA, while batting .424 and driving in 17 runs.
Nitro junior Mike Stone, Chapmanville junior Noah Dingess and Braxton County senior Braden Poling comprise the first-team outfield.
Stone had a .454 average with 24 RBIs and 20 runs. Dingess had 17 extra-bases hits, including 10 doubles and five triples, while driving in 32 runs with an impressive .440 average. Poling was a .432 hitter and had a strong season pitching as he finished 7-1.
Wayne senior pitcher Cody Noe captains the all-state second team and is joined by Bridgeport senior Gordon Swiger and Winfield senior Evan Clay as pitchers on the second unit.
Braxton’s Troy McMillion, a senior, was chosen second-team catcher, while the infield spots belong to Robert C. Byrd junior Tre Junkins, Herbert Hoover senior Tanner Purdy, Logan junior T. Jay Mullins and PikeView senior Seth Meadows.
Lincoln senior Chase Riley, Logan senior Willie Akers and Berkeley Springs junior Tobin Whittington make up the second-team outfield.
Man senior Cam Simpson, Scott sophomore Nathan Kuhn, Logan junior Matt Brown and Oak Glen senior Noah Feicht round out the second team as utility selections.