With one of the youngest everyday starting lineups in the state, St. Albans didn’t let its youth stand in the way of success, capturing the school’s first Class AAA title in baseball.
Now, some of that youth is being rewarded, as a pair of Red Dragon sophomores has been selected to the all-state first team by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association.
Pitcher-infielder Nick Loftis and pitcher-outfielder Jake Carr both joined the squad at utility positions, signifying their varied contributions for St. Albans, which went 32-9 this season and topped Hurricane 8-2 in the title game.
“They both had phenomenal years,” said SA coach Rick Whitman. “They put in a lot of work and got better, and any accolades they get, they earned. They pitched a lot of big games for us, and are just two really good, young players.”
Much of the season, St. Albans started four sophomores, two freshmen, two juniors and two seniors.
Hurricane, regarded as perhaps the state’s best team all season, also had two first-teamers in senior pitcher Garrett Gress and senior outfielder Evan Dearing. Gress was picked as the first-team captain.
The rest of the 15-player first team included pitchers Austin Cross (Jefferson) and Michael Maiolo (Woodrow Wilson), catcher Cameron Pine (Washington), infielders Daylon Colley (Greenbrier East), Kirk Jennings (Cabell Midland), Kyle Goodwin (Parkersburg) and Jordan Page (Morgantown), outfielders Spencer Delawder (Washington) and Patrick Wagner (Huntington) and utility players Colby Werry (Spring Mills) and Anthony Jarvis (Ripley).
Both Loftis and Carr had their shining moments during the state tournament last week at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston.
During a 16-6 victory against Washington in the semifinals, Loftis pitched four innings of one-hit relief and struck out six as the Red Dragons rallied from a 6-2 deficit. He also went 3 for 4 with a double and an RBI.
Carr led off the championship game against Hurricane with a home run — the lone homer of the entire state tournament — kick-starting SA’s win. He also added a sacrifice fly later in the game and chased down four fly balls in center field.
“Jake is our sparkplug on offense,” Whitman said. “He leads off, he gets on base and makes things happen.”
Loftis led the team in pitching wins (10-1) and innings worked (71 2/3), striking out 81 and fashioning a 1.56 earned run average. As the No. 3 man in the batting order, he hit .345 with two homers and 27 RBIs.
Carr was also a vital cog in the lineup, hitting .349 with three homers, 17 RBIs, 27 runs scored and drew 34 walks, bumping his on-base percentage to .503. On the mound, he was electric, averaging nearly two strikeouts per inning — 110 in 56 1/3 innings, carrying a 6-2 record and 2.61 ERA.
The team St. Albans beat in the state finals, Hurricane, joined Washington as the only other school to provide a pair of first-team selections.
Gress served as the team’s top pitcher when pro prospect Aaron Perry went down with a stress fracture in his pitching elbow in mid-April. Gress finished 11-0 with a 0.77 ERA and 80 strikeouts in 72 1/3 innings. He walked only 10 batters all season.
Dearing batted .361 and ranked among the team leaders in runs scored (33), RBIs (28) and committed only two errors all season playing in the outfield.
Gress and Dearing were the only two senior starters for the Redskins (30-8) and were both hailed as unselfish and well-rounded players by coach Brian Sutphin.
“Those two guys are the epitome of what you would want a high school athlete to be,” Sutphin said. “First of all, they’re tremendous students, good players and good teammates. And another thing they have in common is they got better every year — which is not a guarantee. They made substantial jumps from ninth grade to 10th, 10th to 11th and this year, made the next big jump as seniors and leaders.
“Not only were they good offensive players, but good defensive players and baserunners — they were complete, all-around players who win games. Both guys do multiple things to help you win games.”
Here are capsule looks at the rest of the first-team selections:
n Cross: The top pitcher for the Cougars, who had won the two previous AAA titles. Went 7-2 with 55 strikeouts in 54 2/3 innings and carried a 0.64 ERA. Also hit .333 as a first baseman.
n Maiolo: Flashed dominant stuff on the mound for the Flying Eagles, fanning 64 in 44 innings and going 5-1 with a 1.89 ERA. Batted .426 and drove in 18 runs.
n Pine: Helped the Patriots reached the state tournament for a second time by hitting .468 with 35 RBIs and a .578 OBP. Slapped a three-run double in the state tourney loss to St. Albans.
n Colley: Regarded as one of the leading hitters in the state, he batted .441 with seven home runs, seven doubles and drove in 33 runs for the Spartans.
n Jennings: The No. 3 hitter in the order for the Knights, he launched nine homers and drove in 30 runs while batting .427. He scored 28 runs and carried an .840 slugging percentage.
n Goodwin: Made just two errors all season, playing mostly at shortstop, and hit .431 with 10 doubles, 15 RBIs and was 13 of 13 in stolen bases. On the mound, had three complete games, two saves and a 2.19 ERA.
n Page: His .460 batting average led the team as the Mohigans reached the state tournament for the first time since 1976. One of 13 seniors on the roster, he’s started since his freshman season.
n Delawder: Renowned for his defensive play in the outfield, he also hit .375 with 30 RBIs and 10 steals and compiled a .548 on-base percentage.
n Wagner: The leadoff hitter for the Highlanders, he batted .417 with 10 doubles, 31 runs scored and swiped 25 bases. He socked one homer and drove in 12 runs.
n Werry: As a pitcher, went 5-2 with a 1.60 ERA and 58 K’s in 48 innings. As a batter, hit .407 with 22 RBIs, scored 28 times and stole 11 bases.
n Jarvis: Led the Vikings in hitting (.448), and also had three homers, 21 RBIs, 22 walks, a .602 OBP and .731 slugging percentage. Committed only two errors in 59 chances.
The captain of the second team was senior pitcher Jack Dubyak of Washington.