By Jerry Fekete Banner Correspondent
June 3, 2014
MAN — The Man High School baseball team is excited to make it back to the Class A state tournament.
The Hillbillies advanced to state with last week’s 3-1 win at home over Greenbrier West in the Class A Region 3 championship game.
Man is scheduled to open state tourney play on Thursday at 7:15 p.m. at Charleston’s Appalachian Power Park against St. Marys (29-2). The Blue Devils are making their first trip to state since 1990.
The other Class A state semifinal is set for Thursday at 4:30 p.m. as Gilmer County (25-10) takes on Clarksburg Notre Dame (26-6).
The two winners meet on Saturday at 10 a.m. in the Class A state championship game.
For the Hillbillies, it’s their first appearance in the state tournament since 2010 when Man was 26-11 and lost 8-3 to Weirton Madonna in the Class A state championship game. It was the second year in a row Man had reached the state finals. In 2009, Man was also the state runner-ups with a 9-3 loss to Moorefield in the finals.
Jake Adkins pitched the complete game win for the Billies in the Greenbrier West game as he allowed one unearned run on four hits with seven strikeouts and one walk.
The Billies have been dominant in post-season play.
Man blanked Tug Valley 12-0 and 14-0 on May 12-13 in the Class A sectional tournament, then shut out Sherman, 5-0, on last Monday in the regional semifinals.
Man coach Varry Vance has now guided the Billies to four state tournament trips.
The first trip was back in 2005 when the Billies lost 7-0 in the Class A state semifinals to Clarksburg Notre Dame.
Man went 1-1 in 2009, downing Madonna 5-3 in 10 innings in the semifinals before falling to Moorefield in the state championship game.
Vance also led the Billies to a 1-1 state tournament showing in 2010 as Man won 16-5 over Fayetteville in the semifinals and lost to Madonna in the finals.
Man has shown great improvement since last year when the Billies struggled to a 6-23 season.
The Billies’ players are glad to put Man’s baseball program back on the map after missing the state tournament the last three years.
Man’s leading hitter and pitcher Braden Griffin said he’s happy to help the Billies make it back to Charleston. Griffin leads the team in hits (41), singles (23), doubles (12), home runs (5), walks (20), batting average (.471), and slugging percentage (.805). He’s also 4-3 on the mound with a 1.09 ERA with 85 strikeouts in a 55-inning worksheet.
“We have a good opportinity to make things happern. We have had other teams accomplish it to but we want more,” he said.
Griffin, who is scheduled to pitch against St. Marys, said Man’s pitching staff has shown great improvement this season as the Billies have lowered their team ERA to 2.87 from last year’s mark of 6.54.
“Definitely the pitching has improved. We had good pitching from start to finish,” Griffin said.
Griffin said Man doesn’t know that much about the Blue Devils.
“I don’t know anything about them, but it doesn’t matter who we play. We’ve got to be ready Thursday and we will be,” he said.
Sophomore John Thomas Keffer said he’s thrilled to play in the state tournament.
“It’s a great accomplishment for the team and I,” he said. “Pitching and defense were the difference this season. They say St. Mary’s has lot of good pitching, so we’ve got to hit the ball.”
Noah Maynard agreed with Keffer.
“Our pitching and defense were the keys this season,” he said. “It’s a great acomplishment for us to get there. I heard they (St. Marys) have got hitting and sound pitching, but if we play our game we have a chance to win.”
Cayce Mullins, another Man starter, said the Billies must go and take care of business.
“It’s a great feeling and I’m excited to play in the state tournament,” Mullins said. “Our pitching and our bats have gotten us there. We know they (St. Marys) are a good team. They have been solid all year. We just have to go and play ball and don’t let them control our destiny.”
Starting outfielder Baley Beckwith said Man must adjust to “The App” and hit the ball in the spacious Charleston ballpark.
“It is a good opportunity for us. We have a good chance of winning, but we must put the bat on the ball,” Beckwith said. “We were more focused this year as a team and we hit the ball better. We heard they (St. Marys) hit the ball well and have a few good pitchers, so we have to play good defense, too.”
Jake Adkins said everyone is thrilled.
“I’m excited for me, the team and town,” he said. “We know St. Marys has a good team but if we play our game we can beat them.”
Mikle Scott Rowe said the Billies improved in all parts of the game this spring.
“The pitching, defense and batting were all better,” Rowe said. “We’re very excited and looking forward to playing in the state tournament. It’s going to be tough. We must play harder and get good pitching and we must back it up with good defense.”
Tyler Blair is just a freshman on the Man team and said it’s been a wonderful year.
“It’s been nerve-racking but I’m glad we made it,” Blair said. “If we come out and play good defense we will be OK.”
Blair said it’s a big change from playing at the middle school level.
“The pitching is faster and it’s been much more challenging and fun,” he said.
Shortstop Cameron Simpson is another freshman starter for Man.
“It’s been a great experience. It’s fun and I hope we can pull out two big wins,” said Simpson, the younger brother to former Man standout baseball and basketball player Jordan Simpson, who led Man to the 2010 state baseball tournament.
Like Blair, Simpson said the jump from middle school baseball to the varsity has been a big one.
“The pitching is a lot better,” he said. “I hope this experience will help me later in life. I just hope we can go out there and get another win.”
Starting infielder Kenny Joe Adkins said this season has been the culmination of a year’s worth of hard work.
“It’s pretty amazing to make it there but it gets you nervous,” Adkins said. ” We’ve got better pitching and hitting this year. We just have to go out there and make adjustments against them.”
Tyler Dugan said Man wants to go and get two wins.
“It’s a good accomplishment. We just do not want to go there but we want to win it,” Dugan said. “It’s been a complete turnaround this season. We got more serious and we started to win games. Our pitching and defense were also much better. They (St. Marys) are a good team but I think that we can compete with anybody in the state.”
St. Marys advanced to state with a 6-3 win over Bishop Donahue in the Class A Region 1 final.
“We’ve come so close to getting there over the years, getting the regional finals and getting beat, but we finally got one this year. It feels great,” veteran coach Ed Wilson told WVMetro News.
The Blue Devils were undefeated at home and against fellow Class A opponents this season. The only two losses came against Class AA teams Ravenswood and Bridgeport. The Bridgeport Indians play Chapmanville Regional on Friday at 5 p.m. in one of the two Class AA state semifinals in Charleston.
St. Marys is led by junior left-handed pitcher Michael Stout, who struck out eight batters and scattered four hits to earn the complete game win over Bishop Donahue.
“He’s been pitching great for us here at the end of the season when we’ve needed him,” Wilson said of Stout.
St. Marys is seeking its first state championship since 1981 when the Blue Devils won Class AA for its only baseball championship. Man has never won a state title in baseball.
— Logan Banner Sports Editor Paul Adkins contributed to this report.
West Virginia State Baseball
CHARLESTON — A schedule for the 2014 high school baseball state tournament from Appalachian Power Park in Charleston.
Thursday, June 5
4:30 p.m. — Gilmer County (25-10) vs. Notre Dame (26-6)
Approximately 7:15 p.m. — St. Marys (29-2) vs. Man (19-11)
Friday, June 6
10 a.m. — Washington (23-4) vs. Hurricane (27-7)
Approximately 12:45 p.m. — Riverside (19-10) vs. Wheeling Park (20-6)
5 p.m. — Bridgeport (30-6) vs. Chapmanville (28-6)
Approximately 7:45 p.m. — Fairmont Senior (22-7) vs. Independence (26-7)
Saturday, June 7
10 a.m. — Class A championship game
Approximately 1 p.m. — Class AAA championship game
Approximately 4 p.m. — Class AA championship game