MAN — For Man High School baseball coach Larry Vance this is the third group of players that he has sent to the Class A state tournament.
Back in 2005, Man made its first trip, falling to Clarksburg Notre Dame in the Class A state semifinals.
Then in 2009 and 2010, Man made it to the state championship game but lost both times to Moorefield and Weirton Madonna.
The Hillbillies get another shot this weekend.
It all begins on Thursday at 7:15 p.m. as Man (19-12) is scheduled to take on St. Marys (29-2) in one of the two Class A state semifinals at Charleston’s Appalachian Power Park. The other Final Four game is set for 4:30 p.m. on Thursday as Gilmer County (25-10) plays Notre Dame (26-6).
The two winners meet on Saturday at 10 a.m. in the state championship game. The Class AAA and Class AA state finals then follow.
For Man it will be the fourth trip to the state tournament in nine years under Coach Vance.
“I had a group of kids make it in 2005. Then in 2009 and 20010 that group of players made it and now 2014 is the third group,” Vance said.
The Billies made a big turnaround from last year’s team which won only seven games and started off the season 0-12.
“Last year’s club only won seven games and the difference this year is that we are a year older and got of lot of expericence from a year ago,” Vance said. “We were just so young last year but we came on strong at the end of last year winning several games.”
Part of Man’s turnaround can be attributed to its pitching staff which has lowered its team ERA to just 2.87 this season. Last year, Man had pitching woes as its team ERA was a sky-high 6.54.
Leading the Billies’ pitching staff are a pair of left-handers in Braden Griffin and Jake Adkins. Griffin was 4-3 this season with a team-best 1.09 ERA. He tossed 55 innings and struck out a staff-high 85 batters and walked 24 to go along with one save.
Adkins was 5-3 with a 1.14 ERA. He pitched 49 innings, fanning 59 and walking only 12. As a whole, Man pitchers recorded 225 strikeouts and walked 103 in 195.1 innings of work.
“The pitching has been good,” Vance said. “It’s the best one two to take to the states in Braden Griffin and Jake Adkins. Before we had only one top pitcher and that kind of hurt us. Both are underclassmen as Griffin is a junior and Adkins just a sophomore. I’m tickled to death that Jake came out for baseball this year for us. He has won some big games. Braden has pitched against a lot of Class AA teams that we have played and they have said that Braden is the best pitcher that they have faced all year.”
Griffin has also led Man’s offensive attack. Heading into the state tournament, Griffin leads the team in hits (41), singles (23), doubles (12), home runs (5), walks (20), batting average (.471), and slugging percentage (.805).
“Braden led us in hitting this year and he has good power. He is a very good baseball player,” Vance said.
Man has also gotten some offensive production from catcher Cayce Mullins, who is hitting .323 with four home runs, 17 RBI and seven doubles.
Freshman shortstop Cameron Simpson has a .304 average with 13 RBI and four doubles.
Outfielder Baley Beckwith has a .309 batting average going into the state tourney with 14 RBI, three doubles and a triple.
First baseman Noah Maynard is batting .301 with three homers, 23 RBI, six doubles and two three-baggers.
Sophomore John Thomas Keffer has a .289 average with three home runs, 19 RBI and four doubles.
Mikle Scott Rowe (.253, two homers, 16 RBI and two doubles), Kenny Joe Adkins (.244, 10 RBI, three doubles and one triple) and freshman Tyler Blair (.291, 10 RBI and four doubles) have also contributed.
Twelve different Billies have pitched this spring.
In addition to Griffin and Adkins, Rowe (4-0, 2.91 ERA), Simpson (0-0, 2.47), Austin Cook (3-1, 6.26) and Keffer (2-2, 5.76) have also seen significent mound time. Rowe has 27 strikeouts in 24 innings of work.
But it’s not just pitching and hitting.
Vance said Man has also improved its defense and that has cut down the runs scored by the opposing teams.
“We have played good defense,” Vance said. “Baley Beckwith made two good plays for us in the Greenbrier West game in right field. Our pitcher’s are holding the runners well and senior catcher Cayce Mullins has thrown out the last six runners for us this year. The word has gotten out that you can’t steal on Man. We have a good combo in that. Derek Messer has came in and run the bases well for us. We lead off with two freshmen in Cameron Simpson and Tyler Blair and they have done great for us. John Thomas Keffer and Noah Maynard have held down the corners at first and third. Kenny Joe Adkins is a versatile player who can play both outfield and shortstop for us defending on who’s on the mound for us, so we have no drop off there. Keffer had that big home run for us against West.”
Man should have its hands full with St. Marys.
The Blue Devils won 6-3 over Bishop Donahue in last week’s Region 1 championship game and are making their first trip to the state tournament since 1990. St. Marys won 10-0 over Clay Battelle in the regional semifinals to advance.
St. Marys lost 15-9 on May 22 at Class AA state tournament bound Bridgeport in a tuneup game. The loss snapped a 12-game winning streak. The only other loss by the Blue Devils was a 21-8 setback on April 22 at Ravenswood.
The Blue Devils go into the state tourney with an undefeated record against Class A teams.
“I got to go and scout St. Marys last week in their regional final game,” Coach Vance said. “They have a good ballclub. Anybody left now is a good team. It all boils down to who plays better that day. They have good pitching and put the bat on the ball and some of their players have some pop in their bats.”
Man has yet to win a state title in baseball.
Back in 2010 the Billies were close as it led Madonna in the middle innings before falling 8-3 to the Blue Dons. Man lost 9-3 to the Moorefield Yellow Jackets in the 2009 Class A state championship game.
St. Marys is equally excited to play in the Big Dance.
“Everybody is excited. We’re ready to go,” St. Marys coach Ed Wilson told WVMetro News. “It’s been a long time since we’ve been down there.”
Leading the way for St. Marys on the mound this year have been Robbie Harper (9-2, 1.16 ERA), Michael Stout (6-0, 1.48 ERA) and Tyler Davis (6-0, 2.19 ERA). Jarrod Lough, Garrett Furr and Matt Houser also have combined for an 8-0 record for the Blue Devils.
“We have a deep pitching staff and then offensively have scored 336 runs. We’ve hit 22 home runs as a team, which is probably the most we’ve had as a team since I’ve been coaching,” Wilson said.
Lough has also carried a big stick.
Going into the state tournament, he leads St. Marys with a .485 batting average and 39 RBI.
Catcher John Riggs has also been key this season and has a .461 batting average with seven home runs and 46 RBI.
“I’ve got some kids who can sing the bat,” Wilson said. “We’ve known all along that we had a good bunch of kids for this year and anticipated the potential to get back to the state tournament.”
Man and St. Marys have reportedly never met on the baseball diamond.
“Anytime you get to the state tournament, any of those four teams can win two games in a row,” Vance said. “It’s wide open in Class A.”
West Virginia State
At Appalachian Power Park, Charleston
Gilmer County (25-10) vs. Notre Dame (26-6), 4:30 p.m.
St. Marys (29-2) vs. Man (19-12), approximately 7:15 p.m.
Washington (23-4) vs. Hurricane (27-7), 10 a.m.
Riverside (19-10) vs. Wheeling Park (20-6), approximately 12:45 p.m.
Bridgeport (30-6) vs. Chapmanville (29-6), 5 p.m.
Fairmont Senior (22-7) vs. Independence (26-7), approximately 7:45 p.m.
Class A, 10 a.m.
Class AAA, approximately 1 p.m.
Class AA, approximately 4 p.m.