MAN — The Man High School baseball team closed out the regular season with a 14-10 record, much better than last year’s seven-win campaign.
Man head coach Larry Vance and the Hillbillies hope to take care of business this week in their best-of-three Class A sectional series with the Tug Valley Panthers.
Tug Valley has struggled mightily this season and enter the sectional with a 4-11-1 record.
Man and Tug Valley did not officially meet this season. An April 3 contest at Naugatuck was suspended by lightning and rain in the third inning with the Hillbillies leading 7-0. An attempt to make up that game at Man coupled together with another scheduled meeting also ended up with the doubleheader getting rained out.
Game 1 is scheduled for Monday at Tug Valley in a 5:30 p.m. contest. Game 2 is set to be played on Tuesday at Man. If a decisive Game 3 is needed it would be played on Wednesday at an undetermined site.
Man swept the Panthers in two games to win the sectional tourney and look to do so again this time. The Billies are heavily favored to beat Tug Valley in two. Man, however, limps into the sectionals off losses to River View (10-0), 2A county rival Chapmanville (10-0), 3A county rival Logan (12-0) and Charleston Catholic (11-10).
Man coach Larry Vance said his team is taking nothing for granted.
“We match up well with anybody,” Vance said. “We’ve got to play good defense and hit the ball in order for us to advance. We haven’t played terrible defense, just in spurts, and that pretty much is the same for our offense. We are hitting in spurts and that’s just baseball.”
Coach Vance, now in his eighth year, hopes his team can challenge for a berth in the Class A state tournament. Vance has taken Man to Charleston before — a total of three times — including two state runner-up finishes to his credit.
The Billies hope to take some steps toward Charleston this spring.
It begins at Naugatuck on Monday.
Man went into rebuilding mode last season after a disastrous 0-13 start. The Billies then began to turn things around and showed signs of improvement toward the end of the season as the Billies went 5-4 in their last nine games and won the Class A sectional championship with 7-1 and 16-1 decisions over Tug Valley.
The Billies, which finished 7-23 last year, were eventually ousted 3-2 at Valley Fayette in the regional tourney.
Man hopes to advance once again to the regional tourney.
With the seven-win improvement for Man this year what has been the difference?
Just about everywhere as Man has improved in all facets of the game.
The most dramatic has been the pitching.
Last year, Man’s pitching staff had a combined 6.54 ERA with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 178 to 151.
This spring, the Billies’ team ERA has been sliced to 2.80 — a marked improved from 2013. Man’s pitchers have 165 strikeouts and have issued just 81 walks in 150 total innings.
Mikle Scott Rowe enters the sectionals with a 4-0 record and 1.75 ERA. He has struck out 25 and walked 10 in 20 innings of work.
Braden Griffin is 2-3 with one save and a 1.09 ERA. Griffin has tossed 38.1 innings and has yielded just six earned runs with 55 strikeouts and 14 walks.
Jake Adkins has a 2-3 record and a 1.29 ERA. Adkins has tossed 32.1 innings and has given up only six earned runs with 36 strikeouts and 11 walks.
Sophomore John Thomas Keffer has a 2-0 record with a 3.75 ERA. Keffer has fired 18.2 innings has has 15 strikeouts and has walked 10.
Austin Cook (3-1, 6.26 ERA) and freshman Cameron Simpson (0-0, 2.47 ERA) have also seen action on the hill for the Billies as well as five others.
Coach Vance has already named his starters for the series with Tug Valley. Adkins is set to start in Game 1 with Griffin getting the nod in the second game.
“I’m really tickled with our pitching,” Vance said. “We go with Jake Adkins in Game One and then Braden Griffin in Game Two against Tug Valley. We have had a six-man rotation this year and all have pitched well. Along with Adkins and Griffin we have Mikle Scott Rowe, John Thomas Keffer, Austin Cook and freshman Cameron Simpson in our rotation. Our three guy, Mikle Scott Rowe has done a great job for us.”
Man’s bats have come around this season with a respectable team batting average of .280. Last year, the punchless Billies hit just .259.
Griffin leads Man at the plate heading into the sectionals with a .448 batting average with four home runs and 18 RBI. He also has 10 doubles and one triple.
Outfielder Baley Beckwith has a .312 average with three doubles, a triple and 12 RBI.
Cayce Mullins is batting .293 with three home runs and 12 RBI with five doubles.
Simpson, Man’s freshman shortstop, is hitting at a .293 clip with two doubles.
Noah Maynard has a .303 batting average with two home runs and 18 RBI along with five doubles and two triples.
Keffer has two homers and 15 RBI and a .232 average. Kenny Joe Adkins is hitting .228 with four RBI.
Tyler Blair, a freshman, has a .265 average.
“As for our hitting, I have moved two freshmen at the top of the lineup with leadoff man Cameron Simpson and hitting in the No. 2 spot is Tyler Blair,” Coach Vance said. “Baley Beckwith has led off most of the year but we needed some pop in the bottom of the lineup and that has really paid off for us. Mikle Scott Rowe has the hottest bat for the last two weeks and Braden Griffin is our top hitter this season. Cayce Mullins has good pop in his bat and senior Noah Maynard has hit well for us this year too. John Thomas Keffer has pounded the baseball in a stretch and we need to get his bat back.”
Beckwith leads the team in stolen bases with nine. He has not been caught stealing all season.
Adkins has seven steals and Griffin six.
“Beckwith hit well early but has cooled off some but he is still battling,” Coach Vance said. “Kenny Joe Adkins has raised his batting average 125 points in the last two weeks. We’ve got a lofty goal and a realistic chance of getting there if we play good baseball. We have six seniors in Noah Maynard, Cayce Mullins, Joe Rosser, Thomas Holt and Brian Trent.”
Vance is assisted by Bill Lusk, Nick Booth, Todd Clark and Zac Cox.
Charleston Catholic 11,
Jordan Covelli’s fielder’s choice scored Nick Russo with the winning run as Charleston Catholic picked up a home victory over Man, 11-10, on Friday night in the regular season finale for the Hillbillies.
Russo was 3-for-4 with a double for the Irish (19-9).
Braden Griffin added two hits, including a double, and two RBI for the Man (14-10).
2014 Man High School
Baseball Schedule (14-10):
March 27: Lincoln County, W 10-0
March 31: at River View, W 9-8
April 1: Chapmanville, L 1-3
April 3: at Tug Valley, Susp. rain (3rd), 7-0
April 5: at Valley Fayette, W 7-1
April 8: Sherman, W 7-4
April 9: Westside, W 13-3
April 11: at Liberty Raleigh, W 3-2
April 12: at Fayetteville, L 6-13
April 12: at Oak Hill, W 13-11
April 14: Charleston Catholic, L 1-5
April 16: at Lincoln County, W 14-2
April 17: Valley Fayette, W 11-6
April 18: Buffalo, W 3-2
April 19: Moorefield, L 1-4
April 22: at Logan, L 0-10
April 23: at Belfry, Ky., W 11-7
April 26: at Buffalo, L 2-3 (11)
April 30: Mount View, W 17-0
May 1: at Sherman, L 9-12
May 3: Liberty Raleigh, W 3-1
May 5: at Westside, W 9-8
May 6: River View, L 0-10
May 7: at Chapmanville, L 0-10
May 8: Logan, L 0-12
May 9: at Charleston Catholic, L 10-11
May 12: at Tug Valley (Class A sectionals), 5:30 p.m.
May 13: Tug Valley (Class A sectionals), 5:30 p.m.