By RUSTY UDY
When the 2019 baseball season opened up, the question running rampant around the state of West Virginia was, is there a Class AA team that can dethrone five-time defending state champion Bridgeport?
Ultimately, the answer to that question was, no.
Under the guidance of veteran skipper Robert Shields, the Indians again bested the Class AA competition, winning their sixth straight championship.
"This was a team that had to work hard to get to the state championship game," Shields said. "We didn't execute well at points throughout the season. We had played Scott and played Frankfort during the regular season and beat them, but we didn't beat the Morgantowns, the Erie-McDowells (Pa.), the Spring Valleys and the GWs. I gauge my teams by how they fare and I was a little skeptical. But I did believe in our kids overall."
The state championship formula for Bridgeport was a familiar one - a strong pitching performance from its ace, followed by a stellar performance from a player no one really expected to pitch.
Senior ace Tim Via pitched the Indians past Shady Spring in the state semifinals before Shields handed the ball to big-hitting first baseman Nick Stalnaker in the championship game against Frankfort.
Prior to the championship game, Stalnaker - only a junior - had pitched just seven innings all season.
"Timmy was hot in the postseason and he was really on top of his game," Shields said. "He has done just a phenomenal job from being a reliever as a sophomore to being a starter his junior and senior year. Stalnaker is just an athlete, probably the best athlete in the school, and he is just a gamer."
In addition to helping Bridgeport earn a sixth state championship, Stalnaker, Via and teammate Ryan Goff were each named Class AA first-team all-staters by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association.
"Ryan earned the respect from his peers last year as a freshman. We brought him in slowly and he helped us beat James Monroe (in the 2018 semifinals) with a real tough at-bat. His defensive skills are amazing, and he has grown into a solid offensive player as well."
Prior to the state tournament, Via was 6-1 on the mound with 43 strikeouts, while Stalnaker hit .404 with 20 RBIs. Goff batted .381 on the year with two home runs and 18 RBIs.
WVU signee Carter Lyles of Scott captains the first team as a pitcher and is joined by fellow Skyhawks Nathan Kuhn (.560, 34 RBIs) at utility and Isaac Miller (.406, 27 RBIs) as an
Lyles was 8-1 over the regular season with an ERA just under 1.00, striking out 83 batters in 55 innings of work. Lyles also hit .402 with 11 doubles and 29 RBIs.
"Carter came in this year in the best shape of his life," Scott head coach Brett Kuhn said. "He came in focused, and I saw a maturity about Carter this year. He was going to take the bull by the horns and go after hitters this season."
Chapmanville senior Connor Mullins (6-2, 0.62 ERA, 106 Ks) rounds out the first-team pitchers, while junior Eli Kirkendoll (.479, 6 HR, 39 RBI) from Lincoln County is the first-team catcher. Class AA runner-up Frankfort earned two first-team selections in utility player Caleb Hare (.457, 48 hits) and infielder Zach Whitacre (.404, 42 hits).
Shady Spring returned to the state tournament for the first time in 13 years and was led by two senior first-team selections in infielder Noel Sizemore (.390, 3 HR, 13 SB) and outfielder Justin Lovell (.420. 6 HR, 36 RBI).
"Without those two players, we couldn't have achieved as much as we did," Shady Spring head coach Dave Shaw said. "Both of them have been clutch in big games this year and are very talented players."
Rounding out the first team are senior infielder Zach Robeson (.489, 3 HR, 27 RBI) from Sissonville, senior outfielder Mason Hamrick (.391, 5 2B, 26 RBI) from Nitro and sophomore utility player Ethan Payne (.448, 24 RBI, 2.23 ERA) from Poca.
Sophomore Nick Holtzapfel (7-1. 0.86 ERA, 60 K) from Winfield captains the second team and leads a trio of pitchers that includes junior Tommy Williams (7.0, 2.20 ERA, 44 K) from Shady Spring and senior Peyton Brown (9-1, 1.99 ERA, 53 K) from Scott.
Eric Hoosier (.525, 12 2B, 22 RBI), a senior from Wyoming East, is the second-team catcher. Teammate McQuade Canada (.434, 7 2B, 20 RBI), a junior, earned one of four infield spots. Matt St. Clair (.402, 13 2B, 23 RBI), Shady Spring's senior third baseman, joins Canada in the infield, along with sophomore Peyton Stover (.363, 21 RBI, 30 SB) from Winfield and senior Hunter Poole from Petersburg.
Senior Jacob Oates from Braxton County heads up the second-team outfielders, along with senior Jake Whiting (.420, 17 RBI, 25 SB) from Roane County and sophomore Casey Hurley (.460, 32 RBI) from Chapmanville.
The four second-team utility selections are seniors Hunter Moore (5-2, .342, 28 RBI) from Lincoln, MIles Williams (.387, 17 RBI, 20 SB) from Point Pleasant, junior Lane Jordan (4-1, 1.32 ERA, .375) from Oak Hill and junior Dawson Beckett from Logan (.383, 23 RBI, 1.77 ERA).
BRANHAM, BERRY ALSO ALL-STATE: Logan High School's Peyton Branham and Chapmanville Regional High School's Chase Berry were also named Honorable Mention All-State.
Their names were left out of the earlier all-state list supplied by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association which was published in Friday's Logan Banner sports section.
Also named Honorable Mention was Mingo Central's Andrew Allen, another name added to later lists.
Chapmanville's Connor Mullins was on the First Team, while Casey Hurley was named to the Second Team.
Logan High School had two other players make it to All-State as junior Dawson Beckett was picked to the Second Team as a utility player. Braydon McClung was named Special Honorable Mention All-State.
Logan Banner sports editor Paul Adkins contributed to this report.