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For Irish, it's all good

Probably the most impressive thing about Charleston Catholic's swift start - 15-4 and counting - is the fact that the Irish have yet to play a real stinker.

In a sport like baseball, with the multitude of games and the dynamics dictated by pitching matchups, even the best of the best suffer through an occasional off day.

So far, though, the Irish really haven't.

Their four losses - to Point Pleasant, Buffalo, Williamstown and Madonna - have all come to teams included in the Gazette's state ratings, and each came by a single run.

"No, we haven't [played a bad game],'' said Irish coach Bill Mehle following Tuesday's 11-0 win against Buffalo. "We've been able to flip the switch and come out every day - win or lose - and play the game as competitively as we can. Our guys have really responded to that, not getting too high or too low, staying confident and competing.''

Mehle mentioned a 9-8 loss to Madonna last week during the Catholic tournament in Parkersburg as perhaps the team's least-stellar effort of the season. The Irish fell behind by six runs, but managed to rally and force extra innings before falling in the ninth.

"All four games we've lost,'' Mehle said, "we've put ourselves in position to win, but have had mistakes here and there. But we've been competing well every day, and that's one of the things we stress.

"I was talking to a friend of mine the other and he said, 'I hope you don't peak too early.' I mentioned that to the team. I said I don't believe in that. I believe you can play well the first game and the last game as long as you take the new game approach. Play as well as you can today, and have fun. We've really been enjoying ourselves in the games.''

Kiefer Hovorka, one of Charleston Catholic's top pitchers, thinks the team's mentality has stemmed from last year's June trip to Power Park in which the Irish played in the finals for the first time in their six trips to the state tournament.

"I think we've been really hungry this year,'' Hovorka said. "We've been able to stay focused and bring it when we step between the lines. I think it is [more mental than physical]. It's just a focus issue and we seem to turn it on and have fun.

"We just want to stay hungry as a team, and hopefully we can scratch a bunch more wins off.''

Even with four one-run setbacks, the Irish haven't lost all their close games and haven't lost to all the ranked teams they've faced.

Catholic beat Class AAA George Washington 6-5, a solid Notre Dame team 8-6 and has also topped defending state champion Wheeling Central and four ranked opponents - Class AA No. 1 Herbert Hoover, as well as AA Wayne, Man and Buffalo.

Mehle said he's noticed a confidence in his players as the season progresses.

"The other side of it is keeping the rah-rah effect down,'' he said. "We just say let's come out and have patient at-bats, be aggressive and play fundamental defense. So we're coming out every day and enjoying the opportunity to play the game.

"I would say over the next three weeks are we going to be on the other side of games like this [the 11-0 win versus Buffalo]? We very well could be. It's just the nature of the game. And when that happens, you regroup and come back the next day.''

Catholic has banked on some strong pitching to get this far, holding 10 of its first 19 opponents to three runs or fewer.

The main starters have been Hovorka (4-0, 1.89 ERA), Andy Hoyer (5-1, 2.65) and Connor Golden (2-2, 2.78) and the top relievers Ian Lough (3-0, 0.00) and Vince Stricker (0-1, 0.55).

Hovorka and Hoyer, in fact, are so close that Mehle refuses to label either as the team's No. 1 starter.

"They are very competitive pitchers,'' he said, "and we play well behind them. We're not ranking them 1 or 2. We give one guy three starts every two weeks and the other guy two starts every two weeks. We'll be rolling through the last few weeks that way.

"We'll see. I think they'll both be ready to go against the good competition in the postseason. We've put Rocco Wilcox, Ian Lough - a number of guys - in game situations and we feel confident putting them on the mound.''

Wong's quest toughens

At this rate, George Washington's Joe Wong may never break the state home run record - because it keeps growing and growing.

Wong, who has clouted 12 long balls this season for the Patriots, was originally thought to be four short of the state record, which was believed to be 16 by David Smith of Capital in 1998.

However, a recent search of past all-state teams by state historian and high school record keeper Doug Huff of Wheeling later showed that three players hit 17 in 1999 - Nick Swisher of Parkersburg, Seth McClung of Greenbrier East and Joey Milam of Fayetteville.

On Wednesday, Huff was presented with documentation of a new and higher number - 18 by Seth Sedlock of Fayetteville, also in 1999. Of course, by the time this mark is verified, there may very well be another, yet higher, number surface. Such has been the inherent difficulty of organizing records for high school spring sports, in which game limits were put into place only about a generation ago.

Wong started to get attention a few weeks back for his record chase - interesting in that it comes in the first year of state players using BBCOR-certified bats that deaden the bounce the baseball gets at impact when compared to the aluminum bats.

He went to the Mingo Bay Classic in Myrtle Beach with eight homers and hit three in his first two games there.

"Then he got intentionally walked three, four times after that,'' said GW coach Chad Campbell.

"He's such a big, strong kid. The thing he's doing different this year that he's not been doing the last couple years is that he's much more selective on which ball to hit, which has helped him. He's probably got one, two cheap home runs at our field this year. But even those are hard line drives. He's hit the ball well.''

GW's field is notorious for its home run totals due to short outfield fences.

Day of the Dragon

Cameron baseball is definitely on the upswing, as evidenced by Monday's 7-4 home win against Madonna, accomplished by Ryan Hughes' two-out, three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning.

The Dragons, now 15-4, beat state-ranked Bishop Donahue earlier in the season, but this victory was bigger, since it came against one of Class A's top contenders in recent years and a Blue Dons program that captured the 2010 state championship.

"In my 16 years of coaching, this is the biggest win for me in any sport, at any level,'' Cameron coach Eric James told Ogden Newspapers about his team, which overcame an early 4-0 deficit. "For years in previews, in the newspaper and on the news, I have talked about a moment like this, and it finally happened.

"Cameron baseball turned the corner today, and it is a great thing for everyone involved. I believe we have finally come full circle.''

Hard to be East Hardy

Meanwhile, it was a rough start to the week for East Hardy, the No. 1 team in the Gazette's Class A state ratings.

First, the Cougars gave AAA No. 1 Musselman everything it wanted Monday before losing 6-3 in 12 innings. East Hardy starter Jamie Miller fanned 11 in nine innings, and Appleman starter Evan Woolum struck out 12 in 82/3. The game was tied 3-3 after nine.

The next day, East Hardy fell to AA Berkeley Springs 5-4 in eight innings. Zach Wise, the Indians' junior outfielder, robbed the Cougars of a potential tying home run.

Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickryan@wvgazette.com.


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