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Time for tourney's also-rans to rise up

THE OTHER DAY, my editor told me to write a column about the state baseball tournament and pick the winners.

Talk about a lot of pressure. The first two things that come to mind are that: 1) I could tick somebody off; and 2) I could end up looking foolish. Neither sounds all that appealing.

But in the interest of perhaps stirring up interest for the tournament (and keeping my job), here goes with the Appalachian Power Park prognosticating:

Something in the pit of my stomach — and I hope it isn't the jalapeno cheddar Cheetos talking back — suggests that I side with those luckless programs that make it here just about every year, and slink back home with little or nothing to show for it.

You know, the bridesmaids, the second-place teams. The Susan Luccis and Buffalo Bills all wrapped up in one. They say you always find everything in the last place you look, so here's a vote of confidence for those teams still seeking big dreams, and showing perseverance, stick-to-it-iveness and a whole lot of other large words.

Let's crown three new champions — teams that have combined for 10 state runner-up trophies, but never a title. It's their turn. It's their time.

Class AAA

Fairmont Senior is at the head of the class when it comes to "close.'' The Polar Bears have finished second at the state tournament seven times without a championship.

Even worse for the lads from the Friendly City, they've been too friendly when it comes to

stepping aside and letting someone else win. This is their ninth trip to the state tournament in the last 10 years, and they've wound up as state runner-up five times in those previous nine seasons.

The Polar Bears (28-7) again seem to have a decent shot. They've got four pitchers with excellent records, and a hot pitcher to boot in junior Matt Robbins (5-1, 0.41 ERA), who has won their last four postseason games.

In their five most recent games, they've outscored opponents 45-5. Doesn't sound like a second-rate or second-place team to me.

Of course, Nitro's Korey Dunbar (4-2, 0.53), Bridgeport's Brady Weaver (10-2) and Princeton's Corey Quick (.630, 51 RBIs) could have something to say about that.

Class AA

Point Pleasant, it seems, has been making a victory tour of West Virginia in recent months.

The Big Blacks reached the Super Six football finals in Wheeling before losing, again made it to the state basketball tournament at the Civic Center and now are poised for their fifth appearance in the state baseball tournament over the last six years.

And all this coming in the school's final season in AA, since it moves up to AAA status for at least four years when the SSAC's most recent reclassification figures kick in this August.

Well, Point should get something to show for this one last, final lap — make it a victory lap with its first state title in baseball. The Big Blacks ended up as state runners-up in both 2008 and 2009.

This isn't one of those lucky-to-be-.500 teams Point has toted to Power Park in recent years, though. The Big Blacks have already reeled off a school-record 25 wins and have gone 9-3 against ranked teams this season.

They also sport a solid 1-2 pitching punch in right-hander Brandon Toler (8-1, 1.88) and left-hander Eric Roberts (5-0, 3.82).

Class A

Of course, Charleston Catholic has the shortest route to the state tournament — ridiculously short, as a matter of fact. Mapquest.com says it's 0.64 miles from the high school to the ballpark. Hardly enough to work up a good sweat.

The Irish certainly know the way, too, since they've advanced this far now seven times in the last 11 years under coach Bill Mehle.

But most of the time, they still needed to buy a ticket to watch the finals. Catholic lost its opening-round game each of the first five times it reached Power Park. Only last year did the Irish capture a first-round win, then fell to Wheeling Central 14-7 in the championship game.

This Catholic team may be different, however. The Irish (29-8) aren't that far away from having a most amazing record. Six of their eight losses have come by a single run, and the other pair of defeats were by just two runs each.

Of course, one of those tight setbacks came to Madonna 9-8 on April 12 at the Catholic schools tournament in Parkersburg on a Logan Linder two-run blast in the bottom of the eighth.

But the Irish have challenged themselves all season, playing 21 games against ranked teams and going 14-7. Madonna is 8-5 in such games.

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


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