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Another smooth transition for Irish

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Charleston Catholic has taken a potentially tricky situation and made it work better than anyone might have expected.

With the seasons overlapping for two of the Irish's most-accomplished programs - boys basketball and baseball - there's the potential for a slow start for the baseball team because of the continued success, and length of season, for the basketball team.

But that's not the way it's been working out.

Catholic has maintained its status as a state Class A power in both sports because of the working relationship between basketball coach Bill McClanahan and baseball coach Bill Mehle.

The Irish have reached the state championship game in basketball eight times over the past nine seasons, going 20-6 in state tournament games in that stretch, but the elongated hoops season hasn't bothered the baseball squad, which has advanced to the state tournament seven times in 11 years.

"Coach McClanahan's real good about it,'' Mehle said. "During those three weeks they're in the postseason, he lets the basketball guys come and get their work in. So pitchers like [Kiefer Hovorka and Andy Hoyer] have been throwing a lot and have done a lot of work.

"We've been doing this for, what, 12 years now? They're always in the postseason in basketball. So we never plan on scheduling a game until after the state tournament so they can get their work in those first three weeks [of baseball season].''

Hovorka and Hoyer, the team's top pitchers from last season, return this year and are two of five basketball players on the baseball roster. Also back are three players who hit better than .420 last season.

Those are some of the reasons the Irish have been selected as the No. 1 team in Class A in the first set of Gazette state baseball ratings. They're used to playing for titles.

"That's been the goal from Day 1,'' Hovorka said. "Coming in as freshmen, it's always the goal. Everybody wants to win the state championship.''

On the inside looking out

So far, the weather for the current baseball season has been a far, far cry from last year.

It seemed like the majority of teams were approaching the 32-game regular season scheduling limit a year ago because of the proliferation of dry, temperate weather. This season, though, it's been an about-face.

Several games have been washed out and others played with snowflakes flying, and it doesn't look like it's going to improve much until perhaps later this week.

That means teams have been locked inside their gymnasiums or other workout facilities, hoping to catch a glimpse of sunshine or practice on fields that aren't already waterlogged.

Herbert Hoover coach Brian Young thinks having a veteran team - he lost just three senior starters from last year's Class AA state runner-up squad - smooths out the long wait for games.

"It's tough not getting outside and getting any work, but I think we're OK with that,'' Young said.

"Of course, one of things [we're focused on] is hitting good pitches, and that's going to come with live at-bats. We want to quit swinging at balls out of the strike zone and up over our numbers. Bring the ball down in the strike zone and hit pitches we know we are supposed to hit instead of the ones we want to hit, and I think that'll give us a lot better at-bats.''

Corey Bird, a senior outfielder and returning first-team all-stater, thinks the Huskies have the ingredients for another big season after winning 27 games last year.

"Our team is more of an all-around better team,'' Bird said. "In past years, we've been more of an offensive team, but this year we can play good defense as well. We really need to bear down and not make errors and be consistent and be smart at the plate.''

Bison their time

For much of the past decade, Buffalo has been included among the top teams in Class A and a regular contender to make it to the state tournament.

This year, however, the Bison start over in many ways after losing the team's top two pitchers, the regular catchers and many other experienced players among a nine-man senior class in 2012.

That was evident during a 10-0 five-inning loss to Charleston Catholic when Buffalo committed four errors, walked four batters, hit two and failed to make some routine plays.

"What do you do?'' said veteran coach Jimmy Tribble. "You don't beat on them. I'm not going to beat them up. You just play baseball games and get better, and not lose sight of the goal. The goal is to try and improve by playing the games.

"Practice only does so much because you don't simulate game speed in practice. You have to be put in those situations over and over and over to get it. Men at first and second in bunt situations - you've got to be put in that situation over and over to know how to deal with it.

"We'll have fun with them,'' Tribble said. "As long as they don't get down on me and get disgusted and discouraged. We've still got 20-some games to play.''

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


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