Hurricane, Hoover holding steady atop state rankings
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Admittedly, it's a long way from Appalachian Power Park and the state tournament the first week of June, but a pair of Kanawha Valley teams have been handling the pressure pretty well so far.
Hurricane (AAA) and Herbert Hoover (AA) just completed weeks as the No. 1 teams in their respective classes in the Gazette's state ratings and it didn't seem to bother them much.
The Redskins won three of four games, improving to 13-3, and the Huskies went 3-0 to boost their season record to 13-0 and remain as one of the few unbeaten teams in West Virginia. Thus, each team retained its top spot in this week's Gazette rankings.
Hurricane has worn the bull's-eye a bit longer than Hoover, as it begins its third week atop Class AAA.
Solid pitching has been the backbone of the Redskins' success. Aside from losses of 10-6 to Huntington and 10-0 to Powhatan, Va., in Myrtle Beach, they've allowed just 26 runs in their other 14 games, and have tossed four shutouts.
Senior Riley Metz, one of Hurricane's ace pitchers, thinks the team has been able to deal with the added attention.
"We've been handling it fine,'' Metz said. "Coach [Brian] Sutphin always tells us people are going to throw their best shot at us, so we're always ready.''
Sutphin feels as if his program has learned to be comfortable with the spotlight. Over the past three years, the Redskins have won 66 of 79 games and take aim at their third straight Mountain State Athletic Conference championship this season.
"We're at the point where we've been there and done that,'' Sutphin said. "We've won the MSAC twice in a row and we've won all these games, but at the end of the day, that's not our ultimate goal. I think we're happy with the rankings, but certainly we know the idea is to be ranked there in June.
"I think that we've got a good ballclub. I wouldn't trade my guys for anybody. But, shoot, there are a lot of good teams out there. Hey, Princeton won it last year and I'll take the liberty of saying they were never ranked No. 1.''
Senior designated hitter Connor Adams knows the No. 1 rating doesn't mean anything once postseason play rolls around. By then, it's the teams that are playing at their highest level that will survive and advance to the state tournament.
"We're not really worried about the rankings or anything,'' Adams said. "We're just playing for one thing - and that's to get better every day. Anything we can do to get better, we're going to do. We're not focused on the rankings.''
Hurricane was able to hold onto No. 1 despite a 7-6 bottom-of-the-seventh loss to Parkersburg South in the finals of the Ed Carter Memorial Tournament on Saturday, the Skins' third game in 24 hours.
Hoover has posted some incredible numbers so far during its unbeaten start.
Hoover coach Brian Young thinks his team's staunch hitting has helped keep the pitching staff fresh, since nine mercy-rule wins have shortened games.
"The kids are pitching really good games,'' Young said, "and we've been pretty fortunate up this point because a lot of that has come in short games. It's not just one, two kids [pitching well], and we're playing good defense behind them.
"We can't complain about the way we're swinging the bats from top to bottom. We had 16 hits in back-to-back games last week, and that's unheard of. We're seeing the ball real well and putting the ball in play and hitting it hard. That makes the pitching a lot better because you take a couple innings off those games and we're not quite as tired having to pitch late in games.''
Certainly, the Huskies can't keep up the numbers they've posted thus far, a tear that would impress even the 1927 Yankees. But it's not going to be from a lack of trying.
"Obviously, you always wonder if there's going to be a letdown,'' Young said. "If it's going to happen, you hope it's before the last week of the season. We've got 21/2 weeks of good competition left to see where we're at.
"We've had to [reschedule several conference games] and it works out well for us because we'll have a solid week of better teams that last week before the sectionals, and that will help us in the long run.''
Young tried to give his hard-working squad a day off during spring break last week, but the players called and wanted the keys to take batting practice in the school's cage.
"You can't fault that,'' Young said. "You try to give them the day off, and they still want to be out there. We've got goals set and they're working to try and achieve them.
"We've won several games by multiple runs, but they haven't stopped with the work ethic they had the first week of practice. They always want to take more swings, more swings, more ground balls, more ground balls. We can't get them to leave the field. Their determination is something to be spoken for. We're really impressed with the way they continue to work hard. Sometimes you get a big head [in that situation] but we haven't had that.''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.