Chad VanMeter knew he was going to have a pretty good baseball team before the season. But just how good, he couldn't have imagined.
VanMeter, the coach at Hampshire, has seen his team rocket to a 17-1 record thus far and the No. 2 spot in the Gazette's Class AAA state ratings.
It's pretty heady company for the Trojans, who have never reached the state baseball tournament and who often play second, third or fourth fiddle in the ultra-competitive Eastern Panhandle AAA baseball battles.
"It's a little surprising,'' VanMeter said. "We knew we had a good team coming back, but we never expected to be 17-1 at this point. Of course, I don't think anyone did.
"We've got a lot of good kids who worked hard in the off-season and played a lot of ball in the summertime. They really put in the time and we're reaping the benefits right now.''
Some of the team's top players are senior pitchers Matthew Maiers (5-0, 0.66 ERA) and Josh Crawford (4-0, 2.66) and hitters like junior Shane Ennis (.511, 25 RBIs), Crawford (.500, 17 RBIs), senior Garrett Crawford (.383, 14 RBIs) and sophomore David Delawder (.381, 18 runs).
VanMeter realizes his program is lodged in a cutthroat region with traditional powerhouses like Jefferson (10 state titles), Martinsburg (four titles) and, this season especially, Hedgesville and Musselman, who hold down the No. 4 and 8 positions in the AAA state rankings.
"It's always been that way in the past,'' VanMeter said, "but we felt it as a good opportunity to play against those teams because being the underdog is not a bad thing.
"Anytime you can make noise and beat them, it's always good for your program. When we beat Musselman and Jefferson on the same day, it was a real boost for our guys and the program.''
That red-letter day came last Wednesday, when Hampshire downed Musselman 6-3 and Jefferson 7-5. The Trojans begin this week with a 10-game winning streak.
There's been a slight twist to the long-running Class AAA sectional rivalry between Nitro and St. Albans.
No, they haven't split up the cross-river neighbors under the revised SSAC alignment. But they've added another strong program.
Logan has joined the battle in Region 4 Section 2, which begins in one week. It should make for an interesting tussle, as all three teams have spent time in the Gazette AAA state ratings this season.