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Sectional baseball tournaments get started this week

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Not all sectionals are created equal.

So when baseball's postseason begins today around West Virginia, there are a few sectionals to keep a keen eye on.

One of those resides right here in the Kanawha Valley, as the annual Class AAA skirmish between Nitro at St. Albans has added a twist this year - another state-ranked team and traditional power in Logan.

Region 4 Section 2 opens tonight at Nitro (19-10) with St. Albans (19-9) paying a visit to its cross-river rival at 6:30. On Tuesday, Logan (17-8) travels to SA for a 6:30 game.

All three teams have been part of the Gazette's state ratings this season.

Logan has had the upper hand on the other two this year, sweeping two games apiece from St. Albans and Nitro. The Red Dragons and Wildcats, meanwhile, have split a pair of games.

Teams have been known to hide pitchers from sectional opponents during the regular season in order to maintain an element of surprise. SA coach Rick Whitman, however, isn't sure if that tactic works.

"That theory - don't show your pitching - I mean, we've got four arms we're comfortable with,'' Whitman said. "But it's a three-team sectional. It doesn't necessarily mean who we threw [before] is going to throw against Nitro [now].''

In the first meeting with Nitro, SA threw one of its top pitchers, Clark Bryant, then went with seldom-used Joseph Call in last week's Mountain State Athletic Conference place-winner game.

Some of this week's other sectionals are not expected to be as cut-throat as Nitro-SA-Logan. Take AAA Region 4 Section 3, where Hurricane (23-4), the No. 1 team in the Gazette's rankings, squares off with Lincoln County (9-8), which dropped out of the MSAC this school year.

The Redskins, still smarting a bit from their 4-2 loss to Cabell Midland in the MSAC finals, would like to make amends for falling short of the state tournament the past two seasons.

Hurricane posted records of 27-6 last year and 26-5 in 2011 and captured a pair of MSAC championships, but never advanced to Power Park. Coach Brian Sutphin hopes his program can flip its luck from the last two years, knowing an MSAC title doesn't guarantee postseason success.

"That worked out well for us the last two years,'' Sutphin said with a smile. "It's such a good recipe.

"I have all the confidence in the world we'll get there [to postseason success]. We're going to get there. We're going to get better. It's May, and we're ready to get after it. It's a good lesson to be learned.''

If Hurricane does erase Lincoln County in their best-of-three series, it could meet up again with Midland. The Knights (17-10) take on Huntington (20-10) in the opener of Region 4 Section 4 today, with the loser meeting Spring Valley Tuesday.

Midland knocked off a pair of ranked teams - Huntington and Hurricane - in taking the MSAC crown last week.

"We want to be playing our best baseball at the end of the year,'' said Midland coach Tracy Brumfield. "We've always taught that - even a long time ago. You've got to be playing your best at the end.''

Another sectional of intrigue finds George Washington (20-10) and South Charleston (14-12) colliding in AAA Region 3 Section 3 after splitting two regular-season games.

Today's matchup is set for SC at 6 p.m., then reverts to GW on Tuesday. The Patriots, who after a hot start lost six of 10 at midseason, rebounded to take eight of their last nine to cap the regular season.

In AAA Region 3 Section 4, three evenly-matched teams vie in Riverside (9-15), Capital (13-17) and Ripley (8-17).

Tonight's opener finds Ripley at Capital at 6:30, with today's loser playing at Riverside on Tuesday.

Region 4 Section 1, a two-team affair between Point Pleasant (18-12) and Winfield (12-16), begins at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Winfield. Game 2, also with the Generals hosting, is set for Wednesday.

Herbert Hoover (24-3), the No. 1 team in AA, is favored in Region 4 Section 1, which is scheduled to start today at 5:30 p.m. at Clay County with the Huskies taking on the host Panthers (18-10).

Nicholas County (12-8) plays today's winner on Tuesday, a game also set to be played in Clay.

Fast-closing Poca (23-7) doesn't begin its postseason quest until Thursday when it visits Sissonville (11-20) in AA Region 4 Section 2. The second game of the best-of-three series is set for Friday.

The Dots ended the regular season having played 17 games over a span of 17 days, including three doubleheaders. However, they have eight days off between their regular-season finale and the sectional opener.

The Kanawha Valley's other teams will compete in the Class A Region 4 Section 4 event beginning today at the University of Charleston's Triana Field.

Buffalo (10-12), which closed the regular season with nine wins in 14 games, meets St. Joseph (11-9) at 6:30 p.m.

Charleston Catholic (21-9), which had a nine-game win streak snapped in its last regular-season game at George Washington on Saturday, plays Tuesday against today's loser.

Catholic averaged 11 runs per game during its late-season win streak.

"We had a couple games where we could have beaten anybody in the state the way we were hitting the ball,'' said Irish coach Bill Mehle.

That surge came on the heels of an extended midseason lull in which state-ranked Catholic lost three in a row at one point and seven of 13.

"I would say we've changed our plate approach,'' Mehle said. "It looked like we were pressing a little too much in key situations. I think a lot of our guys had the mentality of, 'I've got to get a hit in this situation,' rather than, 'I'm going to get a hit in this situation.'

"We went back to our basic philosophy of 'breathing and believing,' and having a plan when you get to the batter's box. Stick with the plan and make adjustments. We went back to basics and played quality defense.''

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


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