Valley eyes return trip
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Valley seeks a third straight trip to the state baseball tournament next week and if the Greyhounds can make it that far again, coach Joe Craffey is itching to have his real team show up.
The Greyhounds have suffered uncharacteristically lopsided first-round losses of 10-0 to East Hardy in five innings last year and 10-2 to Wheeling Central in 2011.
So if Valley can get past Man on May 21 and a yet-to-be-determined matchup in the Class A Region 3 finals on May 23, Craffey would love to see his team finally play a full game at Power Park in the state tournament.
"Playing on that stage,'' Craffey said, "it does get some people star-struck, but I would like to think our kids haven't been like that when they got there. We just haven't played when we got there.
"If you look back to 2011, we played fairly well for six innings, then gave up an eight-spot to Wheeling Central in the seventh. Last year against East Hardy, we didn't hit the ball. Credit them and a great pitcher [Jamie Miller]. But you get to that stage, you've got to be able to put some things together and make some things happen. I don't think our kids have been intimidated by the moment. They just didn't perform.''
Of course, Craffey and the Greyhounds (20-7) aren't looking ahead. They have their full attention focused on Man (6-19-1), which has won five of its past seven after opening the season in full rebuilding mode. Valley beat the Hillbillies 13-3 on April 4 and 5-3 on April 26.
"They got a lot better as the season went on,'' Craffey said. "That second game, they had improved greatly all around. You take into consideration they were a single-A team that had 10 seniors last year. When you get that kind of dropoff, you expect you might be down a little bit early in the season. They've turned it on here recently.''
Make no mistake, Valley will be favored to win its region. The Greyhounds are 9-0 against other teams in Region 3 this season and boast a productive offense.
Arik McGinnis leads the team in batting average (.482) and runs batted in (40) and is one of eight regulars hitting .400 or better.
The other top hitters are Cody Winter (.481, five homers, 24 RBIs), Mark Hess (.468), Drew Jones (.432, 35 stolen bases), Raeshawn Breckenridge (.427, seven homers, 39 RBIs, 20 steals), Todd Coleman (.426), Druw Bowen (.407, five homers, 33 RBIs) and John Riddle (.400). McGinnis also has four homers.
McGinnis, a left-hander, is also one of the team's top pitchers, firing a no-hitter against Buffalo this season with 19 strikeouts. For the year, he's 3-3 with a 3.32 ERA and 72 punchouts in 38 innings. Bowen (6-0, 2.21 ERA, 64 Ks in 38 innings) is another top arm.
"As a whole staff, I think we're deeper pitching-wise than we have been in my years here,'' Craffey said. "You've still got to be able to score and your pitching can keep you in the game. Like I always tell the guys, you've got to manufacture a couple of runs to get the pitcher a little help.''
Craffey has tested his squad, scheduling 10 games against teams from either AAA or AA programs, and the Greyhounds have split those 10.
"When I first got into it,'' Craffey said of coaching, "I beat myself up for losing regular-season games. It took me a few years to figure out these regular-season games are just practice. If you're playing better schools, somewhere down the line, you'd like to think it's going to help you out.
"Double-A and triple-A schools one through nine [in the batting order] are usually pretty solid. In single-A, you've got six, seven kids who are fairly good quality baseball players, then you're always maybe a couple kids short. You've got to move kids from this position when one kid pitches, and you're always playing a numbers game in single-A.''
Valley has scheduled a regular-season tuneup game at home against Sissonville at 4 p.m. Thursday.
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.