Battle of the hard-luck teams
Neither Valley nor Charleston Catholic has had a lot of luck at the state tournament. The numbers will attest to that.
But this year, one of them will advance to the state championship game as they're set to tangle at approximately 12:45 p.m. Friday in the Class A semifinals at Appalachian Power Park.
The Greyhounds have been there three times before, losing in the first round on each occasion - in 2000 to Buffalo and stud pitcher Anthony Whittington, then again in 2011 and 2012. Catholic, meanwhile, has made it seven previous times since 2002, winning just once to reach the finals (in 2011) and carrying a 1-7 overall tournament mark.
Valley coach Joe Craffey, like Catholic's Bill Mehle, worries less about his team being nervous for its big game and more about his players simply giving an accurate impression of their ability. Craffey thinks that hasn't always happened in past trips - on those days, for whatever reasons, the Greyhounds weren't on top of their game.
"A lot of that goes back to who you're playing and what their pitcher has,'' Craffey said. "At this point, we don't care who we're playing. Catholic knows us and we know about Catholic. We're familiar with each other.
"We want to go down there and play how we're capable of playing. You want to play a solid game and not second-guess yourself: Could we have won this game if we'd not made an error here? Could we have scored another run if not for a baserunning mistake here? Those things have not plagued us, but they've had a small impact on the games we've previously played down there.''
The two teams, both part of the Gazette's state rankings all year, split a pair of games played during the regular season. Catholic (28-9) comes in ranked No. 2 in Class A, three spots ahead of Valley (23-7).
Craffey is fairly certain he'll throw his senior ace, right-hander Arik McGinnis (4-3, 2.62 ERA), who has been battling a thumb injury on his left hand. McGinnis can be overpowering, with 94 strikeouts in 48 innings this season - nearly two per inning.
"Arik's thumb is better,'' Craffey said, "but we still need to wrap it when he pitches. He's to the point now where he's feeling more confident about himself. I don't think it will hold him back.
"If your pitchers can throw strikes, you can stay in 90 to 95 percent of your games in high school baseball.''
The Greyhounds' other top pitcher, freshman Druw Bowen (8-0, 2.15), complained of a sore elbow during the regional semifinal against Man and was replaced on the mound to start the second inning.
Bowen finished that game in the infield and also played in the regional at Fayetteville.
"He's been getting therapy all week,'' Craffey said. "He'll have a bullpen session Wednesday and we'll see how it goes. He's had no pain. He played shortstop at Fayetteville and made some nice throws.''
Valley will go a week between games, not an optimal thing in the sport of baseball, but Craffey didn't want to schedule a regular-season tuneup game just for the sake of playing, not when he has at least three starters on the mend (third baseman John Riddle has been slowed by a hip flexor).
"When you take so much time off,'' Craffey said, "it's like anything else. You can look at it from two vantage points - are you wearing your guys down or are you giving them some needed rest after a season that's dragged?
"You're looking to play 30-some games, and we're still talking about high school kids. That wears on them sometimes. There are two ways of looking at that. From our standpoint, we talked about trying to get in a game [before the state tournament], but we thought two or three of our guys are nicked up and we thought we'd be better off working on some things from our vantage point.''
Craffey thinks there's no reason why the Greyhounds can't be lining up to play in the state title game on Saturday against the winner of the Magnolia-Notre Dame semifinal. All they need is seven more good innings.
"I'm happy to be one of the last four who's playing,'' Craffey said, "but let's not rest on being one of the last four. We want to be one of the last three teams to win their last game of the season.
"I hope and pray we don't get in a situation where we get there and freeze up. I do think we'll play well, and I'm sure Bill [Mehle] thinks his guys will play well, too.''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.