Notebook: Bird flies around bases
It's hard to pitch around a guy when he leads off the game.
That's been the problem in recent years for teams facing Herbert Hoover and its superb leadoff hitter, senior Corey Bird.
It can be difficult to keep Bird from giving the Huskies an early lead thanks to his batting and baserunning prowess.
He's hitting .477 and has drawn a lot of walks because of his keen eye at the plate. Last year, in fact, he struck out just once all season. He has a knack for making contact, putting the ball in play and beating out infield singles or turning routine hits into hustle doubles.
Once on the bases, Bird likes to keep advancing. He's swiped 51 bases this season, more than twice the amount of anyone else in the Kanawha Valley, and has scored a whopping 56 runs in 33 games.
Those kinds of numbers helped propel Bird to the Gatorade player of the year award in West Virginia, which was announced Tuesday. He's now a finalist for the national award due out later this month.
"You say it all the time — speed kills,'' said Wayne coach Todd Ross, who watched Bird steal five bases against his team in the Class AA Region 4 title game last week.
"When you've got speed, well, you can't walk him, and he's got such a good bat that he's a hard guy to throw to. We made some good pitches. We got him jammed and we got a weak ground ball, but he beats it out. He's just a good ballplayer. He's one of the better outfielders I've seen in high school baseball.''
Sissonville coach Kenny Harper, who lost to Hoover and Bird in the regional semifinals, echoed those thoughts.
"He's hard to beat,'' Harper said. "We've played against him for four years, and he's a guy you have to keep off base. Once he's on base, he'll score. And if you hit it to center field, he'll run it down. As far as a ballplayer and an athlete, you can't get much better.''
Independence coach Scott Cuthbert, whose team takes on Hoover in Thursday's AA state tournament semifinals, has been trying to gather information on the Huskies this week from teams who have seen them play, and he is aware of the impact of Bird, a Marshall recruit.
"I don't know a lot about them,'' Cuthbert said. "I've been trying to get in touch with a few people. But I know they steal a lot of bases and have a lot of guys hitting real good. It'll be a tall test for us.''
Among other highlights of his Gatorade honor, Bird also maintained a 3.8 grade point average at Hoover, is a member of the National Honor Society and has volunteered on behalf of his church and as a youth baseball instructor and umpire.
Midland on the money
Cabell Midland sort of lulled the rest of the state to sleep with an atypical slow start to the season.
The Knights, an annual contender in Region 4, began the year 4-5 (including a four-game losing streak) and stood just 13-10 past the midway point (enduring another three-game slide).
But they've more than made up for it lately, winning 10 straight heading into the state tournament, including five over ranked teams, and knocked off AAA No. 1 Hurricane 1-0 in the regional semifinals.
Seth Kinker, the team's top pitcher, knows that no one can go to sleep on Midland now.
"It was a great effort by the team to get by [Hurricane],'' Kinker said, "No. 1 in the state and all that. We knew they were a good team [but] people don't really give us that much respect around the state. We're a good team, too, but people don't look at it that way.
"We get timely hits and our dugout's always up. We know what it takes to get by the good teams. We've done it the past  games on our win streak.''
Double-A aces deal
Both Hoover and Independence expect to pitch their aces in Thursday's AA opening-round game at about 7:15 p.m.
The Huskies figure to go to junior Tristan Fields (7-1, 1.84 ERA), and the Patriots will counter with Brian Sexton (6-3, 3.09).
"As of right now, that is [our choice],'' said Hoover coach Brian Young of using Fields, "unless something changes. You've got to go day by day on how he's feeling. One thing with us is we've got several kids we can throw out there if we have to.''
Indy actually has a pitcher with better numbers than Sexton. Jeremy McGinnis is 5-0 with a 1.03 ERA and averages more than a strikeout per inning with 46 K's in 34 innings (Sexton has 47 in 541/3).
"We'll most likely throw Sexton,'' Cuthbert said. "He's had to pitch our tough games throughout the year. Another thing is that Jeremy is our catcher when he doesn't pitch, and that affects our defense a whole lot.''
Catholic up in arms
Charleston Catholic coach Bill Mehle has his own decision to make on a starting pitcher for Friday's Class A semifinal against Valley.
The Irish have two senior pitchers capable of drawing that assignment — Andy Hoyer and Kiefer Hovorka.
Hoyer (9-1, 3.04) has pitched 592/3 innings this season, striking out 79 and walking just 10. Hovorka (6-4, 1.37) has drawn some of the team's tougher opponents this season, and also carries a fine 77-14 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 631/3 innings.
"That's going to be a Wednesday decision or maybe even a Thursday or Friday,'' Mehle said. "A lot of it comes down to who's healthy. We also have a lot of confidence in Rocco Wilcox and Connor Golden.''
Wilcox (4-1, 1.29) and Golden (9-1, 1.51) round out the Irish starting rotation.
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.