Magnolia has experience edge on Notre Dame
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It'll be youth versus experience when Magnolia and Notre Dame take the field at 10 a.m. today in the Class A state baseball tournament semifinals at Appalachian Power Park.
Magnolia (30-4) will rely heavily on the experience of four senior leaders and its senior-citizen coach, Dave Cisar, who is in his 40th season with the Blue Eagles. Cisar has amassed more than 800 wins and three state championship-game appearances - a 5-4 loss to Wayne in 1984, a 7-5 loss to Lincoln in 2003 and a 10-1 win over Liberty in 2006.
For Cisar, experience is a key to winning the state tournament.
"A baseball team is only as good as its seniors," said Cisar. "We have great seniors that have really led the way, both ability-wise and in leadership."
Those seniors are third baseman/outfielder Ryan Watson, who is batting .432, infielder Tanner Hanna (.366), Kyle Elliott (.437) and Chandler Sapp, who leads the team with a .532 average and 66 hits.
Those seniors are also Magnolia's best on the mound. Hanna is 4-0 with a 3.37 earned run average, Elliott is 7-1 with five saves and a 0.89 ERA while Sapp is 8-2 with one save and a 2.12 ERA.
Including junior Zach Willhoite (6-0, 3.24), the Blue Eagles have four worthy candidates to start today, but Cisar said he'll make that a game-time decision.
"I used to say who will be starting, but I don't do that anymore," said Cisar. "When I did that, pitchers would be nervous for two or three days. I won't tell them until just before the first pitch."
Nervousness might be a problem for any pitcher going up against a Notre Dame team that loves to put pressure on the defense.
"We will try to force the defense's hand and make them make plays," said Irish coach Patrick Marozzi. "We like to bunt and run, hit and run, steal, double steal. We will do just about anything to get runners in scoring position."
Marozzi, in his fourth season coaching baseball at Notre Dame, is in the state tournament for the first time, and the starting nine for the Irish (23-10) consists of two freshmen, three sophomores, and four juniors.
"It isn't going to hurt us," said Marozzi about the lack of seniors. "The juniors play like seniors. These kids have started every game for me."
One of those juniors is pitcher T.J. McKinsey, who is 5-1 with a 1.26 ERA in seven starts. His eighth start comes today.
"[In] his last four or five games, he has been phenomenal," said Marozzi. "He threw six innings against East Hardy in the regional final on Friday that really kept us in the game. He is definitely our ace."
The last Notre Dame ace to lead the Irish to the state tournament was Harrison Musgrave, the current West Virginia University standout and Big 12 Pitcher of the Year, who took the loss in the 2008 state semifinals.
Notre Dame is hoping its current hot streak will be able to prevent another tournament letdown and win the school its first state championship.
"We have been ranked in the top 10 all year," added Marozzi. "We are playing our best baseball exactly when you want to."