CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It was a banner year for Kanawha Valley baseball teams. Better make that a trophy year, too.
For the first time since 2006, two Valley teams claimed championships at the state tournament when Herbert Hoover (Class AA) and Charleston Catholic (A) lugged away the heavy hardware Saturday from Appalachian Power Park.
The last time that happened was 2006 when South Charleston (AAA) and Buffalo (A) captured crowns. And even more historic, it's the only occasion in which a pair of Kanawha County schools won baseball titles in the same season since the state divided into two classes in 1976.
Overall, it capped a solid season for area programs.
Hurricane (25-5) held the No. 1 spot in the Gazette Class AAA state rankings much of the year before being KO'd by Cabell Midland in the regionals. Another squad of note was AA Poca (23-9), which beat two Class AA state tournament teams (Hoover, Bridgeport) in the regular season, as well as one in the AAA event (Midland).
The two championships culminated different journeys for Catholic and Hoover.
Over the previous 11 seasons, the Irish had been to the state tournament seven times under current coach Bill Mehle, but went 1-7 in those trips, losing in the first round six times.
This visit, however, was different, allowing the Irish to capture a pair of one-run victories - 6-5 against Valley in the semifinals and 9-8 against Magnolia in the finals - earning them their very first baseball crown.
Mehle got the most out of a nine-man senior class, which included six starters, most of them multiple-year starters.
"This year, I felt we had a more complete team than we've brought into the postseason," Mehle said, "and we just had to convince these guys to keep believing in themselves and competing regardless of game situations, and be confident that regardless of the game situation, we will find a way to win.''
Even with those graduation losses, Mehle doesn't expect the Irish to fade into the background.
"Year in and year out, we have high expectations of our program,'' he said. "We've been here eight times in the last 12 years. I don't think we've ever lost in the postseason to a team that was less capable than us. We always lost to an eventual state champ or runner-up. That's just a really good record.''
Hoover, meanwhile, took home its first title since 2007, when Kevin Buckner was coaching the squad.
The Huskies had a lot of incentive this time around, since they fell 1-0 to Wyoming East in last year's championship game - their only shutout of the season.
Hoover certainly made this year's title run interesting - it won the regional final against Wayne 4-2, the state semifinal versus Independence 7-3 on a walkoff grand slam by Hunter White in the bottom of the seventh and the state final 7-5 against Fairmont Senior, a Class AAA state tournament team 10 times in the previous 11 seasons.
Against Independence, Hoover trailed 3-2 after six innings and against Fairmont, the Huskies were down 5-1 going to bat in the top of the sixth.
The Huskies figure to welcome back more experience than the Irish, since they lose only four senior starters, and return junior ace Tristan Fields (7-1), who started both state tournament games and also led the team in homers and RBIs this season.
They could well contend again next year.
"I hope so,'' Fields said. "I'm pretty sure we will. If we keep working hard and show dedication, we'll be right back where we were this year.''
Like Mehle, Hoover coach Brian Young feels his program is on solid footing.
"We'll settle in and do what we do,'' Young said.
"We feel like we've got a good feeder program [Elkview Middle School] coming to us, and we do a nice job of working with the younger group of kids as well, and we've got kids at the school to step in who may not be quite as good, but with time they're going to be as good, and we feel we can build our program that way accordingly.''