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Hedgesvilles Heleine state baseball player of the year

HEDGESVILLE, W.Va. - There are many parts to Daniel Heleine of Class AAA state baseball champion Hedgesville.

Heleine's 16 home runs this season provided him with a touch from the Ruthian era.

The first baseman's ability to carry a tune spotted him as also bygone Mitch Miller. He served as the team's choral director on bus trips to games, and his teammates "sang along" with him during their rides.

Heleine found his inner-Sybil, another ages-old persona, to create a character he used to inspire his teammates during their run through the postseason, too. He developed an alter ego he used to address his teammates before games during the playoffs.

Today, the senior adds one more part to his personal equation by being named as the state's high school baseball player of the year by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association.

Slugger, singer, actor and winner all provided the makeup of Heleine. He was a man of many caps for the Eagles.

It proved to be a winning combination for Hedgesville, a school playing in the state tournament for the first time in 39 years. The previous time came in 1974 as a Class A school in the one-class state playoffs for baseball.

He sent the Eagles over the wall as Hedgesville breaks up somewhat to form Berkeley County's new Spring Mills, which opens in August. Some of his Eagle teammates will be Cardinals in the future.

There's the most important aspect to Heleine, too - that of leader, a guy who kind of came out of left field, so to speak, and did whatever he felt was necessary to loosen the pressure on his teammates during their historic run.

"Leaders get players to play at their peak," said coach Dirk Webb, an alumnus of Hedgesville in his third year at the helm of the Eagles. "Some do it by yelling, some do it by work ethic. Daniel's one of those guys who was able to keep everybody loose and allowed them to play at the top of their game."

Heleine claimed a narrow win for the honor over Seth Kinker of Cabell Midland, which fell to Hedgesville 4-2 in the state title game.

Others finalists for the honor included Fletcher Devaul of Fairmont Senior, Drew D'Angelo of Independence, Corey Bird of Herbert Hoover and Kyle Elliott of Magnolia.

Heleine experienced a season to remember as Hedgesville finished with a 29-7 record and won its first state title in baseball. The Eagles won their last 11 games.

The player of the year award is an added bonus for Heleine.

"I'd say the state championship [was the best]," Heleine said, "because it was a team effort. I didn't really perform down there very much. If the team wasn't there, the things that followed wouldn't have happened."

Heleine failed to get a hit in Hedgesville's final two games played at Charleston's Appalachian Power Park.

He batted .478 for the season, adding single-season school records for home runs and runs batted in with 57.

"Daniel's one of those hitters when he comes to the plate, you expect good things to happen," Webb said. "When he came up, we had a lot of confidence in him this year.  He got on a roll early, continued that and really made a name for himself as one of the premier hitters.

"Individually at Charleston, in his two games, for a kid who had the year he had, I'm sure he was disappointed. In the end, we wouldn't have been in the situation without him. It was a Catch-22.

"I'm sure if you ask him, he'd rather win a state title than lose one game and him have a great tournament [individually]."

Yet he was front and center in encouraging his team during pregame talks - in whatever role he played for the day - and in the dugout when the Eagles came to bat.

"He's one of those kids you look up to," Webb said. "No matter what he was going to do or how he was going to act, the kids were going to run with it.

"I listened to one of his stories. It was well put together, well thought out and very humorous."

He took that role as seriously as he did his swing.

"One day before a game, I was thinking of something to get them ready," Heleine said, "just trying to imagine one person who would get them relaxed."

So was born a character that had his teammates laughing hysterically before games, providing a relaxed approach to the game.

All the same, Heleine really got the Eagles excited when he smacked home runs.

His favorite came early in the season when he hit a grand slam - one of two for him this season - against Berkeley Springs to propel the Eagles to a come-from-behind win.

Another important one came during his first at-bat during the regional championship game against Hampshire. The next time up, the Trojans intentionally walked Heleine, putting two runners on base for Troy Markley, who promptly whacked a two-run double that proved significant in a 4-3 win over Hampshire - which, like Hedgesville, put together its best baseball season ever.

"There were times this year when he got his intentional walks," Webb said, "and there were times when teams came after him, and the majority of those times, he made them pay."

Heleine never envisioned himself hitting 16 home runs during his senior season.

He would've been content in doubling his junior year output of two as he adjusted to the lesser-potent bats put into use in high school play a year ago.

"I was hoping for four at least," Heleine said.

Heleine doubled that junior-year production in one day alone when he belted four home runs in a doubleheader against Class AA state runner-up Fairmont.

He's always been a power hitter, though.

Starting with a tee-ball game when he knocked the ball out of the park and knocked an unaware woman out of the bleachers, Heleine has continued hitting home runs. He said he's hit some 50 homers going back to the youth leagues as he heads to play college ball.

He finished with a school-record 26 homers at Hedgesville.

Although Heleine verbally committed early to Shepherd, the alma mater of his coach, the success Heleine has had this season has increased his opportunities, including from some Division I schools. He's exploring his options.

Whatever his future holds, Heleine knows he left Hedgesville as a state champion - in Heleine's eyes, his biggest prize - and as the best player in the state.

 


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