When the season began, their respective teams saw Korey Dunbar and Matt Robbins as closers out of the bullpen — guys who could shut down a game with their overpowering stuff.
And for a good portion of the season, that's exactly what they did. But the rules often change in postseason play, and now both Dunbar and Robbins find themselves getting the starting call with the spotlight shining.
Dunbar takes the mound for Nitro and Robbins for Fairmont Senior when the two state-ranked teams lock up tonight in the first round of the Class AAA state tournament at Appalachian Power Park. First pitch is expected at about 7:15.
Either the Wildcats or the Polar Bears — or both — have played in the state finals each of the four previous seasons and seven of the past nine. Nitro has captured two championships, but Fairmont Senior is 0-7 all-time in the title game.
The contest figures to be low-scoring because of the numbers Dunbar and Robbins have put up this season.
Dunbar, Nitro's all-stater and a major league catching prospect, is 4-2 with three saves and a 0.53 earned run average. He's struck out 86 batters in 53 innings.
Robbins (5-1), who has won Fairmont Senior's last four games, has also posted eight saves and his ERA is even lower — 0.41. He's fanned 82 and walked just 13 in 512/3 innings.
Both pitchers have excelled in the postseason.
In the sectional opener at 24-win St. Albans, Dunbar fired a two-hitter with 10 strikeouts and also swatted a grand slam as Nitro won 6-1. In last week's Region 4 finals, he went all nine innings in a 3-1 win at Winfield, allowing three hits and fanning 10 more.
"My arm feels fine,'' Dunbar said recently after his 129-pitch effort against Winfield. "It loosens up as the days go on. It's nothing new. Nothing to be concerned about.
"Either way it doesn't matter to me [starting or not starting]. I'm 100 percent committed to whatever [coach Steve Pritchard] says and whatever he does. That's how it works, and either way is fine with me.''
Robbins threw a one-hitter with 13 strikeouts in the Polar Bears' 10-0 win against East Fairmont in the regional semifinals, and two days later was back at it, coming on in relief in the third inning of a 0-0 game versus John Marshall. He held the Monarchs scoreless the rest of the way as Fairmont Senior prevailed 4-0.