Nitro, of course, is the big dog in recent seasons, having advanced to the state tournament six straight years and taking titles in 2008 and 2010. But the Wildcats (15-10) are in a slump right now, having lost six of their eight games last week to drop out of the ratings.
"It's been frustration,'' said Wildcats coach Steve Pritchard. "This has been without question my most frustrating year at Nitro. Because you and the kids put all this time in and we hit like we just show up on game day. It's embarrassing. It's awful. All those things - and without making anybody sound like they're a bad person, it's just downright frustrating.
"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. Well, a lot of it is going on right now, and it's all of us. They're good kids. I like where I coach at. But it's just athletics. It's the real world. If you don't get it done, someone else deserves a chance that's working hard, and that's what we've got to do.''
Pritchard was downcast following last week's 3-0 home loss to St. Albans, and even the prospect of recalling what happened last year didn't exactly brighten his mood.
Last season, Nitro was mercy-ruled by St. Albans 10-0 in five innings in the regular season, but two weeks later swept the Red Dragons in the first two games of the sectional, and was off and running to another state tournament berth.
Of course, that Wildcats team had all-state catcher-turned-ace pitcher Korey Dunbar, the state player of the year who now toils for Division I North Carolina.
"If I could get a Korey Dunbar-type kid to transfer in, we'll be all right,'' Pritchard said with a wry smile. "I hate to say this the wrong way, but everybody now might begin to understand how good Korey Dunbar really was. He pitched the first game of the sectional, he got the win in the regional semifinal, got the win in the regional final, got the win in the state semifinals - all while batting No. 3 and carrying the load offensively.
"We haven't found two, three guys that can equal his production at the plate. We've found guys who equal his production on the mound with strikeouts and ERA and innings pitched. But we haven't found three players to match his stats at the plate. That's the nuts and bolts of it. I think 99 percent of the people in this state said last year when we went in the state tournament, 'Let's find out if it's Korey, or if it's Nitro.' I guess the question is still to be answered.''
St. Albans (17-8), meanwhile, experienced an up-and-down week, splitting its six games. The victory over Nitro was pleasing to coach Rick Whitman and his players, but after the events of last year, they'd prefer not to dwell on it.
"I mean, we haven't won a sectional in six years,'' Whitman said. "If they do [dwell on it], then something's wrong with them.
"It's just another game on our schedule - no more or less important than yesterday's. You have another game tomorrow, and it's just as important. You've got to play your schedule. It just is what it is. Once sectional time comes, you hope you're better than who you play.''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickr...@wvgazette.com.