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Cal’s last stand: State splits DH with Concord

By Tommy Atkinson, Staff writer

The passion still burns for West Virginia State coach Cal Bailey.

That was evident Wednesday evening after the Yellow Jackets committed four errors and dropped a 10-1 decision to Concord in the nightcap of a doubleheader in Institute.

Bailey, who already announced he is stepping down at the end of the season after 37 years, gave his squad a tongue-lashing that lasted several minutes after the disappointing outcome.

“It’s no different than it has been my four years,’’ said State senior Noah Blackhurst, a former standout at Hurricane High School. “He’s still honest and he still motivates us.

“He hasn’t changed any. He still wants to get the most out of us. I think like any of us he wants to win a championship after losing three years ago and last year. He wants to finish strong like any of us. He expects the most out of us.’’

State showed in the opener it has the elements to be a dominating force, defeating the Mountain Lions 4-2 in the Mountain East Conference matchup at Calvin L. Bailey Field.

The Yellow Jackets (21-13 overall, 17-11) were sitting in fifth place entering Wednesday’s games, while Concord (26-12, 23-9) was second in the 12-team league. The conference no longer uses divisions to determine postseason berths, as the top six advance to the playoffs in May.

“We’ve played seven four-game series and in five of them we won the first three games and lost the fourth game,’’ said Bailey, whose team swept a two-game set at Concord the last week of March. “It seems like we can’t concentrate enough to sweep somebody. Sometimes it appears we’re content winning three out of four.

“We came back and hung in the first game [Wednesday] and were able to win in the [next-to-] last inning, then in the second game we had three or four mistakes in a two-inning period. Concord’s got a heck of a team. It just doesn’t make sense that we’re not up and playing our full game. It’s kind of what we’ve been going through.’’

Bailey, who announced last June that this season will be his last after more than 1,000 career victories and 17 West Virginia Conference regular-season championships, isn’t resting on his laurels. He’s as bound and determined as ever to figure out what is holding down the Yellow Jackets.

“That’s what I told them, we match up with every team in our conference,’’ said the State coach. “It’s not like we’re outmanned or in bad shape but we should be playing better ball than we are at this point. I didn’t recruit any complacent players, so I don’t think that’s what’s wrong.

“It’s a beautiful game and it’s glaring when you don’t feel fulfilled from a performance. I told them I’ve made mistakes and they’ve bailed my hind end out and I’ve bailed them out. They need to bail each other out. This team probably likes each other better than any team I’ve ever had. It’s almost like if somebody doesn’t accomplish something they want to do, it bothers more than just that one person.’’

State starting pitcher Eric Roberts, a sophomore from Gallipolis Ferry, turned in a strong effort in the first game, surrendering just two runs (one earned) on seven hits in six innings with two strikeouts and no walks.

The Yellow Jackets, though, needed a three-run rally in the bottom of the sixth, highlighted by sophomore Josh Kiser’s two-out, two-run single, to pull ahead for the 4-2 victory. Sophomore Josh Falbo closed it out for the save with one scoreless inning, punching out two.

State junior Cody Smith and Eric Craft knocked in a run apiece while senior Jack Hudson went 2 for 3 with a double. Concord’s Bret Blevins rapped out two hits and knocked in a run.

The Yellow Jackets marched to the West Virginia Conference title game last season before falling to Concord 11-4 with nearly the same players. State at one point owned a 2-12 mark.

“It’s there,’’ said Blackhurst. “If we pick it up now and finish strong, that’s all that matters. It really doesn’t matter as long as we’re playing our best ball going into the tournament. We’ve just got to learn how to finish.’’

Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at tatkinson@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4811.


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