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Prep baseball notebook: All coming together for Hurricane?

By Rick Ryan, Assistant Sports Editor
KENNY KEMP | Gazette
Junior J.T. Rogoszewski (3-1, 2.82 ERA) is part of a strong rotation for Hurricane.

Hurricane’s program has racked up a lot of impressive numbers in recent years.

In fact, the Redskins’ current seniors can count the following accomplishments:

n Victories in 92 of 112 games since the start of the 2011 season, a sparkling .821 winning percentage.

n Three straight appearances in the Mountain State Athletic Conference championship game, including a pair of titles.

n Two berths in the finals of the Ed Carter Memorial Tournament, including a championship Saturday via an 11-1 win against Winfield.

n Also, the Redskins have spent nary a day outside the top 10 of the state ratings.

But for all those achievements, there’s one big thing missing — a spot in the Class AAA state tournament. Hurricane hasn’t made it that far since capturing its lone state title in 2002. The current batch of Skins, in fact, hasn’t made it past the regional semifinals the last three seasons.

Something always seems to break down at the wrong time for the Redskins — either the pitching allows an untimely run or the offense fails to produce with runners in scoring position.

In the last three postseasons, Hurricane has found itself eliminated with a one-run loss — 1-0 and 2-1 to Cabell Midland in the Region 4 semifinals and 5-4 to Winfield in the sectional finals in 2012.

Hurricane is hopeful that 2014 brings about a different ending to its season, with the Skins perhaps riding the coattails of the basketball team’s impromptu run to the Class AAA championship game, a one-point loss to Huntington.

The Redskins, at 14-4 and No. 2 in last week’s AAA state poll, appear to be rounding into stretch-run form.

They’ve scored exactly 11 runs in each of their last four games and have allowed only 55 runs all season — with just two opponents managing more than five in a single game. On offense, five starters are hitting between .327 and .386, with 53 extra-base knocks in 18 games.

“We’ve been playing together ever since Little League,’’ said second baseman Ace Estep, one of five senior starters, “and finally, I think we’re all just coming together and we’re grooving. It really feels as if everyone’s working together as a team.’’

Brian Sutphin, in his sixth season as Redskins coach, agrees that his experienced team appears to be developing its own sort of harmony.

“That’s the plan,’’ Sutphin said. “I think that these guys are guys who have been around a little bit and they kind of know what they’re expected to do as far as effort and as far as attitude, and we’re just kind of climbing that mountain.’’

No change at Nitro

For about one week last summer, Nitro was preparing for life without Steve Pritchard as its baseball coach.

Pritchard, after 12 seasons and two Class AAA state titles with the Wildcats, had accepted a position as assistant principal at Chapmanville Regional in early July and said his goodbyes to Nitro’s players and coaches.

But it didn’t get much further than that.

Less than a week later, Pritchard, a single father, had a change of heart and opted to stay at Nitro and continue to coach in order to remain with his teen-aged daughter.

Nitro fans have to be pleased that Pritchard remained, since the Wildcats have shot out to a 16-5 record and were ranked No. 1 in AAA last week. Pritchard also went over the 300-win mark with Nitro earlier this season.

Pritchard said that little changed in the week that he was unofficially out as coach.

“To be quite honest, I told [the players] what I was going to do,’’ Pritchard said, “and kept the weight room open for them for that amount of time. As far as they knew, I was going to Chapmanville, but I was here at 9 o’clock to open the weight room and lift just like if I was the coach.

“Then I met with them the following Monday and told them I was going to stay, and they were happy, and I was happy. So really nothing’s changed.’’

Pritchard admits that — even after turning down Chapmanville — he might not have stuck around as Nitro coach if his current group of players weren’t “good kids to be around.’’

“If they weren’t that good, I may be in Chapmanville because that was a great opportunity for me,’’ he said. “[It was] because my daughter wanted to come here, but if it wasn’t for these kids, they would have a new coach because I just think that much of them.

“I’m toward the end of my career, and these guys are really the reason I’m here.’’

Smooth sailing at Hoover

If Herbert Hoover was in for a letdown after taking last year’s Class AA championship, well, then the fallout hasn’t hit Falling Rock quite yet.

The Huskies have stormed to 17 wins in their first 20 games, losing only to Class AAA opponents (Ripley twice, 7-3 and 5-4 and Point Pleasant 10-5).

Hoover has gone 15-0 against AA teams, including 10-0 against Cardinal Conference foes (six of those by 10-plus runs). The Huskies are 1-3 versus AAA, 1-0 against single-A and 3-0 versus ranked teams (wins against Chapmanville, Sissonville, Charleston Catholic).

“They’ve been pretty focused,’’ said Herbert Hoover coach Brian Young. “We had a couple of close games against Ripley we lost, but we’ve been playing real well at times. They’ve definitely stepped up and met the expectations for another good season.

“That’s been the goal to get back down [to Power Park] and give it a good shot. They’re working just as hard as last year, and that’s good to see.’’

Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickryan@wvgazette.com.


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