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Nitro, Winfield do some shuffling to lineups PDF Print E-mail
Written by Rich Stevens - Daily Mail Assistant Sports Editor   
Friday, 25 May 2012 09:26

nCHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Baseball coaches Steve Pritchard of Nitro and Will Isaacs of Winfield had to do some creative shuffling to get their teams to today - one win away from the State Tournament.

Pritchard, with only one senior in the lineup and whose best pitcher also is his best catcher, flipped his battery mates in Nitro's 4-2 regional semifinal victory over Parkersburg South.

Isaacs, meanwhile, had to find a suitable replacement for star center fielder Barrett Arnold, who was ejected from a regular season game last Friday, leading to a three-game suspension.

Which brings both baseball teams to Winfield when they will meet at 6:30 p.m. today for the Class AAA Region 4 championship game.

Nitro is seeking its sixth consecutive State Tournament berth and Winfield is trying for its first in four years as a Class AAA program.

"The best drill we've ever done at Nitro is to play tee ball," Pritchard said. "Even when we were ranked nationally, and the kids said it's kind of embarrassing that we're playing tee ball. It makes the kids figure out what it takes to play small ball. That's the best idea we can give them."

In his 11th season as head coach at Nitro, Pritchard has guided his team to at least 20 victories in 10 of those campaigns with a pair of state championships (2008, '10).

If he accomplished last year's state semifinal berth with mirrors, this season goes beyond an optical illusion.

He shaped his team around the capable talents of Korey Dunbar, who hit 11 home runs last year, and is up to nine this season. The University of North Carolina signee is batting .472 with 11 doubles, 35 runs and 34 RBI. Sophomore Dylan Slack (.407, 38 RBI) and junior Evan Eich (.348) have helped shore up an offense that is hitting just .305.

Sophomore Ryan McDonough (8-1, 2.30 ERA) and Dunbar (3-2, 0.48 ERA) lead the pitching staff.

In fact, Nitro batters have struck out once every 4.8 at-bats. In contrast, two teams that were eliminated in sectional play - Hurricane and St. Albans - have a ratio of 6.1 and 8.1, respectively.

"Our strikeout ratio matches a team that would hit 50 or 60 home runs, and we have what, 13?" said Pritchard, who is 439-190 with three state titles at Sissonville (1994-2001) and Nitro (2002-present). "I tell the assistant coaches that we score more runs than any team in America with the least amount of hits."

On Tuesday, McDonough started against South, pitching 32/3 innings with two strikeouts and four walks. Dunbar relieved in the fourth and had six strikeouts and one walk. Both are available for tonight's game, in which Dunbar is expected to start.

The Generals have dealt with more than their share of personnel issues because of discipline and injury.

Pitching ace and arguably the Kanawha Valley's best pitcher Mason Dillon, missed early season starts because of discipline issues at school. In the second game of the season, senior Dusty Kincaid - who was expected to be the team's No. 1 pitcher - was hit in the head with a batted ball and hasn't played since.

Junior Zach Strong, who shored up the pitching staff, was lost to injury and Arnold can't play until the State Tournament, provided the Generals win tonight and can find a regular season game between the regional and states.

"He was recently cleared and threw the other day and was still having pain in (his arm)," Isaacs said of Strong, who had 19 strikeouts, five walks and a 2.55 ERA in 132/3 innings before getting injured. "We're going to shut him down and try to give him a couple weeks to get better and start him back up in the summer."

The Generals managed without Arnold in the semifinal win against Huntington. Junior Jonah Sneeringer filled in capably on offense with a walk and stolen base and defensively with a catch on the game's first pitch.

"I think Arnold is the second-best player in our area (behind Dunbar)," Pritchard said. "If I was a college coach or building a team, he would be my second draft choice. On any base hit, he's scoring from second. As an outfielder, there's only one arm that can throw him out and he has the arm."

Isaacs moved Brandon Wright to the top of the lineup, brother Matt Wright to the No. 2 spot and Mason Dillon into Arnold's former spot at No. 3. The shuffling worked, as the Wright brothers were 3-for-4 with two RBI and two runs scored in the first two innings.

Tonight's starter is expected to be junior Dana Harper, the son of the former Capital head coach by the same name. Harper went the distance against Hurricane in the sectional, striking out seven with no walks in a 5-4 nine-inning victory.

In 391/3 innings, Harper has a 2.66 ERA with and a 4-1 record. However, he experienced tightness in his hamstring earlier this week but appeared to be all right after playing a portion of the game in right field against Huntington.

The winner of tonight's game advances to the State Tournament at approximately 7 p.m. Thursday, May 31 to face the winner of the Region 1 championship at Fairmont between John Marshall and Fairmont Senior.

JOSH WILBURN of Princeton and Chris Hawkins of Riverside have a combined five years of head coaching experience and are just 27 and 25 years old, respectively.

Tonight at Quincy, their free-swinging teams will square off for a spot in the Class AAA State Tournament in the Region 3 championship.

This one could take a while.

The Tigers, who finished as runners-up for the Mountain State Athletic Conference crown, are averaging 7.1 runs per game, while the Warriors (20-15), who set a single-season record for victories this year, are averaging 6.9.

Senior J.C. Pennington is expected to take the mound tonight for the Tigers (23-8), who are seeking their second State Tournament appearance in the last three years. Princeton dropped a 3-2 decision to eventual state champion Nitro in the 2010 semifinals.

Pennington hasn't lost this season, bringing into the game a 7-0 record with a 1.43 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 49 innings.

Offensively, the Tigers - who are hitting .359 as a team - are led by Corey Quick, who is batting .630 with 14 doubles and 51 RBI. Princeton has four regulars batting .370 or higher, including Seth Rose with a .448 average. Austin Southcott is batting .396 with 33 RBI and Alex Quick is at .370 with 23 RBI.

Riverside's team earned run average is 3.75. Hawkins, in his second season at Riverside, has used a pitching staff by committee.

At the plate, the Warriors are led by Doug Prather with a .427 average and 22 stolen bases. Catcher Alex Daugherty is batting .426 with team highs in doubles (16) and RBI (31). Trevor Rumberg is at .396.

The winner of this game plays at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, May 31 in the Class AAA State Tournament semifinals at Appalachian Power Park against the winner of tonight's game between Bridgeport and either Musselman or Washington. Tuesday's Musselman-Washington Region 2 semifinal game was postponed until Wednesday.

Last Updated on Friday, 25 May 2012 09:35

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