Redskins ready for state
HURRICANE, W.Va. -- The state baseball tournament inspires in some players a fire-in-the-belly, run-through-a-wall attitude stereotypical of athletes.
Hurricane High School shortstop Trey Dawson takes a surprisingly opposite approach into the Redskins' 10 a.m. Friday, Class AAA semifinal against Washington at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston.
"We make this game too important sometimes," Dawson said. "It's high school baseball, so have fun."
The Redskins (27-7) have enjoyed a lot of fun this season, winning a tightly contested sectional title game, 1-0, at Cabell Midland, then topping Nitro, 9-2, at home to win the Region IV title. Losing either game would have been a disappointment for Dawson's teammates, who look at the postseason a bit differently than does Dawson.
"This was a weight lifted off our shoulders," pitcher/third baseman Austin Hensley said. "The past few years, we couldn't get it done. We couldn't get past Midland. Our goal this season from day one was to win a state championship."
Each of the last three seasons, Hurricane spent time atop the Class AAA rankings. This year, the Redskins earned an opportunity to prove they deserve a No. 1 ranking. The challenge figures to be significant, as Washington (23-4) is known for its ability to limit runs.
"I know they have two really good pitchers," Hurricane coach Brian Sutphin said.
The Hurricane-Washington winner advances to Saturday's 1 p.m. championship game against the victor from the other semifinal featuring Riverside (19-10) and Wheeling Park (20-6). The Warriors and Patriots play at 12:45 p.m. Friday.
Hurricane hasn't always played like a champion this season. The Redskins began the season 10-1 and entered the Jack Cook Wood bat Invitational at Huntington High in mid-April as the favorite to win the four-team tournament. An opening 6-4 loss to Class AA power Bridgeport was followed by a surprising 4-1 loss to Morgantown. The consecutive defeats didn't rattle Hurricane, however, as it won 17 of its next 21.
The late-season performance built the team's confidence.
"I have a good feeling about this team," Dawson said. "We're playing well at the right time."
Hurricane is pressure tested. The sectional victory over Cabell Midland was a tense game that could have changed course on nearly each pitch. It ended with state Gatorade West Virginia Player of the Year Seth Kinker smashing a fly ball that Redskins center fielder Zach Pate caught diving about five feet from the fence.
The Redskins followed by beating Nitro in the regional, their eighth straight victory.
"Who wouldn't want to pitch in the regional finals," Hensley asked. "When you pitch, you're pretty much the quarterback. I'm the quarterback on our football team, so I'm used to pressure."
Hensley will take his quarterbacking skills to West Virginia University in the fall. Dawson will be there, too, having signed to play baseball for the Mountaineers. Before beginning their off-season college workouts, they hope to celebrate two more victories.
Washington would love to spoil Hurricane's hopes of winning its first state title since 2002 and second since 1999. The Patriots defeated Hedgesville, 5-4, to win a sectional crown, then topped Lewis County, 12-2, to take the Region II title.
Washington is known for strong hitting and pitching. Washington bats .314 as a team and although it has hit just six home runs, has stolen 35 bases. Jared Silva leads the Patriots with a .412 batting average and .489 on base percentage. He has 20 runs batted in. Robert Cross has 27 RBI, hits .411 and has reached base at a .477 clip.
Silva, a senior, also leads the pitching staff, with a 7-1 record and 0.80 earned run average. Ryan French is 5-1 with a 0.58 ERA. Zac Burch is 3-0 with a 0.28 ERA.
If Washington has a weakness, it's in the field. The Patriots average more than two errors per game and have a .914 fielding percentage.
Sutphin said his team is focused squarely on Washington.
"The thing about this team is that it has a knack for not looking too far ahead or too far behind," Sutphin said. "Nothing worth having comes easily and they know that. They believe in one another. They're good teammates who push each other and get along well."
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