Chuck Landon: Facing ace forces an adjustment by Redskins
CHARLESTON -- The mere question made Brian Sutphin burst into laughter.
Hey, Coach, since when do you play smallball?
"No, no, no," protested Hurricane High School's personable baseball coach with a grin. "I'm not a smallball guy. I believe in aggressive hitting, no question."
But when Sutphin's Redskins are playing in the West Virginia high school state baseball tournament in Appalachian Power Park and are facing a pitcher that already has committed to VMI. ... well, a coach adjusts.
"Obviously, runs were going to be hard to come by," said Sutphin of facing Washington High School's star pitcher Jared Silva on Friday morning in a semifinal game. "The kid out there throwing is going to VMI for a reason. They won 13 games in a row for a reason, too.
"So, we knew that runs were going to be at a premium.
"We had confidence in our defense, particularly with J.T. (Rogoszewski) on the mound. We just wanted to chip away."
Putt-putt away is more like it.
Just consider the way Hurricane scored its first run in an eventual 3-1 win over Washington.
It all started in the second inning with a walk to Brandon Pauley. Then, Sutphin had Justin Crouch lay down a two-strike sacrifice bunt. Zach Pate followed by trying to bunt for a hit, but it also turned into a sacrifice. Then, a passed ball allowed Pauley to scamper home with the first run of the game.
Mini-ball is more like it.
Yet, Hurricane led, 1-0, despite not even hitting a ball to the infield dirt.
The second and deciding run was more of the same. This time Rogoszewski was hit by a pitch. Then, Alexander Dunham walked. That set the stage for Tate Brock to send a groundball up the middle, which didn't roll very far into the outfield grass, for an RBI.
And from Sutphin, of all people.
"Early on when I came to Hurricane we were old bats," said Sutphin, referring to composite bats. "And we had some men. But it has changed. We hit 52 homers in 2011. And the next year we hit eight homers and won the same amount of games.
"It was because of the new bats and we were younger. We were starting three or four freshmen and a lot of sophomores. Those sophomores are seniors now. The Pates and the (Austin) Hensleys and the (Ace) Esteps and the Dunhams of the world.
"So, we had to play that way. That has helped us later on to be able to play that way."
The mini-ball approach turned out to be the key to Hurricane advancing to the Class AAA state championship game against Riverside at approximately 1 p.m. Saturday.
"Well, there weren't a lot of balls leaving the yard," said Sutphin with a laugh. "A walk and two sacrifices? Sure. High school baseball and even the college game is like that now. You have to constantly put pressure on the other team.
"There aren't a lot of three-run homers anymore."
That's why even a big-inning coach like Sutphin was willing to adjust.
"Oh, yeah," he said. "I've been doing it long enough to know that you have to adapt to what your game presents itself. Fortunately for our team, right now they are versatile enough to play any style."
That's the difference between winning and losing.
And reaching a championship game.
Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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