If every high school baseball team in West Virginia had an artificial infield, few games would be postponed because of damp weather.
This week, Mountain State squads won’t fret as at least six days of dry, sunny weather is forecast across the state that has two panhandles. Here’s a look at some of the state’s top players and teams as the prep baseball campaign hits high gear in the final week of March and initial week of April.
Top Class AAA players?
Defending champion Martinsburg lost its big gun, pitcher/first baseman Brandon King, who was drafted in the 27th round by the Washington Nationals in the Major League First-Year Player Draft.
However, runner-up Nitro returns its top player in shortstop/pitcher J.R. Bradley, who, following his junior year, decided to give a commitment to North Carolina State.
Hurricane brings back most of its big guns. Although star pitcher Brett Barber has graduated, the Redskins received a pleasant surprise when left-handed pitching baseball junkie Sam Kmiec made his home in Hurricane after his father got a job at Marshall University in Huntington. The Redskins are playing without their first baseman and No. 3 hitter, Evan Oyler, who injured his wrist on a practice swing before the season and is out indefinitely.
Fairmont Senior senior pitcher Mike Ice, who burst onto the scene his sophomore year, will try to help the Polar Bears continue their impressive run after making the state finals four times since 2000.
Cabell Midland saw a disappointing end to its 2009 campaign when the Knights finished 25-5 but failed to reach the state tournament. Chris Weed will be their big gun on the mound and already owns a victory over Hurricane this season.
Looking at Class AA
Defending champion Lincoln returns its top player in all-state selection Jacob Harlow. As a junior, Harlow hit nine home runs and had a .404 batting average as Coach John DeMarco’s team won its second state title since 2000. The Cougars also claimed the 2003 Class AA crown.
Independence reached the State Tournament last year, but lost in the first round. Returning to lead the Patriots is Kendrick Epling. The son of former WVU Tech coach Tim Epling had a 6-2 record with a 0.28 ERA and 97 strikeouts in 50 innings as a junior.
The team that eliminated Independence in last year’s semifinals returns its top player in D.W. Herdman. Herdman had a .409 record and the Black Knights finished 20-11, their last loss coming to Lincoln in the championship.
The youngest of the state tournament qualifiers last year was Sissonville, and it returns a bevy of its stars, including centerfielder Tyler Burdette. Burdette batted .384 with 12 doubles and 38 stolen bases for coach John Brown’s aggressive offensive team. The Indians also bring back their top pitcher, hard-throwing Jameson Landers.
Down in Class A
Wheeling Central’s ownership of the state’s smallest class ended last year when the Maroon Knights failed to win the state championship for only the second time in five years.
Moorefield won its second title since 2002, defeating Man in the title game. However, it might be a team that didn’t reach the state tournament that will make the biggest impact in Class A this year.
Buffalo returns arguably the state’s best player in left-hander Jason Lewis. Lewis, a two-time all-state first-team selection, will be the Bison’s ace and No. 3 hitter under first-year coach Jamie Ball. Buffalo’s No. 2 pitcher and starting shortstop, Jared Tucker, is the team’s other primary ingredient.
Lewis will be battling last year’s Class A all-state captain Max Nogay for top small-school honors. Nogay led the Blue Dons to the state tournament last season.
Rich Stevens, a sportswriter for the Charleston Daily Mail, covers West Virginia for MaxPreps.