LISTEN: Fairmont Senior's Steve Naternicola
FAIRMONT, W.Va. – It has been a consistent and confounding story for Fairmont Senior’s baseball program: Eight state championship game appearances, eight state championship game losses.
The Polar Bears have finished one win short of a state championship with alarming frequency in 2013, 2011, 2008, 2005, 2004, 2003, 1996 and 1946.
After a dramatic 10-inning 9-6 state semifinal win over Bridgeport last year, the Polar Bears seemed destined to finally capture that elusive title when they held a 5-1 sixth-inning lead over Herbert Hoover in the Class AA championship game.
Fairmont Senior was just four outs away from the title before Corey Bird led Hoover on a two-out rally—the Huskies scoring six times in the sixth and closed out the game for a 7-5 win.
“We just couldn’t get an out,” said Fairmont Senior coach Steve Naternicola, who earned his 500th career win earlier this year. “I used all of our pitchers against Bridgeport and we just fell a little short, which happens in baseball.
“It’s tough on the seniors when we get to the state tournament and don’t win it. I’ve been there quite often and I see it in their eyes. They’re very upset (with the losses).”
What will it take for Naternicola’s club to finally get over that championship hump?
“We’re going to need really good pitching and good defense,” he said. “Right now we’re starting quite a few underclassmen and have given up quite a few runs on mistakes.”
This year’s team entered Wednesday with an 11-4 record after going 1-3 in Myrtle Beach. Fairmont Senior entered the week ranked No. 3 in Class AA, behind defending champion Herbert Hoover and another state tournament participant from last year, Independence.
“We were fortunate to be able to watch Independence play (in Myrtle Beach) and they’re very talented,” Naternicola said. “I know Herbert Hoover is very talented, but we just may surprise this year. Everyone thinks we lost quite a few kids, which we did, but we had a lot of kids coming back who worked out a good bit.”
Fairmont Senior returned a key nucleus of starters from 2013, including a senior group of Austin Norman, Johnny Kesling, Ryder Skarzinski, Gage Hannah and Bailey Mohr.
“All of them are hitting over or close to .400 right now,” Naternicola said of his senior standouts. “We have a pretty good group of hitters—probably the best group that we’ve had ever since I’ve been here.”
Norman and Mohr, meanwhile, have both led the Polar Bears on the mound overall, a duo that will be key if Fairmont Senior does finally land that coveted first state championship.
“They have a goal,” Naternicola said. “They would love to be the first team to win the state championship for Fairmont Senior.”