Hurricane, Martinsburg semifinal features big offensive numbers

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Hurricane enters its Class AAA baseball state tournament semifinal on Thursday against Martinsburg as the overall favorite, looking for some redemption after falling just short of a title last year in the championship game.

The Redskins (32-4) this year have been ranked No. 1 since March 25, have just two in-state losses and have won their last four postseason games by a combined 33 runs.

“This is a special group and we have 10 seniors who have played together for a while now and are committed to each other,” said Hurricane coach Brian Sutphin. “We faced some adversity in the sectionals and regionals, but fought back and we’re looking forward to the opportunity in Charleston. All four teams are extremely capable.”

Those most recent four postseason wins came after Hurricane found itself in a hole during sectional play, falling early to Spring Valley 4-2.

The Redskins, though, bounced back to beat second-ranked Cabell Midland 4-2 in an elimination contest and then defeated Spring Valley in consecutive games, 15-3 and 12-2 to survive sectional play.

“To bounce back and play a good game against Cabell Midland was great to see,” Sutphin said. “That just gave us the chance to come back against Spring Valley and we had to beat them twice. It was nice to see our guys fight back with their backs against the wall. From that point, that’s where we’ve been every game.”

Hurricane’s pitching staff is headlined by Coastal Carolina commit and junior lefty Jonathan Blackwell (5-2, 1.50 ERA) who has 74 strikeouts in 42 innings this year. Morehead State signee Noah Short (5-0, 1.08 ERA) is second on the team with 43 strikeouts in 32 and one-third innings pitched.

“Their numbers speak for themselves,” Sutphin said. “Jonathan (Blackwell) has worked hard at his craft and has continued to get better throughout the year. He’s been really good for us and is a great kid. Every time he has gotten the ball, he’s given us a chance to win.”

Hurricane ace Jonathan Blackwell entered the week with 74 strikeouts in 47 and two-thirds innings thrown.

Tyler Cox (6-1, 1.91 ERA), Liam Bailey (6-0, 2.20 ERA) and Logan McClure (4-0, 1.79 ERA) all have logged over 30 innings on the year as well for the Redskins.

Marshall-bound shortstop Chandler Kelley leads Hurricane at the plate, hitting .423 with 28 RBIs and 31 runs scored. Jake Allen (.417, 32 RBIs), Cox (.378, 38 RBIs, 29 runs scored), Bo Adkins (.375, 23 RBIs and 34 runs scored, Nate Dunam (.357, 32 RBIs, 44 runs scored), Noah Birthisel (.354, 17 RBIs, 18 runs scored), McClure (.370, 17 RBIs and 20 runs scored) and Austin Dearing (.310, 19 RBIs, 21 runs scored) are some of the other standouts at the plate.

Short also has 22 RBIs and 31 runs scored out of the three-hole in the order.

But Hurricane has been favored before, including a year ago when the Redskins watched St. Albans celebrate its first ever baseball title.

“High school baseball is crazy and there’s no guarantee of anything,” Sutphin said. “Through the years you will always have bumps in the road and you’ll go through things and be tested. Now, they’re all elimination games. Getting the opportunity to compete is what we’re looking forward to.”

Martinsburg (24-11), meanwhile, is making its first baseball state tournament appearance since it won the Class AAA title back in 2009.

“There’s all kinds of excitement around the program, it’s been a long time. None of these guys on this team have been to the state tournament in baseball,” said head coach Aaron Beiler. “We are fortunate enough to have a couple of football guys, so they understand what it’s like to play in a state tournament. They’re excited and ready for the opportunity.”

The No. 4 Bulldogs emerged out of a competitive Region 2 in Class AAA under Beiler, who is in his first year with the program.

“My expectation was just to try and change things around and make sure we played competitive baseball on a daily basis,” Beiler said. “We started to do that and see the results.

“The goal wasn’t necessarily to win the section or the region, it was just to get better every day and make sure we were doing the right things,” he continued. “When you do all of those things and the kids believe, it worked out well for us.”

The Bulldogs had to rally in regional play, bouncing back from a one-game-to-none hole in the series to beat Washington 7-6 and then 13-10, scoring five runs in the seventh inning of the deciding game.

“We stressed that it was a three-day, 21-inning battle and we were going to have to fight to the last out,” Beiler said. “That’s the way it worked out, it came down to that last at-bat. I didn’t think we played our best baseball that entire regional series. We were fortunate to win the region and we didn’t really play our best baseball any of those three games.

“We had won nine games in a row going into regionals and we were very confident at that point,” he continued. “It’s a great group of guys in the dugout, they have all of the confidence in the world and I expect them to play with that on Thursday.”

One of those leaders for the Bulldogs is junior shortstop Grant Harman, a three-sport standout overall, who has held prominent roles this year on Martinsburg’s state championship football team and runner-up basketball team.

“Grant Harman is a phenomenal kid and a great leader,” Beiler said. “He’s a gritty player and you would take nine of him on your team every day. He has a refuse-to-lose attitude. He’s a pure competitor.”

Harman is hitting .320 on the year with 11 RBIs and 27 runs scored.

Ashton Staubs is hitting .402 on the season for Martinsburg with 29 RBIs and 41 runs scored.

Garrett Hobson has led the Bulldogs with a .467 batting mark, 35 RBIs and 29 runs. Mikey Jackson (.415, 22 RBIs, 30 runs), Ashton Staubs (.402, 29 RBIs, 41 runs), Noah Slack (.394, 33 RBIs, 16 runs), Kyle Farmer (.379, 36 RBIs, 38 runs), Trey Sine (.366, 18 RBIs, 27 runs) and Aaron Pierson (.328, 13 RBIs) are all hitting over .300 on the year as well.

“To come out of that region, you have to be a good ballclub and to win 24 games,” Sutphin said of Martinsburg. “They’re a resilient team and we’re looking forward to the competition being strong. Their opponents have been quality and they’ve played good baseball all year.”

The Bulldogs enter Thursday’s game having won 11 of their last 12, while Hurricane entered Tuesday having won eight in a row.

“We know Hurricane is a very good baseball team,” Beiler said. “We know we’re going to have our work cut out for us. Our biggest thing right now is focusing on making sure the bats are up to speed because we haven’t really seen mid-to-upper 80s on a consistent basis. But we won’t be intimidated by that, we’ll make sure we’re ready.

“We know they’re very sound defensively and they hit the fastball very well,” he continued. “We’re going to have to make sure we’re mixing pitches and keeping them off balance. We have to make plays behind our starting pitcher. But you get to this level and you expect everyone to be pretty good.”

Thursday, May 31 — Class AAA semifinals

4:30 p.m. — No. 1 Hurricane (32-4) vs. No. 4 Martinsburg (24-11)

50 minutes after game one — No. 2 St. Albans (28-10) vs. No. 3 Wheeling Park (20-6)

Saturday, June 2

10 a.m. — Class AAA state championship

45 minutes after awards presentation — Class AA state championship

45 minutes after awards presentation — Class A state championship

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