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Rigorous schedule helped put Knights in position to succeed at state tournament

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Cabell Midland’s baseball program has lost 19 games and failed to win the Mountain State Athletic Conference championship over the last two seasons.

That’s just fine for the Knights, who followed a similar script to last season and peaked when it mattered most to repeat as Class AAA state champion.

This time around, CMHS finished 27-9 and after blanking Morgantown in a semifinal last Thursday, the Knights held off MSAC rival George Washington, 3-2, in Saturday’s title game. 

A season ago, Midland finished 30-10, and got past MSAC rival St. Albans in a state semifinal, before defeating Hedgesville in the final.

“Last year was special,” Knights’ head coach Tracy Brumfield said. “Coming back with these kids and eight seniors, it’s incredible. I don’t know which one is better. I love both of them.”

Two of those seniors — Kenyon Collins and Jared Nethercutt — were largely responsible for Midland’s success this time around at GoMart Ballpark.

Collins, who will stay near home and play baseball at Marshall, was essentially untouchable in an 8-0 semifinal win over the Mohigans. He allowed one hit over 6 1/3 innings, striking out 10 and walking five. Collins’ ability to prevent MHS from generating a plethora of baserunners helped take the Mohigans out of their desired game plan of moving baserunners over and trying to cause fits through fundamentally sound small ball.

“We knew we were going to have to score runs and play small ball,” Morgantown head coach Pat Sherald said, “and we weren’t able to get it going.”

The Mohigans squandered several early scoring chances and paid dearly for it as those chances were few and far between the rest of the way after Midland took control with a three-run third inning.

“We had talked about Kenyon’s pitch count, but as the game goes on, he does get stronger and I thought he did,” Brumfield said.

Two days later, Midland was back at it against a Patriots’ team it split with in two competitive regular season contests. GW claimed the season’s first meeting 1-0 in Ona, before the Knights returned the favor with a 2-0 triumph 17 days later in Charleston.

This one played out in similar fashion to each of those games, with neither team scoring more than one run in any inning. While the Knights never trailed, they were never comfortably ahead.

Like Collins in the semifinal, Nethercutt worked 6 1/3 effective innings, allowing two runs on six hits. He struck out four to double his base-on-balls total. 

Still, when Nethercutt was replaced by fellow senior Aden McCormill with two on and one out in the top of the seventh, the Patriots had the tying run in scoring position and go-ahead run at first base for leadoff batter Chuck Kelley.

Kelley hit a well-struck ball up the middle, but Collins, playing shortstop, came up with the catch to start an unassisted game-ending double play.

“This team has a will to win,” Collins said. “I know people have said our bats haven’t worked as well this year, but they worked good enough, because we won a state championship. The will to win and the defense is the biggest help on the pitching to not give up as many runs. We do well on that side.”

Midland’s ability to deliver in the most critical of moments can largely be attributed to its personnel and coaching, but also a rigorous schedule the Knights face that readies them for all different types of situations.

Before state tournament play, CMHS faced MSAC champion Spring Valley five times between the regular season, MSAC title game and sectional play. The Knights battled Ripley four times throughout the regular season and an evenly-matched best-of-three regional series that saw Midland outscore the Vikings 6-4 in three games, while advancing to the state tournament with a 1-0 win in 12 innings in the decisive matchup.

Additionally, Midland had faced GW, St. Albans, Hurricane and Boyd County (Ky.) twice each, along with Morgantown, Bridgeport and Winfield once.

Brumfield’s team finished 11-9 in those 20 games.

“Who we play all year long puts us in these situations,” Brumfield said. “We tell the kids all the time you’re going to be in big-game situations and you have to put the bunts down and make the routine plays. We’ve been there. Spring Valley last year and this year, Ripley this year in the 12-inning game, Boyd County and everybody else. We play the toughest schedule in the state to help us get to where we’re at today.”

Collins felt the challenges put the team in the best position to again succeed on the biggest stage.

“We always say every year if we can get through the section and region, then we have a pretty good shot at winning states,” Collins said, “because it’s the toughest region in the state.”

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