CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Half of the Class A field played in the state final a year ago, while all four participants have hoisted the championship trophy before.
One thing is certain headed into this weekend at Appalachian Power Park — Man, Pendleton County, Wheeling Central Catholic and defending champion Wahama all have their eyes on the same prize … calling themselves the 2016 Class A baseball champions of West Virginia.
The Class A state tournament pits four programs with varying postseason histories, as well as a quartet of very different roads that have led to Friday morning contests in the Mountain State’s capital city.
Wheeling Central Catholic (17-9) and Pendleton County (25-9) open Class A semifinal play at 10 a.m. Friday, with the White Falcons (20-11) and Man (12-17) scheduled to start the second semifinal approximately 50 minutes following Game 1.
The two winners from Friday’s contests will play in the second of three championship games on Saturday. The Class A final will start at approximately 12:30 p.m.
Both Wahama and the Hillbillies have accounted for the last two Class A crowns, with WHS knocking off the 2014 champions by a 7-0 count in last spring’s Class A state final. The victory allowed the Red and White to capture the baseball program’s third state crown after previously winning titles in both 1996 and 1998.
The White Falcons will be making their seventh state appearance in program history after also having qualified for the 1969, 1978 and 1988 tournaments. WHS is 8-3 all-time in Final Four contests and own a six-game winning streak at the state level headed into the weekend.
Much like a year ago, the strength of Wahama has been based on dominant pitching, solid defense and sufficient run support. The White Falcons have outscored opponents by a 243-92 overall margin this season, which averages out over 31 games to 7.8 runs scored and just under three runs allowed.
More impressively, Wahama has outscored its 2016 tournament opponents by a substantial 41-2 margin in five games — which includes a trio of shutouts.
WHS owns 10 shutout victories this season and has scored 10-or-more runs in a dozen contests this season. Conversely, the White Falcons have surrendered six-or-more runs only five times this spring while being blanked on only three occasions — all of which came against regional qualifiers.
Wahama — which won its eighth consecutive sectional title while also claiming a share of its third straight TVC Hocking championship so far this season — is only 5-5 in its last 10 games, but all five of those victories have come as the home team in tournament contests.
However, the White Falcons will be the visiting team on the scoreboard Friday. The winner of the WHS-Man contest will also serve as the away team in Saturday’s championship tilt.
On the bright side, the Red and White were the guests in each of their state tournament games a year ago en route to the program’s third title.
Wahama’s opponent, Man, will be appearing in its third straight Class A Final Four. The Hillbillies own only the 2014 Class A championship in school history, but also finished as runners-up in 2009 and 2010.
MHS was 1-6 and 2-10 early on during the regular season, but the Red and Blue found a late rhythm while stringing together wins in 10 of their final 17 contests. Man has also won five of its last six outings and is a perfect 4-0 in tournament play.
The Hillbillies, for the season, have barely edged past opponents by a 136-124 overall margin — averages of 4.7 runs for and 4.3 runs against over 29 games.
The postseason, however, has been a different stories as MHS has thumped opponents by a 29-2 count in four games — scoring an average of 7.3 runs while allowing only half of a run defensively.
The Hillbillies have scored at least one run in 18 straight games after being shut out four times in their first 11 outings. Three of Man’s five shutout wins have come in the postseason and the Hillbillies have scored 10-or-more runs in a game seven times this spring.
MHS has used eight different starting pitchers throughout the course of the 2016 campaign, but senior Jake Adkins has started three of Man’s four postseason contests — all of which resulted in winning decisions.
Adkins has started in 10 of 13 appearances on the mound, posting a 4-2 record while logging a team-high 57.2 innings of work. Adkins owns a 1.34 ERA and has allowed 22 runs, 40 hits and 25 walks while fanning 80.
Junior Seth Chapman leads MHS with a .333 batting average and is tied with senior John Thomas Keffer with a team-best 20 RBIs apiece. Keffer is also the team leader with four home runs.
Cameron Simpson is the only other Man batter with an average over .300 as the junior is hitting .315 for the year. Simpson also has 38 innings logged on the mound — second-most on the team — while sporting a 2-4 record in 12 appearances and six starts.
The first Class A contest features a pair of programs that haven’t been to the state level in a while. Wheeling Central Catholic last appeared in the state tournament after capturing the 2011 crown, while Pendleton County is coming back for the first time since winning the 2004 championship.
WCCHS — which also won state titles in 1999, 2000, 2005, 2007 and 2008 — has outscored opponents by a 184-124 overall margin, which averages out to 7.1 runs for and 4.8 runs allowed.
The Maroon Knights are 4-1 this postseason and have outscored teams by a 35-13 overall margin, which averages out to seven runs for and 2.6 runs allowed.
Wheeling Central Catholic has scored 10-or-more runs 10 times this spring and has allowed 10-or-more runs only three times. WCCHS has one shutout victory and has been shut out once as well this year.
PCHS — which is making its fourth state appearance in program history — has hammered the opposition this year by a 306-143 overall clip, which averages out to nine runs offensively and 4.2 runs allowed.
The Wildcats are also a perfect 4-0 in tournament play while outscoring opponents by a 39-7 margin, averages of 9.8 runs for and 1.8 runs allowed.
Pendleton County has scored 10-or-more runs on 16 different occasions this spring while also recording three shutout wins. Conversely, PCHS has allowed 10-or-more runs only three times while being shut out only once.
The Class AA semifinals start Thursday at 4:30, with Game 1 featuring Braxton County (22-10) and defending champion Bridgeport (28-6). The second AA semifinal pits PikeView (22-3) against Wayne (23-10-1).
The two winners will play at 10 a.m. Saturday in the Class AA final.
The Class AAA semifinals start Friday at 5 p.m., with Game 1 featuring Wheeling Park (14-12) and defending champion Jefferson (34-3). The second AAA semifinal pits Ripley (24-11) against Nitro (23-10).
The two winners will play at approximately 3 p.m. Saturday in the Class AAA final.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.