By Luke Wiggs, Panhandle News Network
Martinsburg, W.Va- The biggest tragedy to come of the regional championship series between Jefferson and Hedgesville will be that it’s only best of 3.
These 2 ball clubs have been among the region and state’s best, especially over the last 5 years.
(records by region teams: last 5 seasons according to MaxPreps)
- Jefferson: 131-37 (78%)
2. Martinsburg: 112-51 (69%)
3. Hedgesville: 107-53 (67%)
4. Musselman: 82-67 (55%)
5. Washington: 59-88 (40%)
6.Hampshire: 44-77 (36%)
7. Spring Mills: 35-87 (29%)
With a spot in West Virginia high school baseball’s biggest stage on the line, these cross-county foes will finally answer the question of panhandle baseball supremacy.
Regular Season Meetings
To no one’s surprise, the regular season games between the 2 were split. On March 27th, Hedgesville took game 1.Trenton Knieriem played the hero with a go ahead double in the top of the 8th for the Eagles who also got a strong start (7 ip, 1 er, 3ks) from Tanner Matthew and won 3-2.
The 2nd game went to the boys from Jefferson 11-3. Riley Morgan went 5 strong for the Cougars, and 9 different Jefferson players drove in runs.
How They Got Here
Despite both being top seeds in their respective sections, Hedgesville had to play 5 games to Jefferson’s 2 to advance.
The Eagles had a first round scare from Spring Mills, having to plate 2 in the 5th to come from behind and win 3-2. Hedgesville then lost to Musselman in their 1st of 3 times matching up with the Applemen.
This set up an elimination game with Martinsburg which the Eagles led from start to finish. Fortunately, being the #1 seed gave the Eagles home-field advantage in their remaining 2 games with Musselman.
Hedgesville dominated the first, winning 12-2.
The winner takes all game between the Berkeley County clubs, saw 4 lead changes, and ended in a Lane Delauter walk-off.
Jefferson’s path was much more comfortable. The Cougars took 2 games from Washington, 10-3 and 9-0. Jefferson Pitchers Caleb Fletcher and Riley Morgan each went the distance in their starts.
The Eagles are a balanced ball club hitting .325 and having a sub 4 era as a team. Braylon Conner leads the line offensively though has seen a batting average that was above .500 for much of April slightly dip to .459. He’s also swiped 22 bags.
The lineup also features Brett Pederson and his 3 long balls on the season and Chris French who, after struggling to find offensive footing early, is hitting .417 since April 21st.
Pitching is a three-pronged attack for the birds. Jaxon Ruest, Lane Delauter, and Tanner Matthew have thrown 68% of the innings for Hedgesville this season, and every inning in postseason play. Ruest is arguably in the best current form allowing just 4 runs over his last 17 innings of work. It’s no stretch to say all 3 will be asked to shoulder a significant load to take this series
Jefferson’s .278 team average should not be taken at face value. The Cougar’s OBP is .409 and they’ve stolen 126 bags at an 88% success rate.
Cole Lewis has garnered a lot of positive adjectives to describe his season at the plate, the biggest one being consistency. I’m sure he was frustrated starting the season 0-1 against Goretti, so frustrated for no other game the rest of the season he’s let his average dip below .300 where it’s currently settled at .321. He’s also stolen 24 bases for good measure, tied for the team lead with Riley Morgan.
But I’ve buried the lead. The Cougars boast a 1.67 team era. They have more shutouts (7) than games allowing 4 or more runs (3).
And this success on the hill isn’t because of 1 or 2 arms, 7 different players have thrown double-digit innings for the state’s most eastern high school. And none of those 7 have an era over 3.
The Jefferson pitching staff has fanned 228 hitters and walked just 85. The whole state should grab their popcorn and enjoy the heavyweight battles between any one of Riley Morgan (2.38 era, 54 k’s), Daquon Shipe (1.62, 25), Ryan Heffner (2.43, 28), Ryan Kelly (1.62, 19), or Caleb Fletcher (0.91, 68) and the big 3 from Hedgesville.
All three games (Monday and Tuesday at 7 pm, and Wednesday at 1 pm) can be heard right here on the Panhandle News network.