By Luke Wiggs, Panhandle News Network Sport
Martinsburg, W.Va- It’s been 6 years since Jefferson hoisted their 12th state title in Charleston, but since then, a panhandle team has not even reached the title game.
When the 2023 baseball season began, the EPAC conference was full of a lot of uncertainty, namely would any team be able to compete for a championship?
Well, as the season has developed, multiple programs have answered that call and want nothing more than an audition to prove they’re the best in the state. And fortunately for them, that audition begins today.
Berkeley County Section:
The undisputed heavyweight of the 2 sections, Berkeley county boasts 4 teams who all feel they have something to prove. (1) Hedgesville claimed the top seed in the section, pitting them against (4) Spring Mills. That leaves a barn burning round 1 matchup between (2) Musselman and (3) Martinsburg who split their regular season contests.
(4) Spring Mills (4-19)- Despite a 2 win increase from a season ago, it’s still been a disappointing season for the redbirds. Spring Mills won 4 of their first 7 before finishing the regular season with 16 straight defeats.
I still believe a nothing to lose Cardinal club is still dangerous, boasting Cayden Compton who’s hitting above .300 and Peyton Girardin who has missed some bats this season, but it will be hard to back Spring Mills this postseason as they continue to rebuild.
(3) Martinsburg (18-9)- The Bulldogs may be the hottest team in the Panhandle, winning 6 of their last 7 regular season games. That streak is important because Martinsburg did not have 1 longer than 3 victories until this point.
Michael Lupis and Chris boober create a formidable duo on the hill. Jordan Canby may be the best pound for pound center fielder in the conference. Martinsburg has also slain some giants this year beating power house Jefferson twice.
How, may you ask, is an 18 win ball club 3rd in this section? The answer I feel certainly speaks to the overall depth of the area.
(2) Musselman (22-9)- When the Applemen started the season 0-4, people were concerned. When they then rattled off 16 consecutive victories, people were no longer concerned.
Musselman have 5 hitters above the .300 line including Kyle Lore hitting a scorching .471. On the bump, coach Josh Hartman has 3 high quality arms to turn to in Jason Meyers (3.14 era), Dylan Stephens (2.85) and Bayden Hartman (1.98).
Hedgesville (21-7)- If Martinsburg aren’t the hottest team headed into sectional play, the Eagles, who have scored 45 runs in their last 4 games are.
A .321 team batting average is highlighted by Braylon Conner hitting a modest .468. The sophomore has also stolen 21 bases for good measure.
Coincidentally, the Eagles also have 3 hurlers they are pretty proud of in Lane Delauter (3.50), Jaxson Ruest (3.15) and Tanner matthew (3.11).
Hedgesville have had back to back seasons end in heartbreaking sectional one run losses and would love to break that streak, then head down to Charleston for the first time since 2019.
Jefferson County (sort of) Section:
(3) Hampshire (5-15)- It’s been a tough season for the Trojans but they did end the regular season campaign with a 7-5 win over Moorefield.
Connor Wolford has kept his batting average above .400 for much of the season and will be asked to shoulder much of the load for the boys from Romney
Washington (11-17)- Washington are in the midst of a 3 game losing streak. The Patriots need to rely heavily on one of Josh McCarthy, Brandon Dunbar, or Brad Smetek to put in a good shift on the mound.
The Pats are also just 5-10 on the road and as a lower seed will need to buck that trend.
Jefferson (24-6)- While it may look like the same old Cougars, nothing was guaranteed for Jefferson this season.
After a heart breaking semifinal exit last season, the Cougar offense got off to a slow start, scoring 3 runs or less in 5 of their first 8 games.
After a midseason renaissance, the Cougars won 13 in a row en route to 24 victories. What this John Lowrey ballclub lacks in pop they make up for in speed, swiping 117 bags in 131 attempts.
Oh, and by the way, the Jefferson TEAM era is 1.75. The Cougars have fanned 217 batters in 196 innings with their opposition hitting just .212 against them.
When filling out his lineup card, coach Lowry can turn to one of Hefner, Fletcher, Kelly, Morgan, or Shipe, attorneys at law (all who have over 26 innings pitched and sub 3 era’s) and expect great things.