Prep baseball: Bird, Herbert Hoover begin season with state title aspirations
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Herbert Hoover senior Corey Bird realizes that losing the Class AA state baseball championship by one run surrendered in the seventh inning isn't necessarily a life-changing event, but it has an indelible impact on his life since the end of his junior year.
"There is not a day that goes by that I don't think about that exact game," said Bird, whose team opens the season March 18 against South Charleston at Jeff Holliday Field. "It's definitely not been easy."
The Huskies will begin their season in 14 days with a state title on their minds after Wyoming East scored a run in the seventh to earn a 1-0 title game verdict at Appalachian Power Park.
For Bird's part, the first-team All-State outfielder has done some things to get over the hump.
"I've been doing a bunch of lifting, spring work, Plyometrics, it's been a good offseason," Bird said.
He's expected to remain in the leadoff spot, although Coach Brian Young said he could be moved to the No. 3 spot. The bats behind him are what will determine whether or not the Huskies will spend another spring at the home of the West Virginia Power.
"I expect to have him a little bit more of the same (as last season)," Young said of Bird. "I think he'll put a little more pressure on himself. I just hope he relaxes and has a good season. He'll be the leader, not that he wasn't, but he'll have to be more of a verbal leader."
Bird's numbers have improved every season, going from a .375 batting average as a sophomore, to .491 as a junior. The Marshall University recruit struck out only once last season, while striking out just a combined 12 times as a freshman and sophomore. He also has 64 career stolen bases and walked 27 times last season.
Helping him in the lineup will be senior Ryan Shamblin, junior Hunter White, catcher Matthew "Scooter" Farmer and senior Austin Thomas. Those four combined for 292 at-bats last season.
Hoover said good-bye to Zach Mullins and Zach Wright, who combined to bat .387. Mullins held the team lead with seven home runs and began the season from the No. 3 spot in the order.
Wright moved into that position, increasing his RBI total until he finished with a team-high 32.
The Zachs are the most significant losses for Hoover, which had five other graduates who combined for 87 at-bats. Mullins' arm also will be missed. He kept Hoover in the state title game and finished the season with a 2.93 earned run average in 40 innings. Brent Curry, who did most of his damage on the mound, was among the players lost to graduation.
The batting order could be fluid early in the season, according to Young.
"The No. 3 spot will probably go to Cody Bowen and we'll see where that takes us," Young said. "You never know with that right now."
The key figure on the mound this season will be junior Tristan Fields, who begins his third year as a varsity player. His earned run average was deceptively high (4.14), but he threw 54 1/3 innings and had 69 strikeouts.
Offensively, Fields batted .375 and was second on the team in home runs with three.
The No. 2 hurler for the Huskies also will probably be Bowen.
He had 20 strikeouts in 20 2/3 innings last season and an ERA of 7.84, but he also had a low walk total at 2.22 per inning, among returning pitchers. Even Fields' was at 2.36.
Bird will throw some innings, as well as junior Hunter White, who pitched in four games last year. His career pitching line came as a sophomore when he tossed 4 1/3 innings, with six strikeouts and one walk, but two earned runs for a 4.15 ERA.
The Huskies can crunch numbers all day, but the only ones that matter are 1 and 0, as in the number of runs Wyoming East and Hoover had respectively in last year's championship.
"You think about it all the time, what you could've done differently, what went wrong," Young said. "They have it in the back of their minds, and so do we (coaches). They're focused and ready."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4837.