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Prep baseball: Hedgesville rowdy, enters event on roll

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Hedgesville has become a big-game hunter this spring, and, as a result, will be spending the latter part of this week chasing a Class AAA state baseball championship.

Region 4 has long been known as the power portion of the state in big-school baseball, but this season, the Eagles' run through the Eastern Panhandle has, at least, rivaled that of Cabell Midland.

Victories over the state's best-ever Class AAA program - Jefferson, as well as surging Hampshire - has the tiny community in Berkeley County dancing in the streets.

Well, everyone except for third-year Coach Dirk Webb, who chooses to maintain a business-like tone when speaking of his team's success.  

"We've just really worked on fundamentals and playing the game the way it's supposed to be played," said Webb, who was a first-team Class AAA All-State member for Hedgesville in 2004. "We've just tried to put the kids in a position to succeed and they've done a great job of taking advantage of situations they other team gives us and that we put ourselves in."

Webb is a Hedgesville and Shepherd University alumnus who has taken the Eagles (27-7) to a place they haven't been since 1974 - the State Tournament.

His Region 2 champions will face Region 1 champion Parkersburg South (27-8) at 5 p.m. Friday in the Class AAA semifinals at Appalachian Power Park.

He didn't have a timeline for success, but in his first season as head coach after serving one as an assistant under Ben Merica, Webb put a system in place.

 Hedgesville has won nine consecutive games and 13 of its last 14, including victories over Martinsburg (2009 Class AAA champion), Jefferson (2011 champion) and 25-4 Hampshire.

Much of the success, Webb admits, can be attributed to a slightly different personality in the dugout.

"When we get down there, we'll open a couple eyes," Webb said. "Our team is a very loud and rowdy group. They stay in the whole game, cheering, jumping around in the dugout. To say they're excited is an understatement."

If a team is a reflection of its coach, then the Eagles did a 180-degree turn, going from the reserved personality of Webb to that of excitable assistant Nicky Brown.

"I personally didn't encourage it as much, I was always a quiet guy," Webb said.

"One of my assistant coaches, he kind of ran with it and pushed it. We started out as the quiet team in the dugout and didn't say much. We got a little bit of energy and played well, then got more energy and played even better. It borderlines on a little bit too much energy. It's definitely an interesting game to watch.

"Our rule is as long as they keep it appropriate, I really don't care."

*  *  *

FAIRMONT SENIOR will take a different route to a state championship in its ninth visit to the State Tournament in the last 10 years.

The Polar Bears will play in the final four as a Class AA team, while making their ninth State Tournament appearance in the last 10 years as a Class AAA program.

Fairmont Senior Coach Steve Naternicola is in his 25th season as head coach, but the Polar Bears earned their first state berth in 1946.

The Polar Bears (27-6) return six players who participated in their 10-8 nine-inning state semifinal loss to Nitro last year, including Matt Robbins, the starting pitcher in that game.

*  *  *

CHARLESTON CATHOLIC and Herbert Hoover will try to shore up their teams for the State Tournament when they play at 2:30 p.m. today at University of Charleston's Triana Field.

In one meeting this season, Hoover handed the Irish a 12-1 defeat at Jeff Holliday Field in Falling Rock.

That defeat was part of a string of strong opponents on the Catholic schedule, which included three losses at Myrtle Beach, a road defeat to defending Class A champion Madonna and losses to Class AAA Logan and Valley-Fayette. Between April 3 and April 20, the Irish lost seven of 13 games.

However, they have won 15 of their last 16 games, with the only defeat coming to Class AAA George Washington.

Catholic faces the Greyhounds (23-7) at approximately 12:30 p.m. Friday in the Class A State Tournament semifinals.

*  *  *

SPEAKING OF the Greyhounds, Coach Joe Craffey said he's not bothered by playing a private school in the State Tournament and doesn't feel it's an issue - particularly in baseball.

"Public or private, if they make it to this point, their kids put in as much work as we have, who cares if it's public or private," said Craffey, who is in his 12th season at Valley. "I think it affects football and basketball, but I don't see it as that much of a deal in baseball."

For the first time in program history, Charleston Catholic fielded a junior varsity team.

"We've been playing them as long as I've been at Valley and this is the first year they've had numbers in the 20 range," he said. "They've always been around 15 or 16, so their numbers haven't always been super."

Valley is making its third State Tournament appearance in the last four years and has not won a semifinal game.

The Irish have been to the finals only once (2011) in school history.

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at richstevens@dailymail.com or 304-348-4837.


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