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Prep baseball: South Charleston catcher Cline pairs offense with stout defense

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- South Charleston's Jonathan Cline admits he had hoped for an earlier start to his varsity baseball career, but one area that hasn't showed the effects of being a late bloomer is his defense.

Better late than never.

At 11:15 a.m. today in the school's piazza, he will sign his letter of intent to join Coach Cal Bailey and the West Virginia State University program.

Cline carries a level of confidence that subdues opponents and a reckless regard for his body that keeps almost every errant pitch in front of him.

George Washington Coach Chad Campbell, shortly before the start of Thursday's game against the Black Eagles, briefed his team on Cline's credentials.

"Remember, (Cline) will throw to every base," Campbell was overheard telling his squad, adding that they have to keep on their toes.

"I can't handle it when I see guys on first or second and all I can think about is, 'I have to block it,' " he said. "If they get into scoring position and score, that eats me alive the whole game. When it happens, I keep a tough mindset, but I have to make sure I don't let anything by me because that's my job.

"I've done well throwing guys out this year, I've done well blocking balls. As far as defensively, I'm very satisfied with my season."

Cline has five passed balls, has thrown out 46 percent of potential base-stealers (18-39) and has a .981 fielding percentage.

His defensive prowess is what gets the attention, which sometimes makes offense an overlooked part of his game.

The burly Cline - at 6-foot, 195 pounds -  is batting .386 with a home run, 14 RBI and a team-leading 25 runs. His defensive totals include only three errors. Cline doesn't look like the stereotypical leadoff hitter, but his numbers suggest otherwise. He has walked a team-leading 14 times and has struck out only seven, the least of any regular.

While passed balls are not registered as errors, Cline has - only three times - made an error that has allowed a runner to score or advance.

"I would've liked to get on the field a little earlier," Cline said. "We had Josh Burdette, a really stout catcher, and I didn't really show Coach (Ken) Samms any ability in the outfield or anything like that. Other than that, I knew my junior year I would have to come alive and do something."

His varsity career is coming to a close, and the Black Eagles' advancement will depend solely on how they deal with George Washington in a best-of-three series next week.

The only regular season meeting ended in a 13-12 GW victory when South Charleston sandwiched senior pitcher Austin Santrock between a pair of freshmen.

That makes Cline's job even harder, because he knows curveballs in the dirt are inevitable with young pitchers.

"I know they're young and I know they're very talented," Cline said of SC's young pitchers, including freshmen Jacob Marler and Trevor Sampson. "They're both very talented. I do kind of anticipate (balls in the dirt). I know it's coming. If it's a curveball, I'm waiting for it, I'm watching it. They're pretty consistent with their curveballs, it does the same thing every time.

"I wish I could hang with these guys for a couple more years."

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


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