CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The annual scuttlebutt among West Virginia sportswriters is how the high school talent has dropped annually with the Mountain State's population.
That fact isn't lost on baseball coaches and fans, who have seen fewer and fewer professional prospects and Division I recruits coming through.
That doesn't mean good teams still aren't playing.
With that in mind, I'll try to pick the 12 teams that will visit Appalachian Power Park at the end of this month to determine the three state champions.
Trends and expectations don't always go hand-in-hand. Teams that should win won't and teams that shouldn't win tend to surprise.
Without further adieu, let's talk about who will be in Charleston for the swan song of the 2012-13 varsity state championship tournaments.
Region 1 - If the Parkersburg South Patriots can get past rival Parkersburg in a best-of-three sectional, South will win this region. Coach Matt Null's Patriots have played a stronger schedule that includes victories over Hurricane, St. Albans and South Charleston. Morgantown swept South, but that was back on April 6. The Mohigans, pound for pound, have not played as tough a schedule and, haven't beaten the stronger foes on their schedule.
Region 2 - Can anybody say Jefferson? How about Hampshire? The Trojans - you don't hear that mascot very often in any West Virginia prep sport - have not lost to an in-state team. Section 2 (Hedgesville, Martinsburg, Musselman) and Section 4 (Buckhannon-Upshur, Lewis County) won't provide much competition. A regional Jefferson-Hampshire regional title game is inevitable. Hampshire has a 2.46 team ERA, so when a second pitcher is needed for a regional final two days later, the Trojans will have it.
Region 3 - Wide open is the way to describe Class AAA and, most certainly, the only way to describe Region 3. Defending champion Princeton is still looking for an identity. The addition of Oak Hill and Shady Spring helps the winner of Section 2 have a free pass to the regional final. George Washington, South Charleston, Capital, Ripley and Riverside will battle for the other regional final berth. If Riverside can pitch Tyler Hall every day, this pick would be easy. The late-season emergence of Jeff Wong gives GW two capable pitchers to get through a best-of-three set with SC. Unless something happens that Riverside can get Hall to pitch in the regional final, GW's offense gets the edge.
Region 4 - Hurricane? Unless there's an upset sweep by Winfield or a bunt against Cabell Midland, the Redskins are the odds-on favorites to get there. Of course, how many times has that been said while Nitro has won six straight Region 4 titles - even when the Wildcats were heavy underdogs. They are again this year. Throwing Logan in Region 4 makes it a new ballgame for Nitro and St. Albans - three good teams in a toss-up Section 2. No offense to Lincoln County, but a two-team section between the Panthers and Hurricane is a week off for the Redskins, which can be good or bad. We'll see yet another Hurricane-Cabell Midland regional semifinal, this time with Austin Hensley of Hurricane and Seth Kinker of Cabell Midland battling on May 20 at Lola Meeks Memorial Field. There are three above-par pitchers in Section 4 - Kinker, left-handed curveballer Stephen Holland of Huntington and hard-throwing righty Elijah Wellman of Spring Valley. In a week, weather permitting, they won't pitch much more than seven innings. Still have to give the edge to Cabell Midland. Save me a seat for the regional semifinal. The Knights have had Hurricane's number in big games, but many of these Hurricane underclassmen don't understand the rivalry, and yes, it is a rivalry. The only homefield advantage the Redskins have is the short porch in right and the flight of the ball before sundown. On a hunch, this might be Hurricane's year. I'm still not so sure about this one, though.