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Prep baseball: Coach says Valley not as strong in 2014

By Rich Stevens, Assistant sports editor

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Depth isn’t what it was for the Valley (Fayette) baseball team, which is why coach Joe Craffey admits the Greyhounds aren’t as strong as they have been despite being ranked — in the Daily Mail Sports Writers Class A Baseball Poll.

Valley reached the Class A state tournament semifinals in 2013, falling to eventual state champion Charleston Catholic.

The Greyhounds’ opportunity to avenge that defeat came last Thursday, but resulted in a 12-3 loss to the Irish at Triana Field.

“They always want to beat us and I think the thing is mutual,” said Craffey, who is in his 13th season at Valley. “Our kids get up a little bit more playing Charleston Catholic because of the tradition they have. That’s what we talked about before going there, the sour taste had in our mouths after last June makes it even worse.”

Prior to the game, Valley first baseman Casey Stewart — who hadn’t played since his sophomore season — became ill during batting practice.

“I’m out there, 10 minutes before we leave, trying to get this kid (Josh Naylor) some groundballs to try to get him fairly comfortable at first.”

That situation isn’t so rare for the Greyhounds (7-5), who have lost four of their last five games. Valley is tied for fourth with Charleston Catholic in the Daily Mail Sports Writers Class A Poll.

“We’re moving kids position to position,” he said. “I don’t think we’re set at any one position. When we pitch somebody, we have to move people around. We didn’t have to do that last year. It’s nothing out of the ordinary. When kid A pitches, you move kid B into this. A lot of people see we have five seniors back. Of those five, three of them played meaningful innings last year. Just because we say we have five seniors on our roster, we’re still playing a bunch of young kids.”

The team’s top senior, catcher John Riddle, is batting a team-leading .581 and had a double and home run against Catholic. He followed that with his second homer of the season on Thursday against Man.

Junior Druw Bowen, the stepson of Craffey, is hitting .444 with a pair of home runs. His second home run of the season came against the Irish.

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MAGNOLIA — ranked sixth in the Class A poll — is among the state’s most-proud Class A programs, but the Blue Eagles have had to deal with replacing three first-team All-State players in Ryan Walton, Chandler Sapp and Kyle Elliott.

In 2014, coach Dave Cisar’s Blue Eagles are leaning heavily on 6-foot-7 senior Zach Willhoite, a honorable mention selection last year. Following Saturday’s action, Willhoite has a 3-0 record and a 1.75 earned run average with three complete games. Chase Miller is Magnolia’s No. 2 pitcher. He gave up eight hits and two earned runs in 6.1 innings with two strikeouts and one walk against Sissonville.

“Willhoite’s our man,” said Cisar, who has more than 840 career victories. “He’s our stopper coming in.

“He’s one of the smartest guys we’ve ever had in our program. Besides that, he’s one of the best human beings we’ve had and I’m real honored and proud to coach him. He’s calm, cool and collected.”

Willhoite said he’s going to West Virginia University for the school’s engineering program.

“I’m dead set on that,” he said. “I might try to walk on at WVU, but if I can’t do that, I’m going to say to heck with it.”

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SISSONVILLE continues to search for a signature win, coming up short in Saturday’s games -- a 3-2 loss to Magnolia (3-2) and 7-2 defeat to Ripley.

The Indians (10-8), ninth in the Daily Mail Class AA sportswriters’ poll, appear to beat the teams they’re expected to defeat, but lose to opponents against whom they are the underdogs, with one exception -- a 5-2 early-season victory over Ravenswood. To be fair, the Red Devils were in the midst of losing four of their first six games, but are currently riding a nine-game losing streak.

The other Sissonville in-state victories have come against Scott (4-10), Clay County (7-8) and Mingo Central (0-13).

“We beat ourselves with the little mistakes ... errors,” Harper said.

The Indians played on Saturday without its top-hitting regular, Jacob Fisher, who was ejected in an 8-4 win over Brighton, N.Y., for allegedly lowering his shoulder against the catcher while coming home in an attempt to score.

Fisher is suspended the equivalent of 10 percent of the 32 regular season games, meaning the hard-hitting sophomore and starting second baseman won’t return until Tuesday’s home game against Poca. He won’t be available when the Indians visit 14-3 Chapmanville tonight.

Fisher is batting .538 with 23 runs and 12 RBI.

Sissonville has six players batting above .350, but is averaging 2.4 errors per game and just 33 of the 69 runs surrendered by the Indians’ pitching staff are earned.

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THE INDIANS reside in Region 4 of Class AA, where everybody is playing second fiddle to Herbert Hoover.

The Huskies have stumbled twice this season, losing to a pair of Class AAA opponents -- Ripley 7-3 and Point Pleasant 10-5 -- and own 10-run victories over wins over five teams, not including winless Tolsia twice and winless Mingo Central once.

Hoover has a team batting average of .393 and a team earned run average of 1.79, both of which are quite similar to its numbers from the 2013 Class AA state championship season.

The Huskies batted .401 last season and had a team ERA of 2.22.

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at richstevens@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-4837. Follow him on Twitter @richdailymail


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