Final four teams set for championship showdown

PARKERSBURG-Will the fourth time be the charm for Ritchie County head baseball coach Dan Vanoy or will the Panthers from Clay County return to the top of the Little Kanawha Conference baseball standings when the league’s championship get under way at Roane County High School at 4 p.m. today.

Then, again, it could be one of the No. 1 seeds-St. Marys in the North or Gilmer County in the South-that take home the LKC’s top prize in baseball when the four top teams meet in the two-day tournament.

“Last year, we were like 17-0 and the top seed from the North and got beat by a run in the first game against Clay,” said Vanoy. “This is baseball and in a two-game format, any one of these four teams could win it all.”

Ritchie County (15-10, 9-3 LKC North) needed a win over Parkersburg Catholic on Tuesday night at Marshall Field to ensure that the Rebels would be in the field. Dylan Frye hit a solo home run in the sixth as Ritchie overcame an early deficit to defeat the Crusaders 10-5.

“This was a big game for us,” continued Vanoy. “I kind of thought that we might get in anyway because of the tiebreaker, but I didn’t want our kids to know that.”

Their reward, however, will be taking on a Gilmer County squad ranked No. 2 in Class A with a 22-2 mark in the second of the two games.

“We were scheduled to play them twice,” said the Rebels’ skipper. “The first time it got rained out and then when we tried to make it up a second time, Gilmer had to cancel it so that it could make up a divisional game.”

The two will meet in the opening game and it is more than likely that the Titans will throw either 8-0 Karl Bennington or 5-0 Austin Cunningham. The duo have combined to strike out 107 batters and Cunningham’s 1.17 earned run average rates among the best in the Mid Ohio Valley.

Ritchie will counter with either D.J. Burgess of Andrew Davis or “we may just have to pitch by committee,” said the coach.

The game will feature two of the more potent offenses in the LKC as well as Burgess in hitting a lofty .489 at the plate with two home runs and 18 runs batted in while Davis is hitting at a .410 clip with 26 RBIs.

Gilmer, which has six players with 20 or more RBIs, is led by Bennington’s .423 average while Cunningham leads the team with 32 RBIs and is hitting .354.

Offense will also be on display in the first game as St. Marys’ Matthew Houser is second in the MOV in hitting, trailing only PC’s Jake Ullman (.579), with a .517 average. He and teammate Jarrod Lough lead the area with five home runs and Lough, who is hitting at a .493 clip, is fifth in the MOV in RBIs with 24.

Winners from Thursday’s semifinals will meet for the title on Friday at Roane County.