Parkersburg South enters unknown at state

PARKERSBURG – When it comes to the Class AAA state baseball tournament, neither Region I champion Parkersburg South nor Region II champion Hedgesville are familiar names for being one of the final four teams still left standing in the Mountain State at this point in the campaign.

However, the Patriots of skipper Matt Null and Eagles head coach Dirk Webb both have their respective clubs one win away from playing for a state championship.

Come 5 p.m. Friday at Appalachian Power Park the two programs will collide with the winner playing around 4 p.m. Saturday for the triple-A crown against Friday’s late semifinal victor which pits Woodrow Wilson against Cabell Midland.

Hedgesville, sporting a 27-7 record, has won 13 of its last 14 games and is in the state tournament for the first time in nearly four decades. While the Eagles haven’t been to the big show since 1974, Parkersburg South is making its first appearance since 1987.

“It’s a dream to get there. It’s nice and we accomplished a goal,” said Null, whose club has won 10 of its 11 games. “But your goal is going to change and you got a two-game set and if you win two games you are going to win it all.

“The boys know what they are up against and they have to be prepared. We have seen the top number ones of a lot of pitching staffs. We’ve faced good arms and we know what to do.”

The Patriots spent Wednesday doing a little intrasquad scrimmage and will go through a more normal routine of practice on Thursday before their semifinal appearance.

Although Null said he’s talked to a lot of people and tried to get some scouting reports on Hedgesville, that’s not an easy thing to accomplish.

“I spent a lot of time on the phones to try and get as much information as we can and what we gathered is not much,” admitted Null, who said either Wes Mitchem (5-1, 1.99 ERA) or Brad Brubaker (6-2, 1.96 ERA) would get the nod as the starting pitcher.

“Their defense has been better the last couple weeks and their pitching is above average high school pitching. They do hit the ball very well and they are good offensively.”

Leading the charge for Hedgesville is senior slugger Daniel Heleine, who has blasted 16 home runs and according to Null has somewhere in the neighborhood of 55 runs-batted-in.

“We play a little different brand of baseball,” Null said of his Patriots compared to the Eagles, who he feels are more of a station-to-station type squad.

Null said his team is preparing for the state tournament as a two-game series and the Patriots are set to have five pitchers ready to go if needed. Aside from either Brubaker or Mitchem starting in the semifinal, PSHS boasts closer AJ Easter (3-3, 4 Saves, 30 Ks, 20 IP, 2.70 ERA), Jacob Braniff (8-0, 41 Ks, 42.1 IP, 2.55 ERA) and Clayton Cottrill (4-2, 1.75 ERA).

“We’re excited and so is the whole community,” added Null, whose team has been led by the speedy Braxton Johnson at the top of the order and the big bats of Tre Jackson and Jordan Braniff in the middle of the lineup.

Johnson, aside from his team-highs of 15 stolen bases, 43 runs scored and .435 batting average, has 19 RBIs. He’s only fanned five times, drawn eight walks and has a coach who says he’s not seen a better center fielder yet this year.

Jackson is batting .408 and shares the team lead with Jordan Braniff at 37 runs-batted-in. Jackson has 10 doubles, a triple and one home run. Jordan Braniff has a pair of homers, eight doubles, three triples and is hitting .355 as the Patriot batters play half their games at the cavernous Hank Greenburg Field.

Patriot second baseman Jacob Wilcox has knocked in 27 and sports a .373 average to go along with nine two-baggers.

“Tre, right now, gives us so much offensively,” Null noted. “He drives the runs in and Braxton sets the table.”

Even though Hedgesville might be as big of an unknown to Parkersburg South as the Patriots probably are to the Eagles, coach Null knows the game of baseball is far from rocket science and all Parkersburg South needs to do is keep believing and play its game.

“It’s going to come down to making plays,” said the coach. “If we make plays, we’ll be competitive. If we don’t make plays, we’ll go home disappointed.”