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Cougars, Eagles state cases for No. 1

April 20, 2007|by DAN KAUFFMAN

It's good to be No. 1.

And it should be no surprise to anyone that the Jefferson baseball and Hedgesville softball teams are at the top of their respective Super 7 mountains after torrid starts.

The Cougars - runners-up at the Hawaiian Tropic tournament in Myrtle Beach, S.C. - entered Thursday 13-2.

Jefferson's success starts on the mound. Through the first 14 games, the Cougars' team ERA was 2.44 and opponents were hitting just .218.

"We've been fortunate that we've had some depth in our pitching," Jefferson coach John Lowery said. "We've had six kids win two games each, which indicates pretty good balance. One of our mainstays last season, Justin Carey, has had arm difficulty and we're hoping to get him back the last two weeks of the season."

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Offensively, Jefferson is led by Matt Tiano, who through 14 games was 23-for-42 (.548) with six doubles and 11 RBIs. He has nine steals and has walked six times, stats Lowery points to as major reasons for Tiano's success.

"I think the fact that he's walking is indicative of why he's doing well," Lowery said. "He's patient at the plate and doesn't get himself out very often. ... Another thing that helps his average, he's got great speed and he gets some hits when he tops the ball for a slow roller or hits it in the hole."

Drew Stevens (15-for-38, .395), Jonathan Hash (15-for-39, .385) and Bobby O'Donnell (12-for-37, .324) have been steady contributors, while part-time players Stephen Peters (10-for-18, .556) and Marquise Jones (8-for-20, .400) have produced when in the lineup.

"Drew is swinging the bat well, and Jonathan on our trip swung it well," Lowery said. "Marquise is a sophomore and he was a surprise. Stephen had hits in his first six at-bats and we've been using him as a DH at times. He's another one that's been a pleasant surprise. Bobby is a returning starter and he's a spark-plug player."

While plenty of Cougars have stood out, none stand far above the rest.

"They're all just solid high-school type players," Lowery said. "They're not the superstar type, they're just gritty, stick-to-it guys."

The Eagles' only blemish came against No. 6 Martinsburg in the Gene Baker Tournament, and they've won eight straight since, including a revenge win over the Bulldogs.

Here's the scary thing for the rest of the Eastern Panhandle - Hedgesville is young. Star pitcher Jess Shirley and catcher Sam Nazelrod, the Eagles' best hitter, are only sophomores. No. 2 pitcher Chelsea Oals and leadoff hitter Brittany Kolb are juniors.

"A lot of people thought we would be down because we lost nine seniors," Eagles coach Larry Laing said. "I think the girls liked the underdog thing. Now people are gunning for us, but that's what it's all about."

Through last weekend, Shirley was 9-1 with a microscopic 0.75 ERA. She allowed just 37 hits and 10 walks in 65 1/3 innings while striking out 60.

"She's throwing extremely well," Laing said. "She's right where she left off last year and I think she's a little better, a little more mature and handling situations better. She's throwing probably 58 (mph), 59, she hits 60 once in a while."

Oals is 4-0 with a 2.26 ERA in 31 innings.

Through 51 at-bats, Nazelrod was hitting .451 with nine doubles, three homers and 16 RBIs.

"I thought last year as (Jess and Sam) came along as well as they did, we had something special with that battery," Laing said. "The rest of the team is building around them and they're playing great ball together."

Kolb batted .390 through 59 at-bats at the top of the order and scored 19 runs. Sara Forney batted .333 through 39 at-bats. Both Kolb and Forney have 12 RBIs.

Power surge

Waynesboro junior Nathan Minnich is putting on some kind of power display this season.

The Indians' left-hander has blasted an incredible seven home runs in nine games - including once in each of the last six games - to move within one homer of the single-season record of eight he set as a freshman two years ago.

Here's this week's totally ridiculous stat: Minnich has homered once every 3.86 at-bats this season.

Minnich already has the Waynesboro career record with 20 dingers.

Games to watch

· Today, baseball, No. 1 Jefferson at No. 5 Martinsburg (12-4) - Bulldogs coach John Lowery Jr. has yet to win a game against his father. The Cougars won 6-2 at home April 2, as Hash struck out 12 in a complete-game effort.

· Today, softball, Catoctin (5-3, 3-2) at No. 6 Williamsport (7-2, 5-1) - The Wildcats already hold an 8-1 victory over the Cougars at Catoctin on March 30. A sweep of the season series would be a major boost to Williamsport's MVAL Antietam title hopes.

· Monday, softball, No. 1 Hedgesville at No. 5 Jefferson (11-3) - The first of at least two meetings between these rivals will be a major test for the Eagles.

· Tuesday, softball, No. 4 Waynesboro (4-1) at No. 3 Greencastle (6-2) - Last season, as a freshman making her first start, Indians pitcher Taryn Ashway got the best of two-time Herald-Mail Player of the Year Sarah Signore. If the two pitchers are at the top of their games, don't expect many runs to go up on the scoreboard.

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