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Cougars are on doorstep of ninth title

June 01, 2007|by DAN KAUFFMAN

With 996 wins and eight West Virginia state titles on his National Federation of High Schools Hall of Fame resum, Jefferson baseball coach John Lowery knows a thing or two about what his Cougars will face this weekend.

While Jefferson (32-4) is the clear favorite to take home a ninth championship - each of the other three teams in the Class AAA state tournament have at least 10 losses - Lowery knows that the single-elimination format makes anything possible.

"We just hope we can go down and play the type of game we're capable of playing," Lowery said. "That's all we can ask of the kids. We'll control what we can control and see what happens."

The Cougars play Fairmont Senior (20-16) in the semifinals today at 5 p.m. at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston. Nitro (24-10) and Woodrow Wilson (17-10) will meet in the other semifinal, with the championship game set for Saturday following the Class A and AA title games - probably around 6 p.m.

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Jefferson swept a doubleheader with Fairmont Senior, 7-3 and 12-1, on April 27. Lowery said the Cougars will see a different Fairmont Senior team today.

"We didn't see the left-hander who's going to pitch against us," Lowery said. "He's the kind of guy, he's crafty and he's not going to beat himself with walks. He has a little presence and he's going to give them that element on the mound that's so important. They'd been going through a stretch of injuries when we played them, and with the time off, it's been beneficial to them. They've won 10 in a row."

Lowery has the luxury of having two capable arms to send to the mound - senior right-hander Jonathan Hash and junior lefty Brandon Campbell.

Hash, who will play for West Virginia University next spring, is 6-2 with a 1.75 ERA. In 52 innings, he's allowed 36 hits and 22 walks while striking out 60.

"He's very competitive, he's got that streak in him where it seems like he's able to rise to the occasion," Lowery said. "He's a big, strong kid ... and we're really pleased with the season he's had."

Campbell's numbers are even better. He's 7-1 with a 1.73 ERA. In 52 2/3 innings, he's allowed 26 hits and 25 walks while fanning 78. And the Jefferson baseball tradition runs through his bloodlines.

"Brandon's father played on the 1988 state championship team for us," Lowery said. "Brandon's gotten a lot stronger, and as a left-hander he's always shown potential. With one of our good arms from last year, Justin Carey, having some arm woes, Brandon stepped up, seized the opportunity and has done a great job for us."

While Jefferson lacks a power hitter who strikes fear in pitchers' hearts, the Cougars have plenty of quality depth. Drew Stevens (.402, team-best 37 RBI), Matt Tiano (.400, 12 doubles, 30 RBI, team-best 44 runs), Justin Grantham (.387) and Hash (.376, 11 doubles, 4 homers, 33 RBI) all compiled better than a .375 average over more than 100 at-bats, and part-timers Stephen Peters (.368), Wes Kidwell (.333, 10 doubles) and Kyle Koppenhaver (.324) - all of whom have at least 50 at-bats - have produced when called upon.

"It's been different guys at different times," Lowery said. "The (internal) competition keeps them from relaxing. If they want to play, they have to stay on their toes, and I think that's healthy."

One thing that's hard to find on this Cougars squad are players who have had their names in the headlines before this season. That hunger for success has Lowery counting his blessings.

"You know what I like about this lineup? There's a lot of guys for whom this is their first time around, and we have returnees who weren't the main guys before, so a lot of our guys were hungry to see what they could do, and they've worked hard to give the best account of themselves," Lowery said. "A lot of times, I've had players who had a good sophomore or junior year and they get senior-itis. They just think things will work out, and sometimes it doesn't work that way. This group of kids, they don't have those great years behind them, so they were all hungry."

That should serve them well this weekend.

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