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Cougars' baseball season had 'just a perfect ending'

June 04, 2007|by JOHN O'BRIEN / Staff Correspondent

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Finishing one game short of an unbeaten record against state opponents didn't stop the Jefferson Cougars from describing their season as "perfect" after an 11-4 win over Woodrow Wilson in Saturday's West Virginia Class AAA state championship baseball game.

"This is just a perfect ending," said senior third baseman/pitcher Drew Stevens. "This is how we wanted it to be. We're all great friends. We talked all year about it. This is exactly how we wanted to do it."

It was done with a nine-run first inning that included a three-run home run and a three-run double by Stevens. It was also done with a stellar start from senior Justin Carey.

But mostly, it was done despite heavy expectations that Jefferson would breeze to its ninth state title after heavyweights like No. 1 Hurricane fell in their sectional playoffs.

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"Coming in, we thought we'd go right through everybody and knock them out with no problems," said ace Jonathan Hash, who has signed to pitch at West Virginia University.

Fairmont Senior challenged the Cougars in the semifinals by taking a 3-0 lead into the sixth inning before Jefferson rallied to tie and eventually win the game 7-3 in nine innings.

"I think that was our wake-up call," said Hash, who pitched 6 1/3 innings in that game and was a member of the all-tournament team.

"Through the whole season, we always faced people's best," senior right fielder Matt Tiano said. "Everybody wants to beat Jefferson because of our past success, and everyone knows (coach John Lowery) and wants to beat him."

Close games became a way of life to the Cougars, whose only loss to a state team was a 1-0 defeat by Martinsburg in the sectional playoffs. That game lasted nine innings, as did a regular-season win against Mercersburg (Pa.) Academy. A 3-1 win over Martinsburg in the regular season took 10 innings to complete.

According to Stevens and Hash, the team's camaraderie was the driving force behind its success.

"This is such a perfect ending," said Hash, who was on Jefferson's 2005 state-championship team. "Us seniors have been friends for so long. It's just a perfect way to end playing baseball with each other."

Three of the seniors - Stevens, shortstop Colton Gustines and left fielder Kyle Koppenhaver - were first-year starters, though it would be hard to tell from their results.

"Anytime you're going from JV to varsity and you get thrown in there, some people might get kind of bothered or nervous and make mistakes," Hash said. "We made each other more comfortable so we wouldn't make those mistakes."

Jefferson will also lose center fielder Justin Grantham, catcher Wes Kidwell, second baseman Bobby O'Donnell, pitcher Sean Adam and courtesy runner Aaron Frazee.

Senior-to-be Brandon Campbell will headline the 2008 Cougars after posting an 8-1 season on the mound. With two wins next season, Lowery will reach 1,000 for his career. He'll need another 19 for his 1,000th at Jefferson.

He'll be hoping some juniors follow the example of Stevens, who played little as an 11th-grader before becoming a .400 hitter in the No. 3 spot in the lineup.

"In Jefferson, you start out with the AAU programs and play some really competitive baseball that some people don't have a chance to do," he said. "I was behind two all-staters last year.

"You have to take advantage when you get a chance, because you might never get that chance again."

If that happens, the Cougars will continue to be the top presence in the state. A 10th state title can not be ruled out as a possibility, considering Lowery, a member of the National High School Sports Hall of Fame, will still be involved.

"From my sophomore year, no one touched us (in the state). Then last year we lost only two and this year losing only one, that's unreal," Hash said. "That's almost unheard of.

"That's pure dominance. That's all you can say."

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