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Bulldogs return to W.Va. state tournament

May 29, 2008|By DAN KAUFFMAN

John Lowery Jr. is no stranger to state championship baseball tradition -- it runs in his family, as his father, Jefferson coach John Lowery Sr., has nine West Virginia Class AAA state titles.

But the Martinsburg head coach is interested in a different tradition these days -- the Bulldogs'.

"Martinsburg has won three state titles, so we'd like to rebuild the tradition," Lowery Jr. said.

The Bulldogs (25-11) helped end Jefferson's 12-year run of sectional titles earlier this month, and will make their first appearance at the state tournament since 1995 -- when they won the last of their three titles -- when they face Nitro in a semifinal game Friday at 10 a.m. at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston.

"We have played better over the last month and a half," Lowery Jr. said. "We've won eight in a row. We had a stretch when we were 11-8 and had to change some things. We had to all look at ourselves and make a decision about what kind of team we wanted to be, and all of us started playing better."

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Martinsburg's other two state titles came in 1983 and 1989.

The Bulldogs' path to the state tournament has been a two-year process. Martinsburg earned a victory over Jefferson in last year's sectional playoffs before the Cougars rebounded to eliminate the Bulldogs.

That experience paid dividends this season, when Martinsburg beat Jefferson 11-5 in the winners' bracket before Hedgesville eliminated the Cougars 4-2 in the losers' bracket.

"I think it all goes back to last year. We played five games in the sectional, played two championship games and started to realize we could compete with (Jefferson)," Lowery Jr. said. "Our previous sectional experience was good. We won three games last year, and we won the whole thing this year. I hope we're getting to the point now where we realize we can compete with those guys.

"The sad thing about it is two of the better teams in the state play in the same section. One of us always feels like a failure."

Martinsburg appears to be in a good spot pitching-wise entering the state tournament, with two talented hurlers -- junior Brandon King and senior Spike Geffert -- rested and ready.

King, whose fastball touches 90 mph and who is being recruited by the University of Tennessee, is 7-3 with a 1.50 ERA and 107 strikeouts in 60 2/3 innings. Geffert is 3-1 with a 0.64 ERA over 33 innings, and has allowed just 21 hits and five walks.

"Those are the kind of guys you need to have talent-wise to win a state championship," Lowery Jr. said. "We have two well-above-average high school pitchers. When Brandon's on, he can be great and his velocity is just enough that he can make some mistakes and get by with it. ... What's been great about Geffert is he doesn't really walk anybody. He throws a breaking ball for strikes and a changeup for strikes, and keeps the ball down. He competes and he likes being out there."

King is a major force at the plate as well, hitting .402 with 12 doubles and eight homers.

"Last year he hit 10 home runs, and as a freshman he hit five. He already has broken the school record," Lowery Jr. said. "They're good numbers for a high school kid."

But he's hardly the only Bulldog knocking the cover off the ball. Add in freshman Zach Woolcock (.389, 10 doubles, two homers), Geffert (.369, five doubles, three triples), junior Ryan Bennett (.363, seven doubles, two homers) and freshman Kameron Puller (.316, six doubles), and Martinsburg can make teams pay for pitching around King.

"We've had a number of guys do things on any given night," Lowery Jr. said. "Bennett got the big hit the other night to break a 1-1 tie. Kameron had three hits against Musselman and two (against Buckhannon-Upshur in the regional final) so that's five hits in regionals. Woolcock hit a three-run homer to make it 5-1 (in the regional final). It's almost always someone different every night."

The pieces are in place for Martinsburg to win its first state title in 13 years, and for Lowery Jr. to start building the kind of program his father has constructed at Jefferson.

"Last year, we gave them a binder with a picture of (Appalachian Power Park) and made them start thinking about it. The dream is now a reality," Lowery Jr. said. "I'll try to comment to them that getting there is not good enough now, we want to win this thing. They're definitely excited and they should be. They're going to get their experience and we'll start to rebuild the tradition."

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