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Senior-laden Irish hoping to get over hump at state tourney

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- If there's one team that should feel at home at this year's state baseball tournament, it's Charleston Catholic.

After all, the school is located less than a mile from Appalachian Power Park, home of the state tournament the past nine years, and the Irish have competed in the event now eight times over the last 12 seasons.

However, Catholic is still seeking its first title in baseball, and gets another opportunity this week. The Irish are scheduled to play Valley at approximately 12:45 p.m. Friday in the semifinal round.

Catholic doesn't take its latest chance lightly, realizing that with six senior starters, there's no time like the present.

"We've been there the last two years and came up short,'' said senior first baseman Nelson McKown. "So this year, it's now or never for us seniors. We've got eight guys.

"We've just always been a play or two short. Hopefully this year, we've got the senior leadership. We've never really been a senior-based team, but this year we have and we've been there before and we know what it takes to get it done. So we're going to do it - at least I hope so. We plan on it.''

Several of Catholic's top players, in fact, have held the same roles for two or three years, and coach Bill Mehle said that while the team can't exactly coach itself, it shouldn't have any problems with pre-tournament jitters.

"No, they're high school kids,'' Mehle said with a wry smile. "They're not coaching themselves.

"To be honest, I don't think they had butterflies the last two times they were at the state tournament. They came in focused and ready to play the game. Two years ago, we beat Moorefield 8-0 in the semifinals. It's just the dynamics of the game of baseball. If your pitcher is having his best game, either team is going to be hard to beat.''

Mehle thinks this year's squad has some things going for it that perhaps the others didn't.

"I think one of the things we can do this year,'' he said, "is that one through nine [in the batting order], we have guys who can put the ball in play and who can execute small ball when they're called upon to do that.

"They play unselfishly and have unselfish at-bats. So it's a routine-oriented concept, and they know what they need to do in their plate appearance in order to help the team score runs that inning. We preach it, talk about it, practice it every day we're in practice. Everybody knows their role in terms of their plate appearances.''

Mehle also feels like a beefed-up schedule, which included five games against Class AAA teams and three versus AA clubs, helped shape his team.

"We were deliberate about doing that,'' Mehle said. "We went down to the Mingo Bay Classic in Myrtle Beach and faced some pretty tough competition. So anybody we face in single-A as a pitcher, we've seen pitchers that are comparable or better than them.

"So when they get in the batter's box, they have a lot of confidence going into it. But in baseball, anything can happen. We're comfortable and confident, and if we bring our A game, we've got to like our chances.''

Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickryan@wvgazette.com.


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