CHARLESTON - Charleston Catholic coach Bill Mehle says it figures that when his team plays in its first baseball state baseball championship game (at 11 this morning), Wheeling Central will be the opponent.
''That's a good matchup for the kids from Charleston Catholic, and the kids from Wheeling Central because we like to beat one another in everything - religion tests, quiz bowl, college admissions, AP scores, basketball and all the other athletics, so it's real great to compete for a state championship against them,'' he said. ''It's no letup. They'll play first pitch, last pitch.''
The two teams played against each other April 16 in a Catholic schools tournament in Parkersburg with the Maroon Knights winning 8-7.
What does Mehle remember from that one?
''We hit five flyball outs in a row,'' he said. ''I was a little angry.''
They've since cut some of that out, as evidenced by the ''down-and-hard'' hitting philosophy the Irish displayed in dismantling Moorefield, 8-0, to win its first state baseball semifinal Thursday. That kind of success hasn't come easy, by the way. This is Charleston Catholic's sixth appearance in the Final Four in 10 seasons.
It's been the opposite for Wheeling Central, which will be playing for its sixth state baseball championship since 1998 today. The Knights are in the state's capital for the seventh time during that span, having reached the title game every time and winning it all every year but 2002.
In fact, since Jimbo Wodusky took over as coach in 2005, Wheeling Central is 7-0 in state finals and state semifinals, something Mehle, and others, must be astounded by.
''Don't jinx me,'' Wodusky said. ''That's been brought up. Maybe the jinx is over because it was brought up last week. It's a product of luck along with talent. I don't know how much of a difference I make. I teach the Xs and Os just like every other coach in this league. It's up to the kids to execute. And everybody knows you have to have luck on your side. I'd take luck over talent any day.''
Cisar Being Cisar
True to form, Dave Cisar's Magnolia Blue Eagles didn't go down without using a little creativity.
During the game, Cisar had Kyle Elliott start his at-bat right-handed, move to left-handed for a pitch, then back to the right side. The result? Elliott banged a single to left that was mishandled by the left-fielder for a two-base error.
In a sticky mess with the bases loaded and no outs in the bottom of the sixth, the Blue Eagles tried a hidden ball trick where pitcher Justin Fox stepped off the mound, faked a throw to second, and everyone went chasing as if it were thrown in center field. The result? No one bit.
''That guy at third was ready to come,'' Cisar said.
Later, in the seventh, Cisar had Jacob Starkey pinch hit for Drew Simmons. With a 1-1 count, he pulled Starkey in favor of Ryan Walton. The result? Walton grounded out to third on a fine play by third baseman Christian Hedinger.
''They played better defense than we did,'' Cisar said. ''That third baseman should look in his pocket, he might have a hundred-dollar bill in it after catching that ground ball.''
Cisar's been pulling this stuff for years.
''Hey, that's the fun of the game. If I'm going to do it, I'm going to have fun,'' Cisar said.
Wyoming East coach Ron Mayhew, who has a strong sense of humor, applauded the effort and creativity, but he wouldn't do any of it.
''In my logic, if I see a fastball and you put another guy in, he ain't seen that fastball, so I'm happy,'' Mayhew said. ''I wished he'd do it with the shortstop (Fox, owner of a near-.700 batting average). Dave's a super coach. They gave us a good game. Anybody can beat anybody on any day. You just have to pray that day ain't yours.
''You have to respect everyone all the way until the last out. Yogi (Berra) said 'It ain't over til it's over.' That's a fact, dude.''
The last thing an umpire who gets a chance to work a state tournament wants to do is make a mistake, but it happens. It happened twice with the four-man crew that worked the Magnolia-Wyoming East game, with one being small (the plate umpire rung up a batter on the second strike but realized it quickly and kept him there).
The second time, Jordan Moore bounced to short and raced to first. The throw was low and in the dirt, eventually trickling away from the first baseman. The first base umpire had already called him out and turned his back, never seeing the ball glance off the glove and away. After some questions, the umpires got together and ruled Moore safe.
Mayhew argued it, even as he knew the right thing was done in the end.
''I didn't want him to get it right,'' Mayhew said. ''My thing was did he ask for help? The coach did. He has to ask for help. You have to go out and do what you can do.''
Said Cisar: ''There were some interesting calls out there.''
Moore was gunned down trying to steal second later in the inning.
It Still Counts
Often times, when we sports writers gather from around the state to pick the All-State teams, we marvel at some of the gaudy statistics and wonder the validity of some of them.
Not to pick on Central's Wodusky, an established successful high school baseball coach, but he said something Thursday that sounded an alarm when talking about how his team was 79-for-81 in stolen base attempts this season, something that's entirely possible.
He was talking about a play during his team's game against Valley. You know the play, which is called something different by every coach who employs it: Runners on first and third, the guy from first breaks for second with the coach wanting him to stop, get caught in a run down long enough for the guy at third to break for the plate and score a run.
Central tried it in the third inning Thursday, without success, because, as Wodusky reasoned, the runner at first didn't stop soon enough and was rather easily tagged out before what would have been the go-ahead run scored. Wodusky then wondered aloud if he was going to call it a caught stealing in the books because of the mistake. It's a caught stealing. Period. If baseball stats were based on intentions, and not reality, everyone would have perfect fielding percentages and .1000 batting averages.
It's no secret Wheeling Central's Joey Baker had an up-and-down day in the semifinal against Valley Fayette. He was charged with a pair of errors after he was unable to get a handle on a couple of ground balls during the fourth inning the only inning in which the Greyhounds scored.
To his credit, he didn't take the errors to the plate with him, as he was 1-for-3 with three RBI.
''That's the way he is,'' Wodusky said. ''He's as selfless as a kid can come. He struggled at third base a little bit earlier this year, then he went through a stretch where he was fielding everything. I benched him one game. He's a great kid. He doesn't let personal goals, personal errors get in the way with the friendship. He's so afraid to let the next guy down, I knew he'd respond.''
Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org