PCHS baseball seeks third straight sectional title
Pocahontas County High School baseball coach Mike DiPasquale has his sights set on the state tournament this season and his players are hankering to end a rival's long-running winning streak.
With a revamped squad of younger players, the coach has a plan to make it all come true.
The scrappy Warriors knocked off Richwood to win their sectional championship last season, but fell to Valley-Fayette in the single-game regional championship. (Isn't it un-American to have a single-game playoff in baseball?)
The Warriors lost a lot of talent between school years, so DiPasquale and assistant coach Tony Minter have their work cut out for them in the next 14 days before the season begins.
Reid Harper's big bat will be sorely missed. The big OF/3B batted .506 last season and set a school record with a .453 career batting average. The coach has another vacuum to fill at shortstop, due to the loss of Harley Kinder's great glove. PCHS also lost good-hitting infielder Dan Richardson, solid catcher Gus Willis, slugger Jimmy Wiley and Brian Wilfong.
Despite overall good hitting last season, the coach said clutch hitting was a sore spot for the Warriors.
"One of the weaknesses we had was hitting with runners in scoring position," he said. "We probably only batted .280 with runners in scoring position, which is actually bad for high school. Most high school teams are going to bat in the mid-.300s with runners in scoring position."
DiPasquale wants his players to hit to the opposite field gap with runners on base.
"Taking the ball to the opposite field -- that's one of the things we worked on in summer ball," he said. "We're working on that now in practice. We have a lot of guys that want to pull the ball, but we have to be able to hit the ball to right field."
The coach also wants his batters to be more patient at the plate.
"The other thing is being more patient," he said. "When we had runners in scoring position, last year, we wanted to hurry up and knock the run in, instead of being patient and waiting for a good pitch we could drive."
While improving in weak areas, DiPasquale wants to maintain the team's strengths.
"One of the strengths we have is getting on base. We had no problem getting on base last year," he said. Our team on-base percentage was .390 and we want to continue that trend. That's one of the more important stats.
"The other strength we had was -- our outfield was actually really good. The outfield returned so that should be a strength for us."
DiPasquale is confident that new recruits will develop into excellent ballplayers. The team added three freshmen: Brandon Hammons, Wes Felton and Judd Walther; and a sophomore, Cole Ryder. Some of the new players will be starters.
"Hammons and Felton are going to step in and play immediately," the coach said. "They're both going to be penciled into the starting lineup somewhere. Hammons -- we're looking right now at third base and Felton -- he can catch, he can play outfield, he can play second base."
DiPasquale said he was counting on some of his veterans to have good seasons.
"Steven Halterman has to have a good season," he said. "He'll be a three-year starter this season. He needs to cut down on his errors and continue hitting the ball. If he stays hitting like he does, he will easily break the school record for hits in a career. If he bats in the .400 range, we should be very successful.
"We have to look at Logan Plumley - he's the only senior we have. He plays a very good first base for us. Two things he needs to learn are: his power is to right center and he's got to hit the ball that way. The second thing he has to do for us, defensively, is stretch more at first base. If he stretches more at first base, we'd probably get two to three extra outs a ball game, which keeps runners off base.
"The third guy who's going to be key for us is Dalton Walker. He's going to do a lot of pitching for us. He's worked hard on his velocity and, if he pitches well, keeps the ball low, keeps it close to the strike zone -- we should be successful."
DiPasquale said the team's challenge was made more difficult by a tough schedule.
"There's a PVC [Potomac Valley Conference] school in the state tournament every year," he said. "Plus we have Brooke on the schedule and Philip Barbour on the schedule. Our schedule's not light, by any means."
One PVC rival, in particular, has gotten under the Warriors' skin.
"Early season goals, set by the players, are to win 18 games and beat Pendleton County," said the coach. "Winning 18 games would be a school record and we'd really like to go out and beat Pendleton this year. If we beat Pendleton in baseball, it will be the first time in school history. That's something that the kids really want to do."
The Warriors will have an opportunity to end the Wildcats' streak in the season opener in Franklin on March 24. First pitch is scheduled for 5 p.m.