By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
Wedenesday was the first day of spring — according to the calendar, anyway.
But with snow falling and temperatures doing the same, playing football is probably more likely to come to mind than baseball.
High school teams started practicing Feb. 25, but precious few of those sessions have actually taken place outside. The frustration continues to mount as more cold, wet weather postpones games left and right.
Here’s a look at what teams from Raleigh County are doing as winter refuses to loosen its grip:
n Independence. Win or lose, this season will be dramatically different at Independence, which has a head coach not named Joe Goddard for the first time ever.
“It’s been different,” first-year coach Scott Cuthbert said. “There are still a lot of things to learn, as far as things people don’t realize, like paperwork and things like that. But the kids have responded well without him here.”
The Patriots lose second baseman Chris Hendricks from last year’s team, but that hole has been filled with the transfer of Drew D’Angelo from Oak Hill. Another Red Devil transfer, shortstop Wyatt Atkins, should give the Patriots one of the area’s most solid middle infields.
At the corners will be Andrue Hughart and Dean Milam splitting duties at first base and Brad Huffman at third.
Returning behind the plate is junior Jeremy McGinnis.
Working in the outfield have been senior Daniel Kostenko, juniors Colton Ward, Andrew Cox and Tanner Muovich and freshman Tanner Ray.
The pitching staff will be deep, led by senior Brian Sexton. Also taking the mound this year will be Hughart, Muovich, D’Angelo and Huffman.
“I don’t know if we have a true No. 1, but they are all good pitchers and all of them seem to have improved in the offseason,” Cuthbert said. “We have confidence that they can keep us in games.”
n Liberty. The Raiders finished 16-15 last season and won a sectional championship for the first time under coach J.J. Tabor. They return seven of nine starters from that team, but the two who are gone are definitely significant.
Corey Dishmon and Jacob Perdue were Liberty’s top pitchers in 2012. So while there is plenty of experience, pitching will be a bit of a concern.
“They had been a big part of the staff and the team for three years,” Tabor said. “We need a couple of guys to try to step up and fill those holes.”
Those two players appear to be Jake Lacek and Seth Prince, both of whom gained experience last season. Senior Joey Lacek, Jake’s older brother and a Concord signee, will also be counted on from the mound. So, too, will be sophomore Jordan Atkins.
Joey Lacek’s main position will be center field, where he will be flanked by senior Matt Bailey in left and Prince in right.
Dylan Keel started at first base as a freshman and is back this season. Austin Lyons will slide over to shortstop, a position vacated by Perdue, and Dakota Boulet will be at third. Boulet had a key plate appearance in last year’s sectional win over Westside. He fouled off several pitches before driving in the go-ahead run on a sacrifice fly.
At second base will be Colton Taylor.
Both Jake Lacek and Trevor Quarles will see time behind the plate. Tabor said Quarles is “one of the best receivers and blockers I have had since I’ve been here.” His defense gives the Raiders the option of keeping Joey Lacek in center field instead of behind the plate when Jake Lacek is pitching.
n Shady Spring. The relentless winter has been particularly tough on the Tigers, who return fewer starters than of their Raleigh counterparts.
The Tigers were 17-16 and were regional runners-up, but lose two key pitchers in Joe Merricks and Dustin McCutcheon. Merricks also batted over .400 in the postseason. McCutcheon was the picture of versatility, playing every position except catcher and first base.
Coach Dave Shaw will build around three juniors this season.
Jordan Meadows returns in center field and will be counted on for his defense, in addition to his pitching. Drew Green can start at either shortstop or second base, providing Shady with solid defense up the middle. Brandon Schack became a starter a third of the way through last season and never relinquished the role. He’ll play mostly at third base but could also catch.
Jacob Childers is back and brings a good glove to right field. First baseman Adam Carr is on a mission this season.
“He really challenged himself to be better,” Shaw said. “He did not live up to his expectations last year.”
Shaw also wants to find a way to work senior Jordan Palchesko’s bat into the lineup. He played mostly at designated hitter last season.
Senior Franklin Buckner brings a “lively fastball” to the rotation, Shaw said.
Sophomore John Linkous could see time in the outfield.
The Tigers are now competing in Class AAA and have added Princeton, George Washington and South Charleston to the schedule, in addition to traditional opponents Woodrow Wilson, Riverside and Oak Hill, which also moved up to the state’s highest classification.
n Woodrow Wilson. The Flying Eagles finally won a sectional championship last year, ending a four-year drought. The only starter gone from that 13-11 team is third baseman Jay Webb.
“We have been building this for two years,” coach Mark Daniel said. “Last year we started two or three freshmen and four or five sophomores, so we have a lot of experience coming back. They are still young, but they have experience.”
Returning seniors are second baseman/pitcher Hunter Greco, catcher/pitcher Daniel Rose, outfielder Cole Williams and infielder Dakota Bowyer.
Juniors back are pitcher/outfielder Logan Wriston, and outfielders Timmy Culicerto and Jacoby Webb. Chris Metrick is a junior shortstop, and Hunter Halstead started as a freshman at first base.
Other younger players who have a “nice future,” Daniel said, include second baseman Brandon Chandler, left fielder Avery Lagowski and catcher Dylan Foster, as well as junior pitcher/third baseman Josh Rakes.
The Flying Eagles actually got a game in, falling 7-1 at Riverside last Friday. Daniel said it was the team’s first time outside.
“We’ll be fine. We got to get outside,” Daniel said. “Then we’re back in the gym for a week and a half.”
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