By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
The matchup many people expected will take place today.
Independence, already a talented team before getting a big boost by a pair of Oak Hill transfers, will host defending Class AA state champion Wyoming East at 6:30 p.m. in a Region 3 semifinal.
Both teams were the popular preseason picks to win their sections, but Liberty asserted itself as a force, beating both in the regular season. However, the Raiders could not sustain the offensive onslaught that carried them through three-fourths of the season and were eliminated by Independence.
That, coupled by the Warriors’ two-game sweep of rival Westside, sets up tonight’s anticipated battle.
“They are really solid,” first-year Independence coach Scott Cuthbert said of the Warriors, who beat the Patriots 10-4 April 20 in their only meeting of the year. “Their first four or five (hitters) are as good as we have faced. And with (Derek) Thornton on the mound they are really tough. Until someone knocks them off, they are still the state champions.”
Veteran Wyoming East coach Ron “Chief” Mayhew realizes the threat the Patriots pose to do just that.
“(Independence) is a good team,” he said. “We’ve really got to be focused.”
Mayhew was unhappy with his team’s lack of execution in Saturday’s 6-5 loss at Valley in a warmup regular season game. The Greyhounds also got to Thornton for eight hits and three runs in two innings of work.
But Mayhew also said his team (21-6) started slowly after a nine-day layoff.
“We’ve still got what it takes,” he said. “We just have to play an ‘A’ game from here on out.”
Behind Thornton — who may or may not start today after laboring through two innings Saturday — are juniors Austin Canada and Christian Hedinger.
Senior catcher Zack Whitten leads the Wyoming East offense, which has been aggressive on the basepaths this season. Canada, Hedinger and Thornton also provide plenty of pop.
The Patriots (17-8), meanwhile, have plenty of firepower to challenge Thornton and Co.
They already were led by the likes of catcher Jeremy McGinnis and infielders Andrue Hughart and Brad Huffman. But that offense was bolstered by the transfers of second baseman Drew D’Angelo and shortstop Wyatt Adkins.
Indy has had one of the area’s top offensive attacks all season, but Cuthbert likes the way things have gone recently.
“We have played real good lately. We are swinging the bats well, and we’re doing a good job on the mound and in the the field,” Cuthbert said. “I think the last two weeks have been our best two weeks of the season so far.”
Junior Brian Sexton will likely get the start for the Patriots. He has started against the likes of Class AAA teams Greenbrier East and Parkersburg South, as well as three of the team’s four games against Liberty.
Indy can also call on Hughart and McGinnis.
“They’re all real similar,” Cuthbert said of his pitching staff. “It depends on who is on the mound that it could affect our defense sometimes.
“We have leaned a lot on Brian. He has pitched some tough games.”
Admission to the game is $6 for adults and $5 for students, as mandated by the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission.
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PikeView (22-10) will travel to Mount View in the other semifinal. That game will also start at 6:30 p.m.
The Panthers are hitting .310 as a team and have a consistent lineup. Austin Cordell is hitting .358, Kevin Cottle .326 and Hunter Moses .318.
Cottle, a senior, is PikeView’s ace. He is 9-2 with a 2.39 earned run average and has two saves. Cottle has struck out 86 batters and walked 39 in 79 innings pitched and has allowed only three extra-base hits.
Cordell is 6-3 with a 2.16 ERA and has 68 strikeouts in 55 innings.
The winner of the Independence/Wyoming East game will host the PikeView/Mount View winner at 6:30 p.m. Thursday for the region championship and berth in next week’s state tournament.
— E-mail: gfauber@