By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
The road to the Class AAA state championship for Princeton last year went through Beckley. A repeat would require the same stop, but Woodrow Wilson is looking to put up more resistance this time around.
Woodrow will host the Tigers in the Region 3 semifinals at 6:30 p.m. today at Flying Eagle Field. It will be a rematch of last year’s semifinal, which Princeton won 11-1 en route to its first state title.
The Tigers (16-10) return just two starters from that team, which beat perennial power Nitro in the title game. Defending that title could provide a slight edge for Princeton — many of the current players were in the dugout when their teammates won the championship.
“Maybe a little bit, but most of them have graduated,” Woodrow coach Mark Daniel said. “But being part of a championship team like that has to help you.”
“Experience plays a big part in this regional tournament,” said Princeton head coach Josh Wilburn. “I think we’ll be fine. We’ve just got to get timely hitting and a solid defense.”
Both teams had their sectional tournaments extended by rain.
The Flying Eagles (18-10) defeated Oak Hill on Thursday for the Section 1 championship. They lost to the Red Devils 10-2 that evening, but went on to win the winner-take-all game 16-6 in five innings.
Princeton, meanwhile, was finally able to get its decisive game against Greenbrier East played Friday and won 4-2.
All sectional tournaments were scheduled to be completed by May 11, but relentless rain, followed by the statewide WESTEST, forced many teams to wait until the latter part of last week to determine champions.
Daniel is happy with the way his team played, despite all the inconsistency.
“You’ve got to feel good about winning and advancing,” Daniel said. “But we had some days off, which affected us. I’m sure it affected Oak Hill and Shady (Spring, the tournament’s top seed), too.”
After starting the season 7-8, including losses in their first four games, the Eagles have won 11 of their last 13 games. As is usually the case, pitching and defense have carried them.
Woodrow’s team earned run average is 2.93. Leading the way have been junior Josh Rakes (5-2, 2.85 ERA), freshman Brandon Chandler (3-2, 2.28) and senior Hunter Greco (5-2, 1.55).
“We knew going in that pitching and defense would be what we had to rely on,” Daniel said.
Rakes will likely get the start tonight. Wilburn said he expects to start Bo Williams (7-2).
At the plate, Woodrow is hitting .299. Daniel said he thought the team might be a little down offensively because of its youth in some spots.
Greco, the second baseman when he isn’t pitching, leads the team with a .457 batting average. Junior center fielder Logan Wriston is at .357, followed by senior designated hitter Cole Williams (.343) and junior shortstop Chris Metrick (.330).
Woodrow and Princeton met one time this season, with the Tigers winning 9-2 on April 12. Greco started on the mound for the Eagles but was taken out early after getting hit on the kneecap by a line drive.
“It was early in the year and we didn’t have our whole lineup,” Daniel said. “Then we got rained out in the other game. But they have gotten a lot better since then and we have improved, too.”
Princeton’s Addison Wood leads the Tigers in batting average at “a little over .400,” Wilburn said.
Tonight’s winner will host either Riverside or South Charleston in the title game Wednesday.
Admission to the game is $6 for adults and $5 for students, as mandated by the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission.
— Bluefield Daily
Telegraph sports writer Tom Bone contributed to this story.