Every baseball coach yearns to have a pitcher who gives his team a great chance to win every time he toes the rubber. Greenbrier East head coach Cory Mann has that guy in senior Hunter Ridgeway.
"Hunter is everything you want in an ace for your staff. He is a true competitor," Mann said. "He gets the ball for every big game. He is a leader on the field and gets the respect of his teammates because of his work ethic and the way he carries himself on and off the field.
"Whether it is staying late to sweep out the clubhouse or to get some extra reps, there isn't anything he does not do to make sure he is getting better and showing the younger guys what needs to be done. He is a true leader and sets a great example of what it means to be a Spartan."
According to Mann, Ridgeway has never shied away from taking the ball in big time showdowns.
"I love pitching," Ridgeway said. "I think it is the hardest thing you can do in baseball. The hitter has a chance to hit the ball over a two-acre field and us pitchers have to locate it over a 17 1/2-inch plate. You are in the spotlight with people looking at you all the time. In those must-win games, coach will look at me and say, 'Ridgeway, you got us tonight?' And I always say, 'Yes, sir.'"
Ridgeway stands as the ace of the Spartans staff, thanks in large part to a decision made early in life — one that would shape his future baseball career.
"When I was 8 years old, I was selected for a (recreation) league all-star basketball team. I was also thinking about getting into baseball a little more and training with Danny Flores at Upper Deck in Beckley," Ridgeway recalled. "My parents gave me the option of playing all-star basketball with all my buddies, or going with a couple of guys to Beckley every week. I had no idea that baseball was a sport that was going to carry me in life, but I chose that route."
Four trips to the Little League state tournament would follow, along with multiple titles in the middle school league played at Linda K. Epling Stadium.
"Hunter has been a key piece to the program we are building here at Greenbrier East," Mann said. "He has always been all in and works extremely hard to become the best baseball player and person that he can be. He has taken our core principles, applied them to his life and has become a leader and someone for young ball players to look up to."
Ridgeway, along with fellow seniors Chris Hulmes, David Hofmann and Kyle King, who have been with him since Little League, all hope to cap their high school run with a trip to the state baseball tournament. However, that run to Charleston is currently on hold as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We all have high expectations as a team, but this is definitely different and nothing that any of us expected. It is something we have to get through," Ridgeway said. "As athletes, we all go through adversity in our careers. At first it was really tough, but now, looking back, it is not really tough on us, it is just a little adversity."
While the last chapter of his high school career is still yet to be finished, the first chapter of Ridgeway's college career will be written at Potomac State in the fall. He hopes that chapter will lead to even bigger opportunities.
"(Head baseball) coach (Doug) Little has been there for going on 25 years and produced a lot of Division I guys," Ridgeway said. "It is a dream of mine to play Division I baseball. Potomac State stuck out as the best route for me. It is like a little Lewisburg up there in Keyser."
Should that Division I dream come true, there is one place Ridgeway would love to play.
"I would love to be a (West Virginia) Mountaineer," Ridgeway said. "I grew up as a Mountaineer fan, but, honestly, any program would be great if I am fortunate to play at that level."
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