By Mark Carpenter –
In 1989, the West Union baseball roster was dotted with names such as Brent McClellan, Blaine Roush, Eric Combs, Jay Hazelbaker, Tim Price, Sam Hinton, and Eric Courtright. This squad, coach by Joe Kramer, was the last WUHS baseball team to win a conference championship in what was then known as the Southern Hills League. Ironically, it was 1989 when the Dragons last won a conference championship in basketball, a feat they repeated this past winter.
Now it is 2018 and the familiar face of Joe Kramer is again leading the West Union baseball squad, and much like their basketball counterparts, this group of Dragons is on the verge of pulling off a surprise and capturing their first conference title in 29 seasons. The Dragons are also getting a bit of statewide respect on the diamond, finding themselves ranked 26th in the state in Division III in the latest state polls.
According to Coach Kramer, it is the first time that a West Union baseball team has been in the state rankings.
“I am happy for our players,”says Kramer. “They are proud to get this type of recognition and I think everyone was a little surprised. They have put a lot of effort into becoming better players and they really enjoy being around each other. Being around this team, for myself, is a fun place to be.”
“Winning the SHAC championship is really far from our minds,” adds Kramer. “What we look forward to is whatever is happening that day. We have an understanding, ‘Winning answers all the questions’. If we end up with the title, we will enjoy it then.”
Because of the fickle disposition of this year’s spring weather, the Dragons have played nine games thus far, all of them conference contests, and they have won eight of them. That means that with two wins in their four remaining SHAC contests, the Dragons will clinch no worse than a tie for the big school title. That road began on Thursday when West Union hosted Lynchburg-Clay. No result for that game was available by deadline, but going in the Mustangs were tied for second place with North Adams, both with three conference losses. On Friday, the Dragons traveled to North Adams to face the Green Devils. If they pulled off wins in both those contests, the battle in the big school will be for second place, not the top spot.
The 8-1 Dragons have gotten offensive contributions from a number of players, led by center fielder Ryan Rothwell, who is hitting .485 for the spring, with 11 runs batted in. Sophomore third baseman Alex Hirsch is hitting .389 and leads the team with 15 RBI’s. Second baseman Michael Carson is batting at a .379 clip, with senior Jared Fenton hitting .370 with 13 driven in. Toss in Elijah McCarty at .364, Clayton Madden at .357, Brycen Staten at .353, and Brandan Cornell at .333, and it’s easy to see why the West Union offense strikes fear into opposing pitchers.
On the mound, Cornell leads the starting rotation with a 3-1 record and a 2.72 earned run average, striking out 27 batters in 18 innings of work. Fenton is 2-0 with a sparkling 0.70 ERA, fanning 27 in 20 innings on the hill. Hirsch is also 2-0 in two starts with a 4.85 earned run average, and the other win belongs to Rothwell, who went five innings in his only start last week in a run rule win over Ripley.
Baseball is a funny game and usually unpredictable, especially on the local high school scene, but for now, the Dragons look to be sitting in the driver’s seat. But the seasoned Coach Kramer knows the bottom line.
“One of our multi-sport athletes made a comment to me,” said Kramer. “He said ‘I like baseball practice, it’s fun being here’. I thought, ‘Yeah, baseball should be fun.’”