By Dave Morrison
OAK HILL – Oak Hill’s baseball team was looking forward to this season. It was like sitting on a fastball and then you get it. Right down the middle.
The signs were everywhere.
There was the natural progression that Dan Poland’s team had taken over the last few years.
There was the first year struggles of a young team learning the high school baseball ropes barley able to advance past first
There was the stranded at second base second-year blues when late leads in the postseason turned into losses, 11-10 to Independence and 10-9 to Liberty.
The Red Devils seemed to round third last season, going 21-14 and breaking out with a sectional championship before falling to Shady Spring in the Region 3 championship.
This year was the year that Poland thought his team would cross home.
“I probably should have ben fired after that second year when we gave up big leads in the postseason and lost some close games, but I’m not sure these guys understood what it took to close out games at this level,” Poland said. “Last year I thought we started to turn the corner. I thought we started to get it and we really had a chance to do something. This year I thought we could compete with anyone.”
That feeling was justified when the Red Devils traveled to Hurricane for a scrimmage game on Wednesday, March 11.
“I feel like Hurricane was going to be one of the better (Class AAA) teams in the state and my guys were right there with them,” Poland said. “We played with them, we competed. It got away a bit late when we put in some substitutes late in the game. But that showed them that they could compete with anybody.”
Unfortunately, two days later, with a Roberto Clemente-like throw from the outfield it appears the Red Devils, and everybody else, was improbably gunned down at the plate.
On Thursday, March 12 the WVSSAC pulled the plug on the ongoing girls state tournament and and boys Class AA regional tournaments that night, and immediately suspended play.
By Friday, even practices were postponed indefinitely. And now Oak Hill, and everyone else, is stranded in a holding pattern.
Nobody wants to say it but it could be the end of the line for Red Devil seniors Lane Jordan and Nate Bloomfield. And also for the three seniors who joined the team after Fayetteville was consolidated into Oak Hill after last year, Max Holland, Hunter Rinehart and Logan Frantz.
Those five would have been key pieces along with returning underclassmen that helped Oak HIll to those 21 win and sectional title last season.
The Red Devils seemed to have a wealth of bats, and, a wealth of arms.
“Back when we were working bullpens I thought we had as many as nine guys we could use on the mound, guys who would keep us in games and as many as five guys who could start,” Poland said.
Bradley Lokant looked to inherit the ace role from Caleb Jones, after nine starts last year. He worked 46 2/3 innings and had 44 strikeouts and an ERA of 5.10. Poland said he has grown to 6-foot-4 and added speed to his fastball.
Others include Lane Jordan (five starts, 39 2/3 innings, 42 strikeouts and a 1.23 ERA). He had been effective in relief in the postseason.
Sophomore Zane Wolfe (38 IP, 57 strikeouts and a 1.47 ERA), Ty Nelson (24 IP, 17 strikeouts, 3.50 ERA) were all expected to contribute along with Elijah Strickland, Braxton Hall and former Fayetteville throwers Frantz (22 2/3 IP) and Rinehart (20 2/3 IP, 20 strikeouts, 3.48 ERA) and Holland.
Oak Hill also has an embarrassment of riches behind the plate in Nelson, Logan Frantz and Logan Lawhorn.
“That is one thing we were really excited about, having three really good catchers,” Poland said. “All three of these guys can throw people out on the base paths, the can block balls in the dirt and they all know how to call a game.”
Nelson took over the job full-time last year after Lawhorn had left the team and did yeoman’s work with the staff. Frantz caught at Fayetteville and his dad, Tim, was one of the best catchers in the area in the late 1980s, and probably one of the best ever, and originally signed with college baseball power Clemson out of high school. And Lawhorn is back with the program, after hitting eight home runs as a freshman and two last season.
Nelson hit .330 last year with seven doubles, a home run and 30 RBI. Frantz hit .442 at Fayetteville with 12 doubles and 18 RBI.
The lineup is stacked as well, important in a section where Wyoming East returns the top of its rotation in seniors Matt Caldwell and McQuade Canada and Independence is typically loaded with arms like senior Hayden Miller and sophomores Atticus Goodson and Michael McKinney, as well.
Lokant will play first base when he isn’t on the mound (.321, four doubles, 22 RBI) Holland will be at second (.320, 13 RBI), Jordan, who led the area in doubles two seasons ago, will be at third (.359, 12 doubles, a triple, 24 RBI and 38 runs) and Zane Wolfe, who enjoyed a breakout freshman year (.339, 36 runs and just eight strikeouts in 124 official at-bats) will be at short.
Nelson can also play any infield position.
In the outfield, Rinehart (.300, four doubles, a triple, a home run and 20 RBI) is in left, Braxton Hall will be in center and Cade Legg in right. Eli Selvey, over from Fayetteville, Dylan Tincher and Connor Jones will also see time in the outfield.
Of course, the whole season is on hold as the nation struggles through the coronavirus pandemic.
Poland hasn’t even thought of what he would tell his team, especially those seniors.
“When I figure that out I will let you know,” Poland said. “I’m trying to stay positive. It kind of hit me earlier this week when it was warm out that we should be playing baseball, we should be practicing, anything. I understand it but I haven’t really allowed myself to think ahead and what I might have to tell these kids. It honestly don’t know what I can tell them. It’s disappointing.”
Like getting thrown out at home to end a game.