Frustrated by playoff losses and with a clear view of reality in the 1970s, Houston Oilers Head Coach Bum Phillips said, “The road to the Super Bowl goes through Pittsburgh.”
For the Pocahontas County High School Warriors, the road to the state playoffs goes through Franklin. The reality is – that road has been a dead end for the past couple seasons – and looks to be a dead end for the foreseeable future. The Wildcats consistently field excellent teams while the Warriors struggle to build a good team.
This year was a disheartening example for the Warriors. In the final year for talented seniors Wes Felton, Brandon Hamons and Judd Walther, the Warriors could chalk wins only against other also-rans like Union, Meadow Bridge and Richwood.
The Warriors baseball season ended in Pendleton County – again – on May 16, when the Wildcats whipped the Warriors 8-0 to seize the sectional crown. The Cats took the first game in the series, 10-3, three days earlier.
The Wildcats are now 23-9 and host a regional championship game on Wednesday. The Warriors finished 5-14, including the two sectional losses to Pendleton County.
Assistant Coach Toney Minter said the Warriors played well against their powerhouse rivals.
“I was happy with the way the boys played the last two games of the season,” he said. “They played a very disciplined game. They went in and didn’t make very many mistakes. The few they did make, they didn’t let that affect them the rest of the game, which is a big improvement over what we have been doing. We made them play a really tough game and we didn’t give them anything easy. The better team won, but we played the best games of the year, in my opinion.”
In game one of the sectionals, the Warriors made the Cats nervous for six innings.
“The first game we lost 10-3, but it was 3-2 in the sixth inning, until the pitcher just wore out,” said Minter. “Essentially, he got tired and they got a big inning. But it was a really close game.”
Springtime and a new baseball season seem an eternity away. But, despite the disappointing season, Warriors fans should be excited for baseball in 2015.
Barring walk-ons, the Warriors will have zero seniors and just one junior on next season’s roster. But some of those players moving up through the ranks show awesome potential. Braxton Rider will be the team’s only junior.
“Braxton Rider has stood out as a pitcher this year,” said Minter. “He did a good job all year. He’s tough to hit and threw a lot of strikes, which is always something you want to see.”
Minter is already excited about next season.
“Next year’s going to be a lot of fun, in some respects,” Minter added. “We’re going to be a really young team. Braxton will be the eldest player and just a junior. We’ll have the freshmen that we had this year, as sophomores, and whatever freshmen come up. From what I’ve seen and heard, this rising freshman class will be fairly athletic. We can expect some good players out of that class.”
Several freshmen got valuable playing time this season.
“There were freshmen who saw a lot of playing time,” said Minter. “We had Austin Sharp, who played mostly second and some in right field. He did an excellent job. His hitting was coming along great. He’s just gung-ho and enthusiastic about baseball. A great kid, overall.
“Wyatt Workman was solid in center field for us. He developed into a good lead-off hitter. We were able to make use of his hitting and getting on base in the latter part of the year.
“We had Logan Davis, who came along greatly in the outfield. He came a long way with his fielding this season.”
Anyone who knows baseball knows the guy behind the plate is just as important as the guy on the mound. PCHS has a great catcher developing in Morgan Mason, who will be a sophomore next year.
“Morgan Mason improved greatly over the year,” said Minter. “He’s really solid – he doesn’t let too many balls get by him. That was a key part in some of the games we played with big backstops in various places. He did a good job and the thing to look forward to, as he ages and matures just a little bit, his arm strength goes up. He’ll be a really effective catcher for us in the future.”
Minter praised the efforts of freshman Brandal Carr.
“Brandal’s just a great player to have on your team,” said the coach. “He doesn’t give you any trouble. He plays hard and gives it his all. You saw him improve throughout the year also.”
Freshmen Justin Hendrick and Caleb Mullenax also got some playing time.
“If they work hard and come around and develop, they could be good players by the time they’re seniors,” said Minter.
The coach said the team always welcomes walk-ons.
“There’s always the potential for a couple and it’s up to the kids,” he said. “If they are interested in baseball, we welcome them out there and hope they work hard.”
Minter said a lot of progress has been made on the school’s baseball field, which was under construction and not used this season.
“I hope it’ll be ready for next season,” he said. “There’s certainly lots of time this summer to work on it.”