CHARLESTON - Members of West Virginia's most successful baseball program proved themselves worthy of the crown once again.
Jefferson's ability to deliver in the clutch seized the Class AAA high school baseball title No. 10 Saturday at Appalachian Power Park as the Cougars continued to do what they have done all season - produce in the most demanding situations.
"That's what we are supposed to do, what coach has taught us to do," all-tournament pitcher Logan Johnson said. "We worked our way the whole season just to get to this point, and we just knew we had to keep doing it."
Jefferson teammates celebrate their 8-4 victory over Fairmont Senior in the West Virginia Class AAA high school baseball championship game Saturday in Charleston. (AP photo)
No other team is close to accomplishing the double-digit factor that resonated statewide with an epicenter nearly 360 miles from the Cougars' beloved Sager Field.
You can find young men working there year-round with the aspiration of being a part of something like this weekend's historic run. It is just more proof that blood, sweat and tears do pay off in the long run; and the state's best baseball is still coming from the Eastern Panhandle.
Jefferson coach John Lowery Sr. has been spearheading runs like these for five decades, and Saturday's 8-4 victory against Fairmont Senior was another example of what makes baseball such an interesting game. Timely hitting, good defense and solid pitching can overcome just about anything, and the Cougars' unofficial motto, "The Hammer of Practice Drives the Nail of Success," never rang more true.
"It is almost surreal," all-tournament third baseman Jamie Richard said. "We were meant to win today."
"That's why we started in 30-degree weather, talking infield, hitting. I'm just glad it came true," Jefferson second baseman Cody Johnson said.
Lowery led the Cougars to their first state title in 1979, followed by wins in '88, '91, '92, '93, '98, '99, '05, '07 and now 2011.
"No. 10 is great," Lowery said. "This is the fifth decade that we've won one in. It is something to be proud of - that a group of kids and school can exhibit that type of consistency over that period of time, that the community can support you for that length of time and help you get to that point. We are proud of that. No. 10, that's a milestone-type number. What more can you say?"
The closest programs to reaching Jefferson's level are now defunct Huntington East and Logan, which have six titles each, Van with five, and Martinsburg, Weir, Huntington and Wheeling Central with four apiece.
An uncanny balance buoyed an ironclad Jefferson team this year, which evolved during the regular season into a creature capable of surviving most any postseason obstacle.
"We came up here, we knew what we had to do and we wanted to get No. 10," all-tournament pitcher Tanner Everton said. "It was a team effort today. We had some guys come up really big."
When the cards were on the table, they were unbeatable.
Led by a senior class that had never experienced the state tournament, a hungry Cougar team refused to be denied its chance to dogpile on the state's biggest baseball stage. And dogpile they did, to the dismay of the Polar Bears, who have lost in all six of their state title appearances.
Fairmont is an example of how hard it is to find success with everything on the line. The Cougars are the archetype of taking hold of opportunity and driving the nail of fate home.
They overcame an injury to sophomore center fielder Anthony DiAmario, who was one of their hottest postseason players, the day before the tournament started; left little doubt of what they were capable of unleashing in a commanding victory against Nitro in the semifinals; and then rallied to defeat Fairmont Senior in the final.
Those in the baseball title chase have one more Jefferson crown to contend with.
"Now the challenge is waived to the next group," Lowery said.
- Nate Maczuzak can be reached at 304-263-8931, ext. 131, or firstname.lastname@example.org