Down went the Dots: Poca beaten by Cards in 1970 title game
SHEPHERDSTOWN — Utility players are much-valued by high school baseball coaches. The best teams have them aligned all over the defense. Infielders who can pitch. Pitchers who can play all over the infield. Catchers who can be employed at first base or in the outfield.
Schools with the leanest of benches need utility players, if they are going to wage successful run-ins with much larger schools.
When Shepherdstown High School went after the West Virginia high school state baseball championship in 1970, it had a roster full of those valued utility players.
Shepherdstown was one of those small-in-attendance schools. And it had to be better than any school (of any size) to win a state baseball title.
There were no divisions that lumped same-size schools together in a bracket to themselves.
Every school was on its own. All schools sponsoring baseball were in the one classification the state had.
Shepherdstown was virtually the same as massive Parkersburg High or Morgantown or Beckley Woodrow Wilson. Student body numbers meant nothing.
Get out there and play.
The Cardinals with their band of utility players did just that.
Two freshmen were part of the play-everywhere Cardinals of 1970. Jerry Mahoney was mostly a pitcher, but he could play in the infield and outfield. Bruce Clinton was employed at first base by coach Jim Kessel, but later in his baseball career he played catcher and in the infield.
Larry Thomas was the usual catcher. But Thomas pitched a complete game, one-hitter in the state semifinals in Parkersburg, when the upstart Cardinals blanked University, 7-0. It was only the second pitching start of the season for Thomas, who fanned six and walked five in besting the Hawks.
Infielders Gary Walsh, D.L. Smith and Gary Thomas could all play more than one position, including pitching, if necessary, for both Smith and Thomas.
David Smith could easily move from the outfield to the infield and make people feel comfortable when he did.
Outfielders Ronnie Stotler and Jeff Sager might be moved around in their outer garden posts from game to game.
Shepherdstown didn’t play a flood of games, usually no more than two a week, so Mahoney pitched most of them.
After Larry Thomas had pitched so well in stopping University, he returned to his usual catching spot for the state championship game against the Dots of Poca High School.
Mahoney tamed the Dots . . . and Shepherdstown posted a 4-1 win in the state championship game.
That was 50 years ago, and Shepherdstown High closed its high school doors in June of 1972. Its empty building became a junior high and then a middle school.
Clinton and Mahoney graduated from Jefferson High and then both went to Potomac State, a two-year school in Keyser. From Potomac State, they both went to West Virginia University, where both played on the 1976 team. Mahoney was an infielder and Clinton was the center-fielder — more utility work for them.
Every coach values his utility players. And schools with graduating classes of fewer than 60 students look at them like they are 24-carat gold Hall of Famers.