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It’s been 45 years since downtown banner read “State Champions”

By Staff | Feb 13, 2015

Out in the semi-darkness of the gymnasium at the Shepherdstown Middle School there is a moderate-sized wooden board hanging above one end of the basketball court.

The board has pegs protruding from it and on those pegs are fading red baseball caps. Even though they are near to the gym’s ceiling, they have been accumulating dust for 45 years. That board was placed high on the wall after the 1970 Shepherdstown Cardinals baseball team won the West Virginia state championship. The hats of the team’s 14 players were placed on the pegs . . . placed there after the team returned from faraway Parkersburg with a state championship that literally came against all comers.

Every high school in the state that fielded a team, regardless of enrollment size, was placed alongside all the others. There were no classifications by enrollment. The largest of the large was thrown together in a heap against the smallest of the small.

And Shepherdstown beat them all.

The Cardinals had two freshmen starters in pitcher Jerry Mahoney and first baseman Bruce Clinton. Both would later play at Potomac State in Keyser and then two years for West Virginia University in Morgantown.

The other sturdy infielders were usually Gary Walsh, D.L. Smith and David Wayne Smith. Larry Thomas was the catcher, except for the day in the state semifinals when he pitched a complete-game, one-hitter with six strikeouts in taming University High, 7-0, in a win that propelled Shepherdstown into the championship game.

Gary Thomas, Ronnie Stotler and Jeff Sager were the other starters on Coach Jim Kessel’s team.

The state tournament drew an eight-team field to Parkersburg, a mighty distance by road mostly along state Route 50 from Shepherdstown after reaching the meandering roads of the middle of the state.

To reach the state tournament, the Cardinals had to get through the teams in the area and then top Franklin High in the Regional finals.

Kessel’s team had a combined 3-1 record in games against Charles Town and Harpers Ferry and that advanced them to a Regional semifinal against Martinsburg. With Mahoney holding the Bulldog bats to only a few runs, Shepherdstown was a 3-2 winner that sent it to a Regional finale against Franklin High from Pendleton County. Mahoney was a little more solvable by the Panthers, but held on with his control and the Cardinals earned the school’s first-ever baseball state tournament berth with an 8-4 win.

Shepherdstown’s first-round opponent in distant Parkersburg was Seth High from Sherman. Mahoney used five early runs to blunt Seth’s chances. And Shepherdstown had a 5-2 win over its faraway opponent.

The next day, Kessel used Larry Thomas as his starting (and complete-game) pitcher. Thomas was nearly unhittable by the Hawks, fanning six and limiting them to only one lone hit in his shutout effort.

The 1970 state tournament came down to a championship game between Poca’s much-heralded Dots and their 27-4 overall record and Shepherdstown and its near-miracle in the making team of unknowns.

Mahoney, the freshman righthander, was back on the City Park mound for the Cardinals.

All day, he swallowed the Dot bats and spit them out as his teammates and his own hits ruined Poca’s afternoon with a championship-game 4-1 win.

It took the team quite a while to get back to Jefferson County along Route 50 and other equally windy roads in the middle of the state.

When the Cardinals arrived in midtown, stretched above the intersection of King and German streets in close proximity to the Old Town Restaurant, Kave’s Market, the War Memorial Building, the town library and McMurran Hall was a long banner proclaiming the team “State Champions”.

The players lined up in the street just in front of McMurran Hall and posed with the state championship trophy.

Shepherdstown High had defied all the odds.

And that team triumph happened fully 45 years ago this year. The dust on the red caps on the pegs above one end of the gym floor at the Middle School helps attest to the team’s unprecedented feat.