Senior-laden Cougars defend latest championship
There have been 11 state championships celebrated through the years.
The last one came just a year ago when the Cougars used excellent pitching and enough defense to edge Nitro in the Class AAA state championship game in Charleston.
How about an even dozen titles to give the large senior class a fitting going-away present?
Pitchers Austin Cross, Bradley Davis, Charlie Barnholt, Austin Bulman and Dylan Carroll, should they all stay injury-free, head a list of 12 pitchers on a 22-player roster coach John Lowery has to show his 2016 schedule of teams.
Cross and Carroll are juniors while Davis, Bulman and Barnholt are three of the 11 seniors.
A lengthy list of pitchers new to Jefferson varsity baseball include transfer Nick Chorney from Colorado, Alex Tennant, Grant Reed, Dalton Jamison and David Dinges. Dalton Dodson is also listed as a utility player who can pitch.
Most of the 22 players can play multiple positions and with the exceptions of all-state shortstop Paul Witt, catcher Joseph Mills, pitcher Jordan Beans and catcher Dylan Mackey the other 18 team members will probably see duty at more than one spot.
Witt is a quality fielder and has an on-base percentage that might be the highest in the state.
Barnholt and Bulman were starters in 2015 who produced runs as the Cougars ran away to a 37-2 overall record.
Lowery had an excellent fielding outfield last season — probably the best in the school’s highly-decorated history. But there were two seniors and a junior not listed on this year’s roster, so a complete makeover will be necessary.
When the Cougars open defense of their latest Class AAA championship on Saturday in Shenandoah Junction, they will probably have an infield of 2015 regulars Barnholt, Witt, Bulman and firebrand second baseman Mason Steeley.
Chorney is listed as an outfielder/catcher/pitcher and he is likely to appear somewhere on Opening Day.
Cameron Alvarez is a senior outfielder with a promising bat. The other outfielders are Davis, Josh Colvin, Bailey Dodson, Daniel Brennan, Dalton Jamison and Cole Walker — most of whom were on the jayvee team last season.
Hunter Palmer is a senior first baseman. Other utility infielders include Brennan, Reed, Dinges and Dalton Dodson. Cross could be used some at first base because of his bat and defense.
Beans and Cross could be the most-used designated hitters. Beans had an important grand slam home run in Sectional play in 2015.
Jefferson’s hitting core of Witt, Barnholt, Bulman and Cross could be the state’s most productive foursome.
This year’s senior class has Witt, Davis, Barnholt, Beans, Alvarez, Chorney, Reed, Palmer, Mills, Colvin and Mackey.
The Cougars rarely beat themselves. And they annually force mistakes by their opponents with quality base running and by drawing an inordinate amount of walks.
Starting pitching is also a corner with yearly excellence. Jefferson’s pitchers walk few and don’t allow many big innings.
With a list of 12 pitchers that include at least three that will pitch in college, the Cougars seem poised to be able to win at least another 20 games — the same as they have for almost four decades now without missing a single beat.
The season begins on Saturday, March 19, with a home game against Mountain View (Pennsylvania) and continues at Sager Field with dates on March 23 against defending state champion Smithsburg (Maryland) and then an early-season game against county rival Washington on Thursday, March 24.
Witt, Bulman, Barnholt, Cross and Bradley — if all are healthy — are entrenched starters . . . but the competition all around the diamond should make the Cougars a team with a changing lineup at least until mid-April.