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Of the dozen, the 1999 team shone the brightest

By Staff | Apr 24, 2020

The Jefferson High School baseball team stands with its plaque from winning its 2019 sectional game last May. Courtesy photo

SHEPHERDSTOWN — There won’t be any Baker’s Dozen celebrated at Sager Field this year.

The 2020 baseball season never had a chance to get underway at Jefferson High School. A pandemic that roared its way from China to every corner of the world forced a cancellation of the season.

Jefferson has 12 state championships represented in its glass-fronted trophy cases. Any thoughts of a 13th such state title will have to wait.

Along with the 12 championships is a decades-long list of 20-win seasons that has grown and grown and now stands at 43 straight campaigns with at least 20 victories.

Of the 12 state champions, 10 of those teams had at least 30 wins. The combined record of those dozen teams is 399 wins and 53 losses, or a strikingly handsome .883 winning percentage.

A 7-0 shutout win over Wayne brought the first state title in 1979. Following the next championship in 1988 were consecutive state titles in 1991, 1992 and 1993.

Back-to-back championships were achieved in 1998 and 1999.

The turn into the 20th century has seen five additional state crowns being worn by the baseball Cougars — 2005, 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2016.

There were only three close games in the championship round — a 3-2 win over DuPont in 1988, a 2-1 success against Nitro in 2015 and a 5-3 victory over South Charleston in 1998.

Schools that have been beaten by Jefferson in title games are South Charleston (twice), Nitro (twice), Fairmont Senior (twice), Wayne, Brooke County, Ripley, Hurricane, DuPont and Beckley Woodrow Wilson.

It can be next to impossible to gauge the individual talents of baseball players from different eras and different generations. Each team has its reasons for being able to conquer the state. All-state players can be listed in long columns at Jefferson. Those playing professional baseball also command a lengthy list.

The best of the elite bunch, out of all the state championship teams, may have been the 1999 edition that really did not have any detectable weaknesses. That team drowned Hurricane, 11-1, in the state championship game at Watt Powell Park in Charleston.

Pitcher/first baseman Josh Cenate and center fielder B.J Mercer were selected to the All-State first team. Pitcher/first baseman Jimmy Rhodes was named to the All-State second team and then named to the first team in 2000.

Jefferson’s everyday lineup did not have an easy out among the competent hitters.

The team’s overall defense was an asset as well. And with pitchers Cenate, Rhodes and usual shortstop Eric Smoot, the Cougars were in every game until that game usually ended up in the win column.

Cenate, a left-hander with a 90-plus fastball and electric curveball, signed a professional contract thought to be worth about $1 million. Rhodes went to college at Oklahoma State after graduating from Jefferson in 2000. Both Cenate and Rhodes won over 30 games in their dominating high school pitching careers.

Moving around that Cougar infield found a litany of .300-plus hitters. Craig Smith was both a capable hitter and effective fielder at second base. Smoot had power and made the defensive plays a state championship team needs at shortstop. Scott Wells (at third base) and Cenate were the team’s only left-handed hitters.

The quality outfield held Mercer, Josh Green and Mike Moulton — holders of high one-base percentages and defensive know-how.

One of the Osbourn brothers (Ethan and Justin) was the team’s catcher.

Jefferson’s most impressive win of the 32-4-record season was a 5-2 win at Cooperstown’s Doubleday Field over USA TODAY nationally-ranked Riverdale Baptist (Maryland) where Cenate struck out a large number of the opposition.

Many of Riverdale’s players went on to professional or collegiate careers.

Well, the Baker’s Dozen season has to wait. High School baseball in the state of West Virginia was no-hit by the coronavirus.