Baseball Cougars try to outhustle coronavirus
SHEPHERDSTOWN — The grass might not be any greener. Nor the clouds any fluffier nor the breezes any gentler.
It just might seem that way to the Jefferson baseball team after being dismissed through the entire 2020 season by the coronavirus.
There were no games last year. No trip to Myrtle Beach. No motoring to Cooperstown. Nothing of any consequence until the summer when some of the players were able to find teams that gave them a semblance of normalcy.
Baseball is back. Many changes have been installed or initiated. No overnight trips. Fewer games. Already a few practice dates were cancelled by virus precautions.
Finally, Jefferson can focus on trying to win at least 20 games for the umpteenth season in a row. It’s been over 45 years ago (since there was no 2020 season) since the Cougars last fell short of a 20-win season.
And there is some first-rate talent for the only head coach the school has ever known — John Lowery, Sr. — who has several proven hitters in his everyday lineups that will no doubt profit from the season’s later start and warmer weather.
Middle infielder Isaiah Morris could be the best of the bunch. If he isn’t, then pitcher-first baseman Zac Rose, pitcher-utility player Riley Vadsz, infielders Cullen Horowicz, Griffrin Horowicz or Kamian Gonzalez could be.
Rose might receive the most starts of any pitcher. The left-hander was a mainstay in both his sophomore and freshman seasons.
Sammy Roberts, along with Vadsz and Gonzalez, are other pitchers of note.
Players with varsity experience are Mason LaFollette, Will Allinger and pitcher-outfielder Will Ricketts. Waiting to show what they couldn’t in 2020 are pitcher Sam Wabnitz, outfielder Matthew Vickers and left-handed pitcher Peyton Corwine.
Morris, Rose and Cullen Horowicz all played on a Virginia-based travel team last summer. They were able to play through a full schedule of games in most sections of the state and along the mid-Atlantic coast.
All three of those players have already selected colleges where they want to continue playing baseball.
Under Lowery’s direction since the 1973 season, the Cougars have won 12 state championships and over 1,300 games.
The last state championships came in back-to-back fashion in 2015 and 2016.
This season, there can’t be any dramatic drop off in the lineup after Morris, Rose, Cullen Horowicz and Gonzalez. The first-year starters and those moving ahead from their previous reserve roles must also be contributors if Jefferson is to go back to probing deep into the postseason.
Finding pitchers behind Rose is also a primary concern. Pitchers don’t have to dominate batters with strikeouts but they must throw strikes and stay clear of walks, hit batsmen and wild pitches to help win games.
Baseball in the state of West Virginia has been the realm of Hurricane, St. Albans, South Charleston and Cabell Midland the past several years.
In this area, Hedgesville, Martinsburg and Musselman have joined Jefferson as the teams to beat going back to 2018.
This season should be graced with warmer nights and a general increase in “baseball weather” since it didn’t begin on chilly or downright cold nights in mid-March and will be going on until the early part of June when the state tournament is scheduled to be completed.
Jefferson has the incentive. It has a certain “team first” attitude. And it has enough team-wide talent to be back among the state’s better teams.