CHARLESTON — The team picture had just been taken and the Man High School baseball team barely had a chance to take a deep breath before the inevitable questions started to be asked to the players.
The question was obvious.
Can the Man Hillbillies repeat as the Class A state baseball champions in 2015?
Man closed out its 2014 season in grand fashion with last Saturday’s 12-10 win in 10 innings over Clarksburg Notre Dame in the Class A final at Charleston’s Appalachian Power Park.
The Billies finished 21-12 overall and 2-0 in the state tournament, also winning 3-1 last Thursday night over St. Marys in the state semifinals.
With only two senior starters lost to graduation and most of its pitching staff back next spring, repeating as the state champions seems to be a distinct possibility.
Man coach Larry Vance initially backed off the question when surrounded by reporters on the field after the game, saying, “Hey, we’re going to enjoy this one for as long as we can. I don’t care what they say about next year. They can say what they want but we’re going to enjoy this.”
The Billies sure did enjoy it.
The historic championship was the first ever state title for a boys’ team at Man High School.
But what about it?
What about next year?
First off, Man’s two senior starters — Noah Maynard at first base and catcher Cayce Mullins will be sorely missed.
Mullins had a big state tournament as he was 5-for-8 at the plate with a double and two RBI. In the state championship game, he was 4-for-6 with two RBI. He had a huge RBI double in Man’s five-run outburst in the 10th inning.
Mullins finished off the season hitting .356 with four home runs and 19 RBI with eight doubles. With his 5-for-8 performance in the state tourney, Mullins saw his batting average rise 33 points.
Mullins also saved the day for the Billies as he quickly retrieved a wild pitch with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning of the championship game and flipped to pitcher Mikle Scott Rowe, who tagged out the would-be game-winning Notre Dame runner who was trying to score from third.
Maynard will have to be replaced at first base. He hit .296 with three home runs, 25 RBI, seven doubles and two triples on the season. Maynard was 2-for-8 in the state tourney with a double and two RBI.
Maynard wishes the Billies well in their quest in ‘15.
“I’m a senior but hopefully these guys can make it back and repeat,” Maynard said after Saturday’s game.
The Billies’ top player, pitcher/center fielder Braden Griffin will be back to lead Man. Griffin, a first-team all-state selection, was 6-for-9 in the state tournament with two doubles and two RBI. In the championship game, he was 3-for-6 with an RBI. Against St. Marys, he went 3-for-3 with two doubles and an RBI.
For the season, Griffin hit an impressive .479 with five homers, 31 RBI, 14 doubles and one triple. On the mound, Griffin notched the win in the St. Marys game. He was 3-1 with a 1.09 ERA and 85 strikeouts heading into state.
Griffin said the Billies can do it next year.
“That’s a possibility. I would love to see it happen again next year,” Griffin said.
Man also returns starting third baseman John Thomas Keffer. The sophomore was the winning pitcher in relief in the state title game and was 3-for-8 at the plate with two RBI. On the season, Keffer hit .295 with three home runs, 21 RBI and four doubles.
“Yes, we’ll be back,” Keffer said, when asked about next season.
Man also returns Kenny Jo Adkins, who played both in the outfield and in the infield this season. Adkins had a great state tournament as he was 4-for-6 with a double and five RBI. Batting in the No. 9 hole in the finals, Adkins was 3-for-5 with a double and five runs knocked in.
For the season, Adkins hit .273 with 15 RBI, four doubles and a triple.
Returing next season for the Billies as well is leadoff shortstop and freshman Cameron Simpson. He was 1-for-9 in the state tourney with a single and one RBI. For the season, Simpson hit .284 with 14 RBI and four doubles.
Simpson said the Billies have the talent to make it back to Charleston.
“I think that we’ll be here next year,” he said.
Man’s second baseman and starting pitcher Rowe will also return in 2015. Rowe was 1-for-8 in the state tourney with a single and one RBI. For the season, Rowe hit .241 with two homers, 17 RBI and four doubles.
“I sure hope we can make it back. We are only losing the two senior starters,” Rowe said. “We’ve got some big shoes to fill but I think that we’ll be back here next year.”
The Billies also got a big boost in right field with the defensive play of Baley Beckwith, who returns as well for Man next spring.
Beckwith was 1-for-6 at the plate at state but made several defensive gems with sliding or diving catches. On the season, he hit .299 with 14 RBI, three doubles and a triple.
Beckwith said Man has a group of players who will step up next year and get the job done.
“We’re losing a few seniors but I think that we can do it,” Beckwith said. “We have to replace some good senior starters but I think that we’ve got people who can step up behind them and do it. It’s an amazing feeling to be the first. We’ll be remembered forever.”
Tyler Blair was Man’s designated hitter in the state tourney and went 2-for-7 at the plate with a double and an RBI. For the season, Blair hit .290 with 11 RBI and four doubles.
Blair will likely slide into the starting catching role for Man next season as Mullins graduates.
“I think that we’ll have a good chance to come back, I really do. I believe that,” Blair said.
Not only will Man have Griffin, Rowe and Keffer and others back on the mound, it will return another starting lefty in Jake Adkins, who started in the Notre Dame and got a no-decision. Heading into the state tournament, Adkins was 5-3 with a 1.14 ERA. He had 59 strikeouts and only 12 issued walks in 49 innings of work. Griffin led the team with 85 punchouts.
Adkins said the Hillbillies will be hungry for more next spring.
“We’re going to try and make another run,” he said.
Repeat or not, Man has certainly accomplished one thing.
The Billies are on the baseball map.
After years of ups and downs Man baseball is a force to be reckoned with.