For the Logan High School baseball team it’s the year 1 A.Z.
Zach “Z” Minnick.
Minnick closed out his stellar high school career last season and is now playing Division I ball at Campbell University.
Minnick, last year’s 2014-15 Gatorade West Virginia Baseball Player of the Year, batted .565 with six home runs, 24 runs and 39 RBI last season for Logan. The Class AAA first-team all-state selection also sported a 6-2 record and a 0.71 ERA while pitching for the Wildcats.
Saying Minnick will be tough to replace will be saying it mildly.
Logan is coming off a 23-7 season from last year and have some returning starters back, however, seven seniors were lost to graduation, including Minnick. The others are: SS Chase Preston, CF Zach Hanlon (.220), Cameron Sammons (.286), DH Brenton Vance, OF Conner Akers (.265) and reserve Chester Bradsher.
Preston, who pitched and played shortsop, hit .444 last year with 24 RBI. Vance batted .403.
The Wildcats will look to make it back to the Class AAA state tournament, something that has eluded Logan since 2009.
Logan lost 5-4 at Nitro in last year’s winner-take-all 3A sectional championship game and closed out the season ranked No. 5 in the state. For Logan it was only the third time since 2000 the Wildcats had not won a sectional title.
LHS won 12 straight sectional crowns from 2000-11 and then took the 2013 section title in the current alignment with Nitro and St. Albans. Logan had been a sectional champ in 13 out of the last 15 years heading into last year’s ballgame.
Logan beat Nitro 4-1 in last year’s sectional, then clobbered St. Albans, 16-1, before falling 5-3 to Nitro and then again to Nitro in the finals.
The Cats hope to make one last run in Triple-A. Next year, Logan goes back down to Double-A where it played from 2003-08, winning a pair of state championships in 2005 and 2008.
Logan, ranked No. 8 in the Class AAA preseason MetroNews Power Index, is coached by veteran mentor Roger Gertz, who also led the Wildcats to 3A state titles in 1994, 2000 and 2001 and a Triple-A state runner-up finish in 2002.
“We’ve got some inexperience and we’ve got some baseball players that have to get used to varsity experience,” Gertz said, when asked about this year’s team. “We have six seniors and a couple of those didn’t play last year.”
Logan is led by its top two returning pitchers in Chase Burnette, a senior right-hander, and senior lefty Jared Shawver. Burnette was 4-2 with a 4.12 ERA on the hill last season. He tossed 34 innings and struck out 32 batters. Shawver was 4-1 last year with a 1.77 ERA. He fired 32 innings and had 41 Ks.
“Shawver did a great job on the mound last night in our opener at Man,” Gertz said.
Matthew Brown is also likely to see time on the mound.
Junior right-hander Will Akers will also pitch for Logan.
“Will can come in and do well for us,” Gertz said.
Seniors and first-year players Tommy Adkins and Shawn Blevins will also be counted on to pitch as well as T.J. Mullins and freshman Peyton Branham.
“I think they will help us in time as well as Will Akers,” Gertz said. “They changed some of the pitching rules, so we’re going to have to develop some new pitchers. They are worried about the number of pitches and having more rest between innings, so we’re going to have to have five to seven real good pitchers. Peyton Branham is another pitcher and he’s got a good arm for a freshman.”
Behind the plate, catcher Ryan Holstein is back. He was Logan’s catcher last year when starter Minnick was on the mound.
“He caught some for us last year and he can also play second base and in the outfield,” Gertz said of Holstein.
Tyler Topping, a freshman, is Logan’s other catcher.
“He’s got some skills for a freshman and he’s a big, strong kid. He does have some power,” Gertz said.
Brown can also catch but he may be needed elsewhere, Gertz said.
“Out of all of our catchers Matthew has the best arm,” Gertz said. “He’s very versatile and can play second or third base. He’s a lot like David, his older brother, who did a lot for us too. He hits for power and hits the ball well to right centerfield.”
At first base, senior Alex Toler returns. He hit .292 last season.
“He’s got a heck of a glove and he’s one of the best first baseman that we’ve ever had going back to when we had John Ryan Steele,” Gertz said. “He’s practicing hard and he’s hitting the ball hard.”
Sophomore Devin Hensley is Logan’s other primary first baseman.
“He’s a big, strong kid and he hits the ball hard,” Gertz said. “He needs confidence but that will come in time.”
Brown, Holstein, Adkins and sophomore Isaiah Beckett are Logan’s second basemen.
Mullins seems to have the nod at shortstop.
“T.J. is really gifted and he’s a next level player if he puts the time in it. He’s got good power,” Gertz said.
Burnette, Brown and Adkins may split time at third base. Burnette hit .303 last season.
In left field, junior Tyler Browning returns. Akers returns in center and Shawver is back in right field. Shawver hit .271 last season. Akers hit for a .344 clip a year ago.
“We look for Will to have a big year,” Gertz said. “Shawver is also a good hitter.”
Hensley may also see time in the outfield as well as Blevins and Adkins.
Logan has another difficult schedule this spring. The Wildcats, however, do not meet Class AAA sectional rival Nitro during the regular season. Nitro was ranked No. 2 in the state in the preseason poll.
“Nitro returns seven starters from last year’s team and they have started since they were sophomores,” Gertz said. “They are good. The kid that they have, Harrison, has State Player of the Year potential. Their pitching staff is strong and for anyone to beat them it will be tough. But we’re going to give it everything that we’ve got this season. We had a shot to beat them (Nitro) last season. We were up a game in the sectional and only had to beat them once but they came back to beat us twice.”
Logan also has a home-and-home series this season with No. 3-ranked Ripley and two-game sets against No. 4 Hurricane and No. 10 George Washington.
The Wildcats also play a home-and-home series with Class A No. 5-ranked Man as well as Class AAA contender Cabell Midland.
Logan is set to have its annual Spring Break trek to Myrtle Beach (S.C.) next week with the Mingo Bay Classic. The Wildcats are set to play Marist (Ill.), R-S Central (N.C.) and Socastee (S.C.) in their first three tourney games.
LHS is set to leave Sunday for Myrtle Beach.
Logan’s tourney opener is Tuesday against Marist, a school located in the Chicago area. Last year at the Beach, the Wildcats played St. Rita, another Chicago area team.
2016 Logan High School
March 24: at Man, 7 p.m.
March 25: vs. George Washington (at Appalachian Power Park, Charleston), 7 p.m.
March 26: Riverside 1 p.m.
March 29: vs. Marist, Ill. (at Mingo Bay Classic tourney, Myrtle Beach, S.C.), 4:30 p.m.
March 30: R-S Central, N.C., (at Mingo Bay Classic tourney, Myrtle Beach, S.C.), 4:30 p.m.
March 31: at Socastee, S.C., (at Mingo Bay Classic tourney, Myrtle Beach, S.C.), 3:30 p.m.
April 1: vs. TBA (at Mingo Bay Classic tourney, Myrtle Beach, S.C.), TBA
April 2: vs. TBA (at Mingo Bay Classic tourney, Myrtle Beach, S.C.), TBA
April 5: Lincoln County, 7 p.m.
April 6: Cabell Midland, 7 p.m.
April 8: at Hurricane, 7 p.m.
April 9: Grafton, 2 p.m.
April 12: George Washington, 7 p.m.
April 13: at Ripley, 7 p.m.
April 15: Scott, 7 p.m.
April 16: at Riverside, 1 p.m.
April 20: Belfry (Ky.), 7 p.m.
April 21: at Mingo Central, 5:30 p.m.
April 22: vs. Bracken County, Ky. (at Belfry, Ky. tourney), 8 p.m.
April 25: Man, 7 p.m.
April 27: at Van, 6 p.m.
April 29: St. Albans, 7 p.m.
April 30: at Cabell Midland, 12 p.m.
May 2: Van, 7 p.m.
May 3: Mingo Central, 7 p.m.
May 5: at Lincoln County, 5 p.m.
May 6: Ripley, 7 p.m.
May 9: Hurricane, 6:30 p.m.
(Paul Adkins is the Sports Editor of the Logan Banner. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @PAdkinsBanner).