MAN — The Man High School baseball team is going into rebuilding mode.
Man coach Larry Vance has his work cut out to say the least.
The Hillbillies lost 10 seniors from last year’s team, including eight starters. One of those starters was pitcher/shortstop Jordan Simpson, an all-stater and one of the top players in the state, who currently is a freshman member of the West Virginia State baseball team.
Also gone are: Drew Merritt, Jacob Riggins, J.J. Twardy, Nick Carter, Shane Browning, Thomas Blair, Aaron Willard and Mike Vitruals.
Man will count heavily on its only returning starter in sophomore Braden Griffin.
In addition to Griffin, the Billies will need the contributions of three other players who saw limited playing time a year ago.
One of those players is juinor Cayce Mullins, who played in 12 games last season. Junior Noah Maynard and Mikle Scott Rowe are the others.
This year begins the 11th season at the helm for Coach Vance, who led the Billies to the state tournament in 2005, 2009 and 2010 with back-to-back Class A state runner-up finishes.
As the Man baseball team is set to begin the season this week, a lack of experience will be one of the major drawbacks.
With water on the Man baseball field that has also been an issue for the Billies, which are going to have to play the first two weeks on the road until their home diamond is ready.
“This marks the first time that we haven’t seen enough to make any decisions,” Vance said. “The pitching is ahead of the hitting. But as far as the fielding goes we have only had a chance to get on the field once due to the weather and the installation of the new lights. The big trucks have torn up the field. We are going to have to play on the road the first two weeks so we can get the field ready to play.”
Man’s new home opener has been switched to March 30 against Charleston Catholic. The Billies flipped dates with the Irish and were scheduled to travel to Catholic on Wednesday night in the opener.
The Billies are then at Liberty Raleigh on Friday, at Fayetteville on Saturday and then at Westside on March 26. The road trip continues with a March 28 game at Buffalo and a March 29 contest at Lincoln County.
“We’re treating the first couple of weeks as scrimmage games and we’re not worrying about winning and losing,” Vance said. “We just want to see who is going to play and who’s going to play out. Like I said earlier we have only had one day on the field hitting ground balls and the hitting has been in the batting cage.”
Man hopes to build momentum during the season and improve day by day.
“I think by the end of the regular season we will be OK,” Vance said. “We just hope the weather breaks and we can get outside and play. Everything is pretty well open right now.”
On the mound, Man has Griffin, a lefty. Cody Carter, Noah Maynard, Mullins and Rowe also expect to pitch for the Billies.
“I will work the pitching staff,” Vance said. “I hope to get about 15 or 16 guys. I’m going to try a lot of kids and see who can compete, starting with lefty Braden Griffin. I have Cody Carter, Noah Maynard, Cayce Mullins and Mikle Scott Rowe who all saw some mound time last year plus I have several freshmen coming over in John Thomas Keffer and Kenny Joe Adkins, who can pitch. Senior Chris Justice, who came out this year is looking good as well. Neil Mullins will also get some pitching time.”
Defensively, Neil Mullins looks to be Man’s starter at first base. Carter will play either second base or shortstop when not on the mound.
Also looking for playing time at second are Austin Cook and Adkins.
Rowe seems to have the inside nod at third base, while Mullins will be Man’s catcher.
Keffer can also play third base, Vance said.
The outfield is wide open with the exception of center field which is to be anchored by Griffin when not pitching.
Justice and freshman Mitchell Morris look like the frontrunners for the other two outfield slots.
“We may have to move some infielders out there depending on who can hit the baseball,” Vance said.
Man has a challenging schedule this spring with home-and-home games against Class AAA county rival Man and 2A county rival Chapmanville Regional. Man blasted Chapmanville 17-1 last season on the road.
Class AAA Lincoln County and 2A Westside, Liberty Raleigh and Oak Hill are also on the slate as well as Belfry (Ky.), Phelps (Ky.) and Mingo Central, another Double-A team.
“We try to play the best schedule possible,” Vance said. “We are also going up north to play Moorefield, Pendleton County and East Hardy in a weekend tournament April 19-20. Plus we play Class A teams Charleston Catholic, Valley Fayette, Midland Trail, Fayetteville, Buffalo and Sherman.”
Vance said it will take his team some time to rebuild.
“It’s very tough when you lose 10 seniors and eight starters from a year ago,” he said. “Jordan Simpson was an all-stater and several other all-state caliber kids are gone. It’s tough to only have two seniors on this year’s team and one of them is a first-year player in Chris Justice. Cody Carter is the only other senior who has some playing time.”
The Billies have also been placed into a new Class A sectional.
This spring, Man will play in a two-team section with Tug Valley and will take on the Panthers in a best-of-three game series.
If the Billies get past Tug Valley, Man will face either Sherman, Valley Fayette or Van in the regional semifinal game.
Possible regional title game opponents would be Greenbrier West, Meadow Bridge, Montcalm, Fayetteville, Midland Trail or Richwood.
Coach Vance is assisted by Nick Booth and Bill Lusk.
Man High School
2013 Baseball Schedule
March 20: at Charleston Catholic, 6 p.m.
March 22: at Liberty Raleigh, 5:30 p.m.
March 23: at Fayetteville, 12 p.m.
March 26: at Westside, 6:30 p.m.
March 28: at Buffalo, 6 p.m.
March 29: at Lincoln County, 6:30 p.m.
March 30: Charleston Catholic, 1 p.m.
April 2: Belfry (Ky.), 6 p.m.
April 3: at Chapmanville, 7 p.m.
April 4: at Valley Fayette, 4:30 p.m.
April 5: at Lincoln County, 4 p.m.
April 6: at Midland Trail, 1 p.m.
April 10: Logan, 7 p.m.
April 11: at Mingo Central, 6:30 p.m.
April 12: at Buffalo, 6 p.m.
April 13: Liberty Raleigh, 2 p.m.
April 16: Sherman, 6 p.m.
April 17: Phelps (Ky.), 7 p.m.
April 18: Mingo Central, 6:30 p.m.
April 19: at East Hardy, 6 p.m.
April 20: at Moorefield, 11 a.m.
April 20: at Pendleton County, 3 p.m.
April 23: at Belfry (Ky.), 6 p.m.
April 24: Chapmanville, 7 p.m.
April 26: Valley Fayette, 6 p.m.
April 27: at Oak Hill, 3 p.m.
April 30: at Logan, 7 p.m.
May 1: at Westside, 7 p.m.
May 2: at Sherman, 6 p.m.
May 4: Midland Trail, 2 p.m.