The road to Charleston and the state tournament had always been a difficult one for the Logan High School baseball team.
That road has gotten a bit tougher this season as the Wildcats have moved from Region 3 to Region 4.
Instead of playing a usually manageable George Washington and South Charleston in the Class AAA sectional tourney, Logan now gets Nitro and St. Albans.
Logan’s new regional teams include Winfield, Point Pleasant, Hurricane, Lincoln County, Cabell Midland, Huntington and Spring Valley.
The Wildcats are coming off last year’s 21-7 season in which Logan was upset 3-1 at South Charleston in the sectional title game.
The loss to the Black Eagles broke Logan’s string of 13 straight sectional championships dating back to 2000.
Logan last played St. Albans in the sectional in the 1999 and 2000 seasons.
Nitro, a perennial state power, was last year’s Triple-A runner-up as the NHS Wildcats lost 7-4 to Princeton in the Class AAA state championship game at Charleston’s Appalachian Power Park.
Nitro, coached by Chapmanville High School graduate Steve Pritchard, won the 2008 and 2010 Class AAA state titles and was the runner-up in 2009.
Logan last won a state title in 2008 as a Class AA team when the Wildcats routed Point Pleasant 13-3 in the finals.
“It will be hard to win this section,” Logan coach Roger Gertz said. “Nitro returns everybody but one player. I don’t know what St. Albans has but they have traditionally been a good baseball program. If you happen to win that, then you go up against Winfield or Point Pleasant. Point is a first-year Triple-A team but they’ve been in the Double-A state tournament a number of times. We played them in the finals in 2008. It’s not an easy road to get there.”
Logan is set to play both Nitro and St. Albans in home-and-home series during the regular season.
St. Albans has strange home field ballpark with irregular dimensions and a 12-foot high fence. It’s a very deep poke to center field.
“We’ve played them before in the sectionals when they had Ken Michael Sams in 1999,” Gertz said of the Red Dragons. “They have a tall outfield fence and it’s a mile to center.”
Gertz said Logan’s region is very difficult.
Cabell Midland, the 2006 Class AAA state runner-ups, have a traditionally strong baseball program as well as Huntington.
Logan has won state titles under Gertz in 1994, 2000, 2001, 2005 and 2008. The Cats also brought home the gold back in 1984.
“You get two or three teams in that region that could win a state championship,” Gertz said. “You have Nitro, obviously, who has been one of the best programs in the southern part of the state. Then you have Hurricane, Cabell Midland and Huntington High, who is going to be loaded. Spring Valley also has a kid who is going to get drafted. They say that he throws 93 (miles per hour) now. Winfield also had a good left-hander.”
The Wildcats have a bit of rebuilding to do this season as some key seniors have graduated such as centerfielder Matthew Greene, pitcher Justin Oney and the Mareske twins Alex and Adam. But as always is the case at Logan, new players always seem to be ready to step in. Gertz said he credits this to Logan’s strong feeder programs.
“We’ve been fortunate but I think that’s a tribute to our youth program,” Gertz said. “We had the Little League programs which were good feeders and now we’ve got the Cal Ripken program and the Babe Ruth program last year which went to the state tournament. When the kids play they get better. If you want to be good you’d better put some time into it. Players now are putting eight or nine months into the sport that they love the most. To be good at it, you have to put some time into it and I think that’s why our baseball program has been pretty solid for a long time because kids have made their commitments and the parents make commitments. When they do that they become better players.”
For the first time since the 1970s, Logan will not have legendary pitching coach and Logan Hall of Fame member Jim Willis Jr. on the staff. Willis retired at the end of last season.
“He’s an excellent coach,” Gertz said. “We have worked together with this program for a long time.”
On coach Gertz’s staff this season are Kevin Gertz, Ryan Waugh and Jimmy Lakatos. John Ryan Steele, an assistant last season, has not returned this year, Gertz said.
Logan has yet to play a game this season. Wednesday’s contest at Cabell Midland was called off due to poor field conditions. The Wildcats are set to open Friday at Scott in a 7 p.m. contest, then host St. Albans on Saturday at 3 p.m. in their home opener.