NEW MARTINSVILLE-After advancing to the West Virginia Class AA state baseball tournament last spring, Magnolia had to bid a fond farewell to two four-year starters and four other regulars, leaving veteran coach Dave Cisar with a major rebuilding project for the 2012 season.
First-team all-stater Justin Fox, the Blue Eagles heavy-hitting shortstop and strikeout artist pitcher, has taken his multi-talents to the West Virginia University baseball team. Fox, two-time All-Valley baseball team captain and quarterback of Magnolia's state championship football team in 2010, enjoyed after a stellar senior year on the baseball diamond. At the dish, he batted .639 with four home runs, three triples, seven doubles and knocked home 29 runs. On the mound, Fox compiled a 6-1 record with 74 strikeouts and an earned run average of 1.63.
Fox's batterymate throughout his high school career was Traeh Keller, a .340 average hitter in 2011 and rock solid catcher the past four years.
Also graduating were center fielder Cameron Benson, left fielder Matt Sapp, first baseman Drew Simmons and valuable utility man Jordan Moore, along with Chase Cain.
''With only three starters back I would categorize this as a rebuilding year," said Cisar, who is in his 38th season the baseball coach in''Big Blue" land. ''Although we have just two seniors on our roster I still think we have the makings of a pretty good team.
''This is a good group but our kids will have to grow up quickly. We face some real difficult early tests as we are scheduled to play three large triple-A opponents Wheeling Park, John Marshall and Parkersburg the first nine days of the season.''
Magnolia, 13-7 last year including a 6-4 loss to Wyoming East in the state Class AA semifinals, did return some talent among its six letter-winners. Shortstop-pitcher Kyle Elliott, just a junior, earned second-team all-state recognition after hitting .423, slapping six doubles and compiling a 4-2 record with a 2.80 earned run average for his 39 innings as a pitcher.
''Elliott has to do a good job for us on the mound and at the plate if we are going to be successful," Cisar opined.
Returning to handle second base this year is junior Tanner Hanna, who was also Fox's successor at quarterback on the Blue Eagles football team in 2011. Again starting in right field is senior Jayson Keller, He batted .312 and handled his outfield assignment very well a year ago.
Other letter-winners returning are senior Bentley Knight and sophomores Ryan Walton and Chandler Sapp.
Sophomore Zack Wilhoite is expected to be the No. 2 starter in the pitching rotation behind Elliott. Other hurlers are Hanna, Sapp and sophomore Jake Starkey.
Knight, a .285 hitter as the part-time starter at first base, is working to be in the every day lineup this season, backed by Willhoite and Sapp. With Hanna and Elliott the doubleplay combination up the middle, Starkey and sophomore Drew Keller are slated to platoon at third base.
The outfield from left to right will include Sapp, Walton and Jayson Keller. Yale Wetzel, a sophomore transfer, has looked good in pre-season practice and should see some time in the outfield. According to Cisar, Wetzel is also versatile enough to help out at several positions. Another Blue Eagle falling into that category is Wilhoite, a starter on Magnolia's state tournament basketball team this winter.
Sophomore Grant Cain has stepped up to handle the catching duties in place of the graduated Traeh Keller.
''I like what we have in this young guy," Cisar noted. "He's green but he's working real hard."
If necessary, Knight could move in from first base to handle some of duties behind home plate.
''I like our skill level," Cisar continued. ''That early schedule we are going to play is very difficult but I want to see how much better we will be at the end of the season at tournament time."
Joining Cisar as his assistant coach is former Blue Eagle athlete Trey Barcus. A three-year starter when he played for the long-time Magnolia coach, Barcus previously coached at Berkeley Springs before returning to his home area of New Martinsville.
MAGNOLIA 2012 BASEBALL SCHEDULE
March 21: St.Marys 4:30 p.m.
March 22: at John Marshall 5 p.m.
March 23: at Oak Glen 5:30 p.m.
March 24: Union Local Noon
March 27: at River 4:30 p.m.
March 28: Cameron 5 p.m.
March 29: at Wheeling Central 5 p.m.
March 30: Fort Frye 5 p.m.
March 31: Lincoln Noon
April 2: Robert C. Byrd 5 p.m.
April 3: Parkersburg South 5 p.m.
April 4: Wheeling Park 5 p.m.
April 5: at Brooke 5:30 p.m.
April 10: River 4:30 p.m.
April 11: Brooke 5 p.m.
April 12: at Tyler Consolidated 5 p.m.
xApril 14: Herbert Hoover Noon
xApril 14: at Sissonville 3 p.m.
April 16: at Parkersburg South 5:30 p.m.
April 17: Valley 5 p.m.
April 18: Wheeling Central 5 p.m.
April 20: Liberty 4:30 p.m.
April 23: Tyler Consolidated 5 p.m.
April 24: Shadyside 5 p.m.
April 25: North Marion 5 p.m.
April 30: Oak Glen 5 p.m.
May 1: at Wheeling Park 5 p.m.
May 3: at Union Local 5 p.m.
May 4: John Marshall 5 p.m.