Magnolia Primed for Big Stage

NEW MARTINSVILLE – Big games? Shoot, the stars of Magnolia’s baseball team have played in plenty of those.

That’s why the Blue Eagles (30-4) are taking the opening of the West Virginia Class A baseball tournament in Charleston at 10 a.m. on Friday against Clarksburg Notre Dame as just another game, even though it obviously isn’t.

“That’s what we’re really counting on,” Magnolia coach Dave Cisar said of his players’ prior experiences. “Kyle Elliott played a great deal of basketball, and played at a high level in baseball with the Huntington Hounds the last two summers.

“Tanner (Hanna) quarterbacked our football team to the state semifinals and was probably one play from getting to the championship.”

Many consider the Blue Eagles, who enter the tournament with a better record than anyone regardless of class, as the favorite. Cisar has heard that, but refuses to let any such thinking enter the equation.

“We consider ourselves pretty lucky because Wheeling Central gave us every ounce of effort that they had in the regional semifinal … we had to score two in the sixth inning to win,” Cisar said. “All these kids on the team are solid, solid kids. Not arrogant or cocky.

“All we’re concerned about is playing our game whether we’re favored or not.”

What exactly Magnolia’s game is would be anyone’s guess, which is exactly the way Cisar likes it. The Blue Eagles don’t hit a ton of home runs, preferring to manufacture their runs by bunting, squeezing and stealing bases. In fact, their top seven players have attempted 96 steals and been safe 84 times.

“We want that team to know we’re going to steal, hit and run and squeeze,” Cisar said.

“We’re not going to do the ordinary things right here.”

Elliott, a senior pitcher-shortstop, leads the way and will take the ball against the Fighting Irish (23-10). Elliott is 7-1, including six complete games, 87 strikeouts and an ERA of 0.89 to go along with five saves. Opponents hit just .188. Offensively he’s hitting .437 with eight doubles, five homers, 43 runs and 42 RBI. Elliott walked 25 times and was hit by pitches 11 more.

Chandler Sapp, a senior outfielder-pitcher, has 66 hits, which Cisar said hasn’t happened under his watch in the last 20 years. Sapp is hitting .532 with 10 doubles, three triples, 40 RBI and has scored 54 runs. On the mound, Sapp has a record of 4-0 and has struck out 44 in 40 innings.

The No. 3 guy in the rotation is junior Zach Wilhoite, a 6-foot-6 right-hander with a 6-0 record and 3.20 ERA. With the bat, he’s hit .370 and driven in 46 runs.

Hanna also will see time on the hill after going 4-0 with 39 strikeouts in 35.1 innings. At the plate, Hanna is hitting .366 with seven doubles and has plated 27.

Ryan Walton, a returning all-stater in the outfield, hits .432 out of his leadoff spot and has committed just one error this season. When leading off an inning, Walton is 36 of 52.

“When you start your season, we knew we had good pitching,” Cisar said. “I think many are excited because our kids who are playing are categorized as good kids and good students.

“We’ve taken a lot of people’s best shot.”

Though this game would seem to some as a mismatch – Magnolia had a 19-game winning streak while Notre Dame won 23 all season – Cisar cautions about the type of competition the Irish plays during the season.

“The Clarksburg area is one of the best in West Virginia for Babe Ruth, Little League and Legion baseball,” Cisar said. “Think of Bridgeport, Liberty and Lincoln. The whole city right there plays very good baseball.

“We’re not taking Clarksburg Notre Dame as a cupcake, I guarantee that.”