By Carl Holcomb
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, no it’s a Yellow Jacket.
Moorefield Baseball lost in the Class A state semifinal last year in Charleston, but the power to return comes from within each of the players building strength to improve and hopefully make the flight back there.
The Yellow Jackets are guided by 17-year veteran head coach Wade Armentrout along with assistants Scott Stutler and Jordan Ours.
Moorefield has two returning second team all-state players in junior pitcher Holden Sions and senior captain catcher Wil Schoonover.
Showing his versatility, Schoonover will be trading his backstop gear for an outfielder’s mitt as he will lead the team from center field, but has been creating some dominating pitches from the mound too.
Sions was one of the main reasons the Yellow Jackets reached the state tournament with his tremendous command on the mound, but has been complimenting that with his infield play on the corners.[private] Moorefield junior Sloan Williams returns to the middle infield and showed great athletic ability with a backhanded stop at second base and throw to first base during a recent scrimmage against Hampshire which proved he hadn’t lost a step from last season.
The Yellow Jackets are still trying to create the best fielding combination, so there will be several iterations depending on the pitcher and who is playing the best for that position.
During the scrimmage, freshman Blake Watts started at first base with Sions on the mound, Williams was at second base, sophomore Garett Haggerty played shortstop, junior Drake Baker was the third baseman, junior Westly Martinez-Toro was the catcher, seniors Zach Clem (lf), Wil Schoonover (cf), and Jestin Cosner (rf) played in the outfield.
Cosner made some sensational plays in the infield last year, but has been a key part in the pitching squad as a reliever.
Clem is known for his quickness on the basketball floor and his looks to bring his athleticism to the outfield. Clem played in youth levels of baseball and appears ready to return to the diamond.
The outfield pretty much stayed intact for most of the scrimmage with junior Seth Hoyt and sophomore Jake Ours getting some playing time later in the contest.
Potential outfielders also include juniors Adam Harper and Jackson Vance, plus freshmen Matthew Wright, Zachary Arbaugh, and Ben Pyles.
Wright donned catching gear as the bullpen catcher for the recent scrimmage, so there is a chance to see some junior varsity catching opportunities.
Moorefield mixed some things up during the scrimmage moving Baker to second base and to first base to gain some more experience, but also brought in freshmen Grant Keller, Ben O’Neill, Derek Hoyt, Caden Kimble, and junior Blake Conrad who was the designated hitter.
One way to help improve skills was working in the off-season as a majority of the upperclassmen played in summer leagues such as the American Legion.
Moorefield starts the season at Strasburg, Va. next Tuesday and returns to George Hott Field for a doubleheader at home against Class AAA Jefferson on Friday.
The first win of the year will be Armentrout’s 300th career victory.
The Yellow Jackets face Class AA Frankfort and Keyser in the next two doubleheaders, but have Berkeley Springs in late April.
Moorefield kicks off the first week of April with a visit to county rival East Hardy on April Fool’s Day and that’s not a joke, then returns the favor hosting the Cougars on April 8.
The Yellow Jackets will have a rematch of the state semifinal game against Man on the road on April 15.
Moorefield plays Potomac Valley Conference teams East Hardy, Union, Paw Paw, Tucker County, Pendleton County, Pocahontas County, and Tygarts Valley.
The Yellow Jackets defeated the Bulldogs last year in the Region II Championship to advance to the state tournament.
Moorefield has a wealth of experience and youth joining together to mold into a cohesive unit to make another trip to Charleston.
Coach Armentrout Q & A
What is your coaching philosophy?
“I want the players to continue to improve from the beginning to the end.
What are your goals and outlook on the season?
Our goal is definitely a continuation of our philosophy to continue to see our players improve from the beginning to end and we’re not going to set a number on wins or losses. We want the players to feel like when they are finished, they’ve been successful and that they’ve got more confidence in themselves than when they started at the beginning of the season.
How do you return to the state tournament?
I think we have to build on that from the players who are returning from that team. We’ve got a lot of players who got experience and contributed to that successful season and now we’ve got to have those players understand how important their role is to teach the young guys how important it is and how accountable they are for this team to be as good as we can possibly be.
Leadership: We’re going to have a lot of different guys lead in different ways. Some of them are going to be vocal leaders who have confidence to speak up to help with the instruction of the younger players. There are going to be players who lead by example who step out on the field and give 100 percent in everything they do. That type of leadership is just as important as the leaders who are going to be verbal and talk their way in helping other players improve.
What are your player positions and contributions?
Seniors: Jestin Cosner and Wil Schoonover will be our returning seniors. Cosner will play outfield and be a pitcher. Schoonover will play outfield, catch, and pitch, will do all three. We are going to expect those guys to contribute in many different ways as far as pitching, positions they are going to play, and in our lineup. Our third senior is Lucas Clem, he is first year player. We are excited to have him out here. He is going to play a lot of position roles for us and also do some pitching for us. He will mainly play in outfield.
Juniors: Holden Sions is a returning starter for us and will play various positions and also pitch. Sloan Williams is one of our returning players and will pitch and play middle infield. Blake Conrad will probably DH and play some outfield. Westley Martinez is a returning player, he’s probably going to fill in for when Wil is not catching. He will catch and DH. Seth Hoyt will be one of our main starting pitchers and play outfield. Rion Landes, whenever he is able to return from his injury, is going to be playing the infield. Drake Baker is a new player for us this year. We’re real excited to have him out here. He’s going to fill a lot of infield positions depending on who’s pitching. Adam Harper is going to be playing in the outfield. Jackson Vance will be playing in the outfield.
Sophomores: Jake Ours is going to pitch and play outfield. Garett Haggerty is going to pitch and play middle infield.
Freshmen: Caden Kimble is going to play the infield. Matt Wright is going to play outfield. Grant Keller is going to play infield. Blake Watts is going to play first and pitch. Ben O’Neil is going to pitch and play first. Ben Pyles is going to pitch and play outfield. Derek Hoyt is going to play the infield and Zach Arbaugh is going to play outfield.
Have you seen an improvement in the skill set of those who played baseball during the summer in leagues such as the American Legion?
Yes, I have. Those guys who played over the summer, Jestin Cosner’s arm looks stronger and he is hitting the ball better. Holden played a lot of summer baseball as well as Blake, Seth, and Westley. I think the biggest improvement that I’ve seen is their hitting. They have a lot more confidence when swinging and that comes from facing a lot of quality pitching throughout the summer. I see their confidence whenever they are at the plate. I am expecting all of those guys I mentioned who played summer ball to really contribute to our lineup.
Who will be pitching for your team?
Holden [Sions] will have a lot of quality starts and we will definitely rotate guys around. We will rotate pitchers around and they won’t see very many innings in the beginning in a row, but as the season goes along we will get in a rotation for them to pitch in more games. Wil is probably going to be a starting pitcher. Holden will be one of our starters as well as Seth Hoyt. Garett Haggerty will be one of our starters. Some of the other guys are going to come in as relievers. Blake Watts is going to get some varsity time pitching. We’re going to try to work with some of those younger guys. Justin Cosner is going to come in and do some middle relief. Keller is going to get some pitching and Caden will get some time.
We will work with the pitchers and get them to build some stamina so we will have guys who are able to pitch deep into the game.
Who do you have set for varsity lineup?
We don’t have that set in stone. We have some really quality younger guys. I am pleased with the number of freshmen playing, we have eight in that class. They are working hard and if they continue to play hard they will definitely compliment the upperclassmen as we fill in the spots. It will really depend on who is that starting pitcher. Once we establish who the starting pitcher is, then we will have to fill in with everybody else with the position that starting pitcher vacated. Today was the first practice we had to put players in position. We are going to take advantage of the first scrimmage to see where everyone is most comfortable.
How do you replace the talent from last year?
We can’t replace those guys. We’re just going to have to have guys stepping in to fill positions. That was a tremendously talented group last year and a pleasure to work with. That whole group of seniors when they started out as freshmen, they were talented and athletic and we were looking forward to when they matured and would be able to accomplish and have a successful season during their senior year. Obviously, you don’t have to wait until your senior year to have a successful season. You just have to play your best. Those seniors played all four years to improve. This season is going to be completely different. We’re not going to expect somebody to be a Tyler Smith or a Dakota Vetter or any of those other guys we have to find a position for. We’ve got to work with the talent we have and continue to build them up.
How do you see your all-state players helping with leadership?
Those guys are going to have to understand that we don’t expect them to carry us. We expect them to play the role we ask them to play and continue to improve. I don’t want them to box themselves in and think that they’re good and stop and make that a boundary. I want them to continue to get better and better and better. I don’t want them to just be a year older, just because you’re a senior doesn’t mean that is going to be your best season. Just because you are a junior, doesn’t mean you are going to be better than you were as a sophomore. It takes hard work, it takes dedication, it takes a commitment, and it takes an attitude that you are coachable and that you have a good personality that you understand that you are going to make mistakes. You have to be able to make corrections and not make the same mistake. All of those guys who have been common names in our lineup and are returning, we want them to understand that they are a huge part of our success, but that they are going to have to help those younger guys around them and that’s what will make a team successful.
I don’t think that any one of those guys are selfish and want to just look good. They are unselfish and are willing to contribute to the team. They are very humble guys and I have confidence they will work hard to make the guys around them play better.
What impresses you the most about your team?
How hard they are working. This week we will be able to get outside and work on the areas we need to improve on the most. Right now they are being very alert and very attentive. I believe this is a group that will gel as the season goes on. They’re going to help each other and learn. I am impressed with the freshmen working on their repetitions, you can see it in their eyes that they want to get better every day.
How often do you teach fundamentals?
Fundamentals is something we work on every day. They have to learn that baseball is a game of technique. It’s a game of drill and skill, then applying that in a game situation. Definitely at the beginning of the year, you have to teach the skill, you can’t expect it to return from last year. You have to teach them and put them in a position to improve. When they practice it with you and do it correctly, you give them positive feedback.
How important is aggressiveness and hustle on defense?
That is probably something we are going to have to emphasize with players who are going to play new positions this year. It’s nice when you have people who are coming to play the same positions they have in the past, because they are experienced and well trained for that position. This year we’re going to have to move people around and use their strengths at different positions. We’re definitely going to have to get into baseball shape. We’re going to have to practice a lot for game situations so it becomes natural later.
How crucial is it to keep the ball in the infield?
Our goal is to get 21 outs and not have the other team score more runs than us before we get 21 outs. Wherever they come from, we’ll take.
How important is your outfield play and the ability to hit a cut-off man?
Early in the season, the outfielders will be the strength of our defense until we develop a rotation with our infielders and plug them into a position where they are most comfortable. I think we have some good speed and some good arms in the outfield. With Wil playing a little outfield this year, he provides leadership and strength out there. Obviously he has a good arm and is known for throwing guys out from behind the plate, but now we are going to move him out there to track down some balls and keep the other team from taking extra bases on base hits. Seth is going to do a good job in the outfield, he has a great arm out there. We are going to be able to move other guys around. Clem has been a really big surprise for us this year and obviously has a lot of speed from playing other sports. Cosner is comfortable in the outfield and a lot of the younger guys are going to get some time out there whenever Schoonover is pitching, Cosner is pitching, or Seth is pitching. We’re going to have to have somebody to replace them. It really is going to be a strength early on in the season and it will get better.
First Base: We have some guys who could play at first base, but we still need to work with them to get better and be comfortable there. They need to understand their job is more important than just catching the ball from an infielder and stepping on the base. There are many other responsibilities for that position and I feel the guys we have in mind that we’re training, I wouldn’t hesitate to put them in at any time. Right now we’re looking at the younger guys. Obviously, Holden can play there if we needed him to. Blake Watts is going to play some over there, Ben O’Neill has looked good there at first base, and Westly has potential to play there depending on who is pitching. Holden, Blake, and Ben will get most of the minutes there. Second Base/Shortstop: We have a lot of guys available depending on who’s pitching. Sloan will certainly get a lot of time in both positions in the middle infield. Drake will get time in both of those positions, and Rion will play some at second when he returns and at third base. Derek Hoyt has been playing second base and Grant Keller has been playing second and third base. Caden Kimble has some speed, so he will play in the middle infield. Garett Haggerty will play a lot at shortstop. That’s probably how we will fill those middle infield positions. Third Base: Keller has been practicing over there, Landes will probably play some there. Garett and Drake will play some over there. Westly is going to play some at third base and he’s done that before. Holden has been a fantastic third baseman for us for years.
How important is communication on the field, especially between the pitcher and catcher?
It’s probably a concept that’s overlooked a lot, but it’s critical. We actually practice that. We put in game situations where we have to communicate with each other depending on bunt situations for example, where everybody has to be communicating to know where your teammate will be at a certain time. If not, then the play doesn’t get made and you’re giving another team more than 21 outs. You can emphasize it, talk about it, but until you actually put it into play and put the kids into a game situation so they can see the benefit of communicating, you’re probably only going to do it only when they have to and not when they need to.
Do you stress base running?
We have actually practiced base running every day that we have been out on the field, it’s important. It’s important that they make their turns correctly and looking at their coaches at the right point, and that they’re hustling out and take good angles from the bases. It’s something you can take for granted, but a lot of times it is the difference between a close play at the plate or an out. You can go back and look at the path he took from the base and see he could have made it a whole lot quicker if you train them to take the right path, the shortest distance between two points. You want to get the biggest advantage in baseball, because the slightest advantage could be a fraction of a second to be the difference of an out at second or being safe. You can ask any umpire who umpires first base in a high school game, there are a lot of plays that are very close. Sometimes it can be the difference of a player stepping on the edge of the base or the top of the base. The same thing happens if he is trying to make a double and hits the inside of the bag making a hard angle, instead of taking a wide turn. He is probably taking off three or four seconds and that’s important.
It’s nice when you can get your players to act instinctively and can trust them, but you also don’t want to get to a point where you’re putting a young kid in a situation where he is making a decision in a critical point of the game. You want him to know you have confidence in him that he can make it to the next base and you’re confirming it looking at him. You want them to acknowledge you and be aggressive, but also rely on you when there is any indecision to be made you are going to make that decision.
How important is small ball such as bunting?
It’s obviously a very important aspect of baseball from Little League all the way up. Hopefully, coaches are teaching kids how to bunt properly and the importance of it. You can look back on the scorecards of a lot of past games and understand how important a bunt was to advance a runner or put a runner in scoring position. We’ve already talked about this, but once you get a runner on second base it only takes one hit to score him from there. If he gets on by a walk and the next guy bunts him over, then the next guy sacrifices to move him into scoring position, then that means we have a chance with the next guy to get a score. You have to be excited in a game when a bunt leads to that situation. It also puts a lot of pressure on the defense. Bunting requires the other team to communicate and move to field the ball and if you have speed, you could possibly make them take a bad throw.
How important is discipline at the plate and a first pitch strike?
It is important for kids to be confident at the plate, so when they are ready it is the right time for them to take a swing. There’s a whole lot of things that go into that action itself. Obviously, they have to process if the ball is in the strike zone and if it is an off-speed pitch. As they are processing that, it can’t be a process where they are thinking because you only get three strikes. It’s got to be a natural instinct and with experience and a lot of at-bats, kids are going to get more confident. You want them to be aggressive and swing, but obviously if the first pitch is a strike then they are down by one and only two-thirds of their at-bat is left. We want them to be aggressive and swing at strikes, so we’re not working from behind in the count. When you look at it from a pitching perspective, you want to throw a lot of strikes. It is important for us to chart our pitches against batters, so we don’t develop a pattern. If a batter is struggling with an inside pitch, then that is where we want to throw it.
How many different styles of pitches should a pitcher have in his arsenal?
First and foremost he should throw strikes and have control, it doesn’t matter how he holds the ball, grips it or throws it. It’s important that he can control the pitch and that’s the first thing we emphasize is that our pitchers have good control and good location. That’s going to produce more outs, than just having five or six pitches you’re good at throwing. If you can control it and work the whole plate top to bottom in the strike zone, you’re going to get a lot of outs. A lot of ground-outs and pop outs, so really it’s not important that you have a large pitch selection. We want to have control of our fastball, then control of one off-speed pitch regardless of what it is.
How well has Holden developed his pitching technique?
Holden has worked hard from his freshman year throughout the summer and the off-season. He works hard and has a lot of confidence. He has developed that confidence by pitching in a lot of critical and important games. He’s got a great demeanor and great composure and is great person to be around. He has a great personality for a pitcher to not let things bother him. If a team gets a run or gets ahead, he is just going to do some damage control and go back in a little bit later in that situation and not get disheveled and not lose control. He is going to do his best on the pitching mound and he knows there’s a lot of attention that is on the pitcher and he is just going to maintain his control and composure. He’s a great example for the other kids to watch.
How important is communication between a catcher and pitcher?
The relationship between a catcher and pitcher is very important. They have to trust each other if there’s going to be an off-speed pitch. The pitcher has to trust the catcher to block the ball or prevent runners from advancing or scoring on a passed ball. The trust between a pitcher and a catcher is probably just as critical as the relationship tie between any other two positions on the field.
How is the chemistry of the team?
I like it so far. The kids are being patient with themselves and we’re being patient with them so we can develop their skills as the season goes along. We’re not going to measure our success on wins or losses, but how we are performing in different situations compared to mid-season and evaluate it again at the end of the season. I like their hustle, their attitude, and their personalities. They seem to get along together and once we get on some road trips, the confidence will build. We’re going to emphasize how important each person is to the team.
How competitive will you be with the schedule of opponents you have?
We’ve had to shuffle our schedule around and play the same teams at different times in the season. Obviously, to start the season it’s a pretty tough schedule (Strasburg, Jefferson, Frankfort, Keyser). Obviously with a team like Jefferson County, they’re ranked in the nation and returning from a state championship and have a lot of teams coming back. We are facing two double A schools Frankfort and Keyser, and Strasburg is always a good team. They’re always competitive in their region. The single A schools will be very competitive. Pendleton County and East Hardy will be fantastic teams. In the middle of the schedule, we face a state tournament team in Man (rematch from last year’s state semifinal), plus quality opponents in Notre Dame and Berkeley Springs. Union is the newest team we’ve added and hopefully the weather will cooperate so we can play Pocahontas County. We haven’t played Paw Paw in the regular season for a while and they’re back on the schedule.
At the end of the schedule we face triple A Martinsburg and another Class A team we faced in the playoffs last year in Tygarts Valley. It is one of the most competitive schedules we’ve had in recent years and we have quality teams spread throughout. It’s nice to have some of those local teams on the schedule and we’ve developed a relationship with them in other sports. It’s nice to bring that back as part of the competitiveness of our programs.
How intense are rivalry games?
We want to win them all. There’s no game that is more important than another. In baseball with how many games we play, once a game is over you can’t get too excited or too discouraged, because there is a team waiting to play you the next day or two days later or the next week. Every game is critical.
What does Moorefield Baseball mean to this community?
It’s always a great time of year. I know it’s the same time our Little League programs start up and I try to keep track of their games. Our youth numbers are always good in those programs. It’s obviously a testament to the coaches in those programs to get the numbers out each year. I know the future looks bright. It’s nice to have that many freshmen and hopefully more will come out next year from the lower grades. We get a lot of support from the young players, they always come out to our games. Hopefully our facilities will be more inviting to fans this year and we hope to do some upgrades as the season goes along so that our facility will be a Grade A place for not only our students to take pride in, but our community. It’s been a great program and a great tradition with many great players coming through here with some going on to play college baseball. It’s great to see them be successful and for them to come back and send messages saying good luck whenever we are playing games to get into the playoffs. It’s a great time of the year to travel with the kids and to see their excitement. In the past 16 or 17 years, we’ve had great success and represented our school and community well with state playoff appearances and state champions. More important than that, we want the kids to be good young men and make good decisions in life. We went them to take pride in themselves when they’re not in the program. The players always initiate prayer and it’s something players in the past have initiated. They are good sports and we want them to be competitive, but once the contest is over that they can continue to take pride in their decisions.
Assistant Coaches: Mr. [Scott] Stutler brings a lot of prior experience from the upper levels of baseball. He’s done a fantastic job of training our pitchers throughout the years. He’s got a great rapport with them. He has won state championships at the high school level and as a player as well. We’ve got a good relationship and we know what each other is thinking. He contributes a lot to our program. It’s nice to have Jordan [Ours] coaching this year. He’s a coach who will get a lot of respect, just because of his past success at the high school level. It is great to have him back and he’s a great coach with good character. We are going to trust him to develop our young players and bring a fresh look for us.”[/private]