CLARKSBURG -- In 1998, Liberty made its first appearance in the prep state baseball tournament at Watt Powell Park in Charleston.
The result was the Class AA state title.
The No. 8 Mountaineers (19-11), playing in their second-ever state tournament appearance, will face No. 9 Wayne (21-12) 30 minutes after the opening contest of the Thursday evening session of the tournament.
For Liberty's return, the resemblance in this year's team and the state championship team starts with pitching depth.
Todd Nutter, Jeff Pethtel, Ryan Deem and Josh Matheny anchored a deep staff for the state title team, and this year's version is no different.
"(Assistant coach Larry Ritter and I) have kind of talked about it," Liberty coach Pete Iquinto said. "It's a plus when have the depth we have.
"But it starts early in the season, letting them throw and get out there (on the mound). They may take a loss, but it's called experience."
Andrew Knight (6-0) will get the starting nod in the opener. The senior right-hander has been a workhorse for the Mountaineers in the postseason.
He picked up a win in the sectional tournament and defeated Bridgeport, 3-2, in 10 innings during the regional semifinals.
"We'll start Andrew and have Aaron Clevenger and Josh Nutt in relief," Iquinto said.
He plans on saving Brett McClain as his starter if the Mountaineers reach the championship game, while Derek Bowen (three saves) could see action if needed.
In a further nod to the recent past, the 1998 squad actually is serving as a motivator for this year's team.
"Before we started the regional tournament, we showed them video of the state tournament," Iquinto said. "The kids got to see the reaction and emotions of the players and the fans.
"We have a very good tradition here at Liberty, and they take it seriously. They really kicked it up a notch."
Assistant sports editor Danny Carpenter can reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.