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Cougars, Huskies end state tourney drought

by Mike Nutter

SPORTS WRITER

With a 45-year drought of being shutout of the state's top high school baseball event between them, Class AA No. 2 Lincoln and No. 3 Herbert Hoover share a lot in common.

It's ironic then that the two programs which few gave credence to at the beginning of the 2003 baseball season, are playing in what could be one of the state tournament's most anticipated semifinal games.

The Cougars face the Huskies at 11 a.m. Thursday at Watt Powell Park. The game marks the first state tournament appearance for Lincoln since 1986, while Herbert Hoover last made the field in 1975. Both schools were Class AAA in those appearances.

"I think if you look at the two programs, there's a lot of parallels," Lincoln coach Tom Hunter said. "Both of us have two good pitchers, we seem to hit the ball pretty well, and really, I think it's sort of a Cinderella story for both schools.

"It should make for an interesting game."

Aside from the school's baseball history, the Cougars and Huskies have the firepower to back up Thursday's awaited game.

Lincoln capped the Region II title off with an impressive 18-hit, 16-0 rout of No. 5 Oak Hill. Herbert Hoover's road to Charleston was just as treacherous.

The Huskies defeated two-time defending state champion, Winfield, before dispatching No. 1 Ravenswood and defending Class AAA champ, Logan in the Region III championship. This is the school's first year of competing in Class AA.

"We dropped down (to AA) and were like 'OK, this should be a little easier'," third-year coach Kevin Buckner said. "Then all of the sudden, we see our regional has Logan, Wayne, Ravenswood, Winfield and you start wondering if it's going to be a little harder.

"But coming through that region gave us a lot of confidence, and I'm sure Lincoln's playing with a lot of confidence, too. They beat Bridgeport three times, and that's usually a pretty good program."

Both coaches said the euphoria of reaching the state tournament has subsided somewhat for their players and that their teams are refocused and ready for Thursday.

Lincoln will end either left-hander Wes Osbourn (11-0) or Levi Maxwell (7-2). The Huskies will counter with junior lefty Bryan Batten (10-1) or Adam Myers.

"Right now, I don't know a whole lot about them other than they've got two kids going to WVU," Buckner said. "We've got a couple of pitchers we feel confident throwing, and I suppose when you've got two Division I pitchers, you can't be too bad off."

Neither school has won a major boys team sport. Hunter said the support the communities have shown the team has been a tremendous boost to their confidence, and Buckner said the Elk River communities in Kanawha County have done the same.

"They say down here, if you live on the Elk, you're Herbert Hoover," He said. "We've always had good support, but this team has brought out a lot more of that.

"I've gotten calls from people I haven't talked to in a while, wishing us luck. We had a good following to Ravenswood and Logan, and that's about an hour and 45-minute drive. We're excited, the town's excited, and it should be a fun game."

Sports writer Mike Nutter can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at mnutter@exponent-telegram.com