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Elkins' surprising run attributable to determination
by John G. Miller
(May 31)Elkins has never won a baseball title.
Last year's team, loaded with experience and power, was expected to change that.
However, the Tigers lost in the first round of the regionals.
After finishing the regular season with a four-game losing streak and an 11-13 record, this year's team didn't look like a prime candidate to end the drought.
Yet after four straight wins, Elkins is just two games from a state championship.
The Tigers' Class AAA quest continues Thursday afternoon at Watt Powell Park against South Charleston.
"The way we look at it is we have nothing to lose," coach Mike Johnson said.
"We have absolutely no pressure on us."
In a field that includes perennial Class AAA power Jefferson County, Ripley and South Charleston, Elkins is the obvious underdog.
But after beating Buckhannon-Upshur twice, Bridgeport and Greenbrier East, the Tigers believe anything is possible, including a state title.
Matt Carter, a senior first baseman/pitcher who was on the mound for the regional championship, says the team has undergone a big transformation in the past few weeks.
"Going into the tournament we came together," Carter said. "I was extremely confident in the regional final and I think we can get the job done.
"Teams tend to look past us. Let's face it, most teams never thought we would get to the regional."
Carter, fellow senior Greg Scott and Johnson believe this year's team is not as powerful as last year's.
But they say the Tigers currently are playing with a key ingredient missing from last year and most of this season Ñ determination.
"Last year's squad was loaded to advance, but got knocked off in the first round of the regional," Johnson said.
"This group has eight seniors, but most have had to wait until this year to play," he said.
"It's taken some time to get them together, but they give everything they've got."
"We had a lot of talent last year, but this team has the heart," Scott said.
"We want it more than they did last year."
To get it, the Tigers will have to rely on sophomore southpaw Kyle Pawelczyk (7-3) and the right-handed Carter (2-4).
Pawelczyk, who beat Bridgeport in the regional semifinal, is 6-foot-5 and has good velocity.
He's struck out 118 in 63 innings while walking 43.
Carter was the Tigers' hard-luck hurler during the regular season.
He was 0-4 until beating Buckhannon-Upshur in the sectional and Greenbrier East in the regional final.
"I have confidence in both Pawelczyk and Carter," Johnson said.
"Both have thrown well in the postseason.
"Pawelczyk has the better fastball and has good movement," the coach said.
"But Carter spots his pitches better and has a decent curveball. He's a smart pitcher," Johnson said.
Offensively, the Tigers depend on third baseman Scott in the cleanup spot and junior center fielder John Beam for much of their offense.
Scott is hitting .413 with seven home runs.
Beam batted .455.
Both were all-North Central Athletic Conference first-team selections.
The Tigers have talent throughout the lineup.
Carter shares first base with Jeremy Johnson while J.D. Williams and Chris Barr split time at second.
Kevin Miller is solid at shortstop, while Aaron Casto has done a nice job behind the plate.
Todd Wiseman patrols left while Steve Stone is in right.
Justin Arbogast is the team's designated hitter and reserve outfielder.