When East Hardy takes to the field for its Class A state baseball tournament opener against Valley Fayette on Friday, eight of the Cougars' nine starters will be in familiar surroundings.
During East Hardy's last trip to Appalachian Power Park two years ago, six current Cougars were in the starting lineup for the teams' 9-8 extra-inning loss to eventual state champion Madonna in the first round. Only East Hardy's starting second baseman was absent from the 2010 roster.
"Our kids are familiar with everything that's going to be in front of them in Charleston," veteran East Hardy coach Raymond Snapp said. "Most of our team has been there before and they know what to expect. I think they have something to prove after that tough loss the last time we were there.
The Inter-Mountain file photo
East Hardy baseball coach Raymond Snapp, right, and his Cougars will face Valley Fayette in the opening round of the Class A?state tournament on Friday.
"But on the other hand, Valley Fayette has a lot of state tournament experience as well. They were in the state tourney last season."
With both schools bringing seasoned teams into the contest, which is slated for 5 p.m., pitching could be the difference in the outcome.
The Cougars (30-6) have two strong starting hurlers going into the tournament in senior lefty Jamie Miller and junior right hander Tyler Mongold.
Miller is 9-1 on the season, while Mongold sports a 7-3 record. In two regional tournament contest, the duo allowed just three hits.
"It's definitely advantage to have two quality starters going into the tourney," Snapp said. "We have a lot of confidence in both Jamie and Tyler. They've both pitched against great competition this year and have had great years."
One question that always keeps coaches awake during the nights leading up the tournament is: Which pitcher to go with in the opener?
But Snapp was not hesitant when proclaiming who was going to take the hill in Game 1.
"We're going to go with Miller," he said. "He's our best pitcher and you have to win that first game before you get a second. You just can't take any chances, because if you lose, you go home."
In Snapp's 35 seasons as East Hardy coach, his teams have made the state tournament six times. The Cougars won it all in 1987 and finished runner-up in 2006.
"I've been at the state tourney either as a coach or watching the games the last 35 years," Snapp said. "I've seen a lot of different things happen at the state tournament.
"You just don't know how things are going to work out."
Valley Fayette (25-9) advanced the Charleston after blanking Pocahontas County 6-0 in the Region III championship game.
The winner of Friday's contest will face either Charleston Catholic or Madonna in Saturday's 4:30 p.m. title contest.