2021 Season Preview
MORGANTOWN – A lot can happen in 706 days.
Not only has the rest of the world changed a whole lot, but the University High School baseball team will look quite a bit different from the last time it took the field on May 9, 2019.
Just nine players on the current Hawks roster return from a squad that lost in the sectional final, 4-0, against rival Morgantown High School in 2019. However, UHS will rely on those nine players along with a dash of new faces and try to make a run at the school’s first sectional title since 2016. The Hawks open their season on Wednesday with a home contest against OVAC rival Wheeling Park.
The nine returning players include four seniors who are entering their fourth year on the varsity squad. Twin brothers Casey and Evan Smith are the most experienced varsity players with 72 games between them. Both are signed to play baseball at James Madison University, and both will be relied upon heavily for pitching, offense and on defense where Casey plays shortstop and Evan plays right field.
Also returning for their fourth year on varsity are first baseman/designated hitter Cam Musgrave and catcher Seth Coombs. Musgrave hit .271 as a sophomore with nine RBI and has appeared in 26 games while Coombs has appeared in three contests for the Hawks.
Those four returning letter winners provide most of the experience for UHS, but five other players saw time on the varsity roster in 2019. Avante Neal has the most experience in this group as he appeared in 26 games as a sophomore with .229 average and 16 runs scored. Neal is committed to play baseball at Davis & Elkins College. Connor McDonough, a pitcher, third baseman and catcher played in 11 contests as a sophomore, while first basemen/pitcher Drew Herter made two appearances in the 2019 campaign. Senior pitcher/outfielder Tony Marsh also was promoted to the varsity team late in the 2019 campaign.
All eight of those returning players are seniors and part of a 22-player senior-laden roster that includes 13 total 2021 graduates.
However, those eight players are not the only experience provided for the Hawks. Junior Aaron Forbes, a highly touted college prospect and 2019 honorable mention all-state honoree, is back at the hot corner after hitting .234 with 14 RBI.
Those nine players account for all of the varsity experience on the UHS roster but the Hawks still have some veteran leadership with five other seniors that are breaking the spring camp. Dylan Henry (middle infielder/pitcher), Logan Lyons (pitcher/second base), Spencer Palmer (outfield), Max Parow (pitcher/outfield) and Vincenzo Pinn (catcher) all bring their leadership to the squad, with experience on the Hawks’ junior varsity team.
Two sophomores made the UHS team out of the 2020 tryouts before being shutdown by the pandemic. Noah Braham a first baseman/pitcher and Chase Edwards a middle infielder and pitcher both figure to be in the UHS lineup this season.
The rest of the Hawks’ roster is made up of five sophomores and one freshman. Four of the sophomores all made the 2020 UHS JV team prior to the pandemic and include catchers Jake Croston and Park Croyle, pitcher/first baseman Zach Harman, middle infielder Jackson Oleska along with newcomer Gabe Jansen who pitches and is a utility player.
Wenkai Campbell, an outfielder/catcher/pitcher, is the lone freshman on the varsity squad.
Head coach Donovan Riggleman returns for his 11th year with a record of 122-110-1. He is a social studies teacher at the high school and has been part of the UHS baseball program for 23 years.
Johnny Coombs returns as an assistant for the Hawks and the UHS graduate is in his seventh year as a varsity assistant. Also on the coaching staff is JV head coach Donnie Gilbert in his first year along with returning assistants Brad Comport, Jimmy Montague and Michael Smith.