The Times West Virginian

June 9, 2014

Five Marion County ballplayers named first-team All-Conference

By Matt Welch
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — In a conference that sent two teams to the Class AA state tournament, it could be tough to stand out above the crowd.

But five ballplayers from Marion County were named first-team All-Big 10 selections, while five were selected to the second team and various others were named honorable mentions.

Marion County was represented in five of the six categories with Fairmont Senior’s Bailey Mohr being named a first-team pitcher; North Marion’s Keegun McCullough, a first-team catcher; Fairmont Senior’s Johnny Kesling, a first-team first baseman; East Fairmont’s Jacob Bolander, a first-team infielder; and Fairmont Senior’s Austin Norman, a first-team outfielder.

Second-team selections from Marion County included Ryan Valentine (pitcher, Fairmont Senior), Gage Hannah (catcher, Fairmont Senior), Colton Toothman (first base, East Fairmont), Cody Opron (first base, North Marion) and Travis Smith (infielder, North Marion).

The three first-team selections for Fairmont Senior were second best, behind only Bridgeport. The Class AA champion Indians had four selections to lead the way, in addition to coach Robert Shields taking home Big 10 coach of the year honors.

Fairmont Senior’s trio were atop the leader boards for the Polar Bears all season.

Mohr, a senior right-hander, finished his high school career with a 7-1 record for the 2014 season, posting a 1.35 ERA with 59 strikeouts.

In true pitcher’s fashion, Mohr praised his defense for his success.

“I had a solid defense behind me all season,” Mohr said, deflecting his individual success onto the fielders, who kept runs off of the board defensively. “I’m not really a strikeout pitcher. I just let them play and they backed me up pretty good.”

While the other two Polar Bear nods — Times West Virginian player of the year Austin Norman and Johnny Kesling — took their turns on the mound, it was their play at the plate that landed them on the first-team.

Norman and Kesling finished one-two atop the offensive leaders for Fairmont Senior, which came one win shy of competing for a state title.

Norman hit for a .418 average, while Kesling hit .434. Norman had 12 home runs; Kesling had five. Norman drove in 48 runs; Kesling, 31.

Hitting second and third in the lineup, the duo provided the majority of run support that fueled Fairmont Senior into the state tournament.

“Johnny and Austin can both hit the long ball at any time really,” Mohr said of his teammates. “They’re pretty much our run producers. Austin led us but Johnny was always close behind.”

The ride for Mohr, Austin and Kesling has come to an end in the high school baseball world, though. But Mohr feels they’ve left behind a pretty good example for players following them.

“It’s been pretty special. We’ve been playing together since we were 12 years old,” Mohr said. “We kind of worked off of each other. I think we set a pretty good example for (the younger players).”

While they aren’t on Fairmont Senior’s team, the other two first-team selections from Marion County are both underclassmen on the roster, but came up big for their teams this past season.

Keegun McCullough led the North Marion team, which featured a balanced lineup of hitters.

McCullough was entrenched into the three-hole for the Huskies and hit .413 with four home runs and 32 RBIs.

But that’s not what impressed North coach Vic Seccuro.

“Offensively he did contribute and he served his role, but what I was really impressed with was his defense,” the coach said. “He did much better on defense this year with his passed balls. He only had a handful. And he threw a good many runners out.”

While McCullough was a junior this past season, he’s been entrusted with a leadership role and should have no problem filling the void when seniors like Smith and Opron leave.

“He really put together a full effort this past season,” Seccuro said. “He was a pretty good team leader and now next year he won’t have that pressure on him.”

And then there’s Jacob Bolander, who wasn’t surprised that his named came up on the first-team list, but just surprised as to where it came up.

Bolander, just a sophomore, was East Fairmont’s top hurler, throwing a no-hitter against Fairmont Senior during a 1-0 pitcher’s duel with Norman. But he was placed on the team as an infielder.

He doesn’t feel snubbed, though. As a sophomore, he’s just glad that he’s making progression.

“I was surprised to be on the infield after that no-hitter, but I’ll take it,” Bolander, who finished with a 6-1 overall record, said. “It’s incredible, an honor. Going from honorable mention as a pitcher last year to making first team as a sophomore? That’s a drastic change. I worked my butt off this winter.”

Bolander will look to lead a young Bees team, which found success at multiple points this past season, cracking the top 10 of the West Virginia Sportswriters’ Poll midway though the season.

Rounding out the first-team selections were pitcher of the year Isaac Riggleman (Elkins), Bridgeport pitcher Sammy Aloi, RCB catcher Colton Bonnett, Bridgeport first baseman Tyler Skidmore, player of the year and Preston infielder Jimmy Galusky, Grafton infielder Cole Collins, Elkins infielder Colby Gainer, Bridgeport infielder Joe LaRocca, Preston outfielder Levi Nolan, Buckhannon outfielder Bryson Fluke, Bridgeport outfielder Anthony Bonamico, Philip Barbour utility player Al Johnson and Preston utility player Kyle Cool.

Email Matt Welch at mwelch@timeswv.com or follow on Twitter @MattWelch_TWV.