The Times West Virginian

Prep Sports

June 7, 2014

Polar Bears drop state semifinal to Independence

CHARLESTON — Fairmont Senior baseball coach Steve Naternicola walked along the dugout at Appalachian Power Park handing out official state baseball tournament participation forms.

After he had gone down the line, making sure that each player received one, he looked down at his form. Just four Class AA teams in the entire state had been successful enough to make it to the state tournament and receive the form, stamped with the official WVSSA logo.

Then, he ripped it up.

Naternicola and the Polar Bears (22-9) had come to Charleston with the goal of erasing memories of previous shortcomings. He wanted the hardware, not some consolation prize printed on a piece of paper.

“I didn’t want it. I didn’t feel like I deserved it,” he said after his Polar Bears lost to Independence 11-6 in the Class AA semifinals. With

the win, the Patriots advance to today’s Class AA state championship game against Bridgeport, a 3-1 winner over Chapmanville.

While the Patriots (27-7) left the stadium with hope of claiming a title, Fairmont Senior was filled with disappointment, sorrow and self-doubt.

This is the 11th time in the past 12 seasons that the Polar Bears have gone home empty-handed. Naternicola has come as close as the title game seven times, yet the championship has eluded him.

After the game, he showed signs that the weight of the losses was getting to him and even hinted at retirement.

“Right now, I don’t even know if I’m coming back,” he said. “Twenty-five years is a good, long time. We’ve been down here a long time. I need to step back and think about it.

“I hate coming down here and knowing what’s going to happen.”

The Polar Bears struck first in their first at-bats thanks to Ryder Skarzinski’s RBI single, his first of three hits on the evening. But the Patriots responded with five runs in the second inning to take a 5-1 lead.

A group of Independence fans held up a big, red sign and continuously chanted, “Everybody hits; everybody scores!” The Patriots didn’t do quite that well, but it probably felt that way for starting pitcher Austin Norman.

The normally stingy lefthander surrendered five runs on eight hits and threw just three innings.

“I was surprised. I didn’t think it would be that high scoring of a game,” said Gage Hannah, who doubled twice and drove in two runs. “I thought it would be a real grinder, 1-0.”

Hannah got the Polar Bears back into the game in the fifth inning with a 2-RBI double. The shot cut the Patriots’ lead to 5-3, but in the bottom half of the inning Independence tacked on four more runs, punctuated by a Jeremy McGinnis 3-RBI double, to stretch the margin to 9-3.

“That was huge, because we had two outs and nobody on. A lot of times high school kids will quit or give up in that situation,” said Independence coach Scott Cuthbert. “Jeremy came up with the big hit in the big situation, and it made us able to relax just a little bit.”

Independence added two runs in the sixth, and Fairmont Senior capitalized on three errors in the seventh to score three runs. But it wasn’t enough to overcome the big deficit.

“We played well; they just out-hit us. They’re a good team. We’re going to give it to them,” said Hannah. “It’s tough. I wish we would have won, but I love the team. It was a great season and, hey, it happens.”

Email Mike DeFabo at mdefabo@timeswv.com or follow him on Twitter @MikeDeFaboTWV.

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