While the West Liberty University men's basketball team has captured the attention of the Ohio Valley as it readies for the NCAA Division II Elite Eight Tournament on Wednesday in Evansville, Ind., the Hilltoppers' baseball squad is quietly putting together a fine season of its own.
Second-year head coach Eric Burkle's team is currently 14-7 overall, but a fine 12-4 in Mountain East Conference action. The Black-and-Gold hosts Notre Dame College Wednesday in a doubleheader at CONSOL Energy Park in Washington, Pa. The first game has a 1 p.m. first pitch scheduled.
With its 12-4 mark, West Liberty is tied atop the conference standings with Shepherd. The teams meet in Shepherdstown on April 19 and 20 for a pair of twinbills.
The Hilltoppers have been led by the steady performance of sophomore shortstop D.J. Busby, a St. Clairsville High product.
"D.J. has really stepped into his own," Burkle said. "To me, he's All-Conference and All-American if we can get him to hit a little better. He's really learning how to be a leadoff hitter."
Busby, who also plays short for Maynard in the Steele and Cook Insurance Ohio Valley Baseball League, ranks among the top five in nearly every offensive category for the Hilltoppers, including tying for the team lead with 18 base hits. He has also started every game this season, has team-bests of 59 at-bats, 67 plate appearances and four stolen bases in as many attempts.
The 5-11, 160-pounder ranks second in total bases (21) and walks (5), while being third in runs scored (10) and RBI (8). He is fourth on the team in batting average (.305) and on-base percentage (.369). He ranks fifth in slugging percentage (.365).
More importantly, he is also a nifty 4-for-5 with a runner on third base and less than two outs.
Defensively, the slick fielder has recorded 29 putouts and 57 assists on 88 chances. He has committed just two errors and has been a part of three double plays. His fielding mark is .977.
"Not only does D.J. make the routine plays, but he makes the web gems, as well," Burkle noted. "He's becoming a really fine shortstop."
However, according to Burkle, Busby's status is up in the air for Wednesday's conference twinbill.
"He took a pitch in the back of his non-throwing shoulder Saturday at Glenville and didn't play Sunday," Burkle said. "He has a pretty deep bone bruise. We'll have to see how he responds to treatment."
Eastern Ohio teammates at WLU include Josh Nagel, Clay Francis and Michael Roach (Martins Ferry); Mark Smyth and Greg Stagani (Edison); Anthony Pierro and Darin Heatherington (Steubenville); Jordan Meyer (Toronto) and Myron Jellison (Union Local).
Smyth, who pitched for Lafferty in the OVBL last summer, is the Hilltoppers' ace with 4-0 mark that includes a 1.44 ERA in 31.1 innings of work. He has 17 strikeouts and five walks.
Busby will not be the only former Red Devil in action Wednesday at CONSOL Energy Park as the Falcons' third baseman is Jared Clovis, a 2011 St. C. graduate.
Clovis, who played for the now-defunct St. Clairsville Titans in the OVBL, ranks fourth on the team in batting with a .304 mark. He is the Falcons' starting third baseman, having played in all 19 games. He has scored eight runs, logged 19 total bases and has been hit-by-a-pitch seven times. He is also perfect in three stolen base attempts.
Defensively, Clovis has recorded 28 assists and 14 putouts.
The Falcons are coached by former Major League pitcher Len Barker, who on May 15, 1981 hurled the 10th perfect game in MLB history as a member of the Cleveland Indians in a 3-0 victory against the Toronto Blue Jays.
WHEELING JESUIT is off to a 9-9 overall start and a 9-5 MEC mark.
The Cardinals have 13 former Ohio Valley prep products on their roster, with five from the immediate area. They are former Shadyside performers Cody Hudson, Logan Hudson and Josh Kernik, along with Martins Ferry's Michael Oberdick and Harrison Central's Nick Pelegreen.
Of that group, only Logan Hudson has seen much action as he has posted a 3-1 pitching record. He has a 2.15 ERA in 29.1 innings with 20 strikeouts and eight base-on-balls. Opponents are hitting a mere .209 against the righthander, who helped lead Maynard to the OVBL title last summer.
Other Eastern Ohio performers for WJU include Adam Young (Indian Creek); Pat Pizzoferrato and John Linn (Steubenville); Mitch Ludewig and Tyler Owens (Toronto); and Ian Wildes (Buckeye Trail).
BETHANY COLLEGE is just 4-5 in the early going under veteran head coach Rick Carver.
The Bison have four Eastern Ohio products on their roster, including St. Clairsville's Cory Kotopka, Derek Miller of Rayland, and Union Local's Ethan Tobin. Edison's Dominic Contraguerro is also a member of the team.
MARIETTA COLLEGE has Monroe Central freshman Kordell Antill on its roster. The Pioneers are 11-4 overall and 2-0 in Ohio Athletic Conference action.
OHIO VALLEY UNIVERSITY has one local player on its roster, that being former Monroe Central hurler Dylan Hamilton.
OHIO UNIVERSITY-CLERMONT is represented by former St. Clairsville pitcher Greyson Loweecy.
In softball, former St. Clairsville standout Jesse Machovina is a sophomore utility player for The Ohio State University. She has appeared in 17 games this season, five as a starter for the 15-13 Buckeyes.
Her .278 batting average is sixth on the team, while her .500 slugging percentage is second. She has a double, triple and two RBI and is fielding at a .914 clip.
WEST LIBERTY has just one local player on its roster, that being Steubenville Central's Paige Creamer.
UNIVERSITY OF CHARLESTON is represented by St. John Central alum Bethany Cera.
The former Irish standout is a junior outfielder for the Golden Eagles.
WHEELING JESUIT and BETHANY COLLEGE neither have any local players on their rosters.
Note to High School Diamond Coaches
Due to The Times Leader's early deadline on Saturday night's, the sports department will be taking baseball and softball results by telephone, email or fax until 6 p.m.
Coaches please try to submit your results as soon as possible to ensure they get in Sunday's edition.
If there are any other college athletes playing a diamond sport, please contact with me with their information.
North can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org