MASON, W.Va.— It was definitely worth the wait.
After serving as an assistant for more than two decades, Tom Cullen took over as head coach of the Wahama baseball team in 2005. Eleven seasons into his tenure as the White Falcons’ skipper, Cullen led WHS to its third Class A baseball state championship and its first since 1998.
Wahama’s 7-0 victory over Man in the state final capped off the White Falcons’ 25-7 season, in which they recorded 10 shutout victories and outscored opponents 251-62. WHS posted double-digit runs 12 times this year and held opponents to two or fewer runs 23 times.
“This group came together to be a team and they’re totally unselfish,” Cullen said. “Look at our sacrifice bunts, I think everyone down through there had one this season. With this group it just seems like one picks up the other one. Together as a team they don’t bicker or argue and there are no egos.”
The White Falcons finished the season with a team batting average of .298, a team fielding percentage of .925 and a team earned run average of 1.27. The WHS pitching staff struck out 283 batters, walked 100 and allowed opponents to hit just .174.
“We had four pitchers in Philip Hoffman, Kaileb Sheets, Garrett Miller and Mason Hicks that could go out there and battle with anyone,” Cullen said. “All of them are competitors that have no back-down in them. Coach Bradley calling pitches also made a huge difference this year.”
Wahama’s leading returning hitter had an average of just .198 last season, but no one with at least 60 plate appearances ended the season with lower than a .250 average.
Cullen has been a part of three other Class A baseball finals in his coaching career, first assisting in 1988 when the White Falcons were runners-up to Van by a 2-1 count. Tom was also an assistant on both 1996 and 1998 championship teams. In 1996 WHS defeated Van 3-2, while the 1998 White Falcons defeated Moorefield 9-4.
“Another thing I’ve enjoyed is watching Coach Bradley and Coach Hoffman and the joy that it has brought to them and the kids,” Cullen said. “I’ve been through all of this before, but this is their first time and it’s been fun to set back and watch their reactions.”
Cullen was also an assistant on the White Falcons’ 2012 Class A football championship team.
The victory over Man also served as revenge for Wahama, which was eliminated by the Hillbillies in the 2005 and 2009 regional finals.
“This group just finds a way to win,” Cullen said. “They’re a lot like the 1996 team, they willed themselves to win and this group shares a lot of the same characteristics. This group doesn’t have some of the big stats those guys had, but everybody contributed. Look at how many times the bottom of the order brought us through.”
Cullen cited an April 15th 1-0 loss to Charleston Catholic as the turning point in the season. Following that setback Wahama won 10 straight games and outscored opponents 84-13.
“We lost to Charleston Catholic, but they battled and played with intensity,” said Cullen. “Even though we lost, the kids believed they could be Charleston Catholic, which has been the thorn in our side for years. We came back to beat Eastern, and then we beat Trimble 1-0, which gave us the confidence that we could win close games.”
The White Falcons also received some guidance from former MLB all-star, Parkersburg native Steve Swisher.
“Coach Hoffman brought Swisher in to talk to our team and it made a big difference,” said Cullen. “He talked to our team about taking advantage of all the opportunities of all the help that’s out there.”
Since joining the Tri-Valley conference five years ago the White Falcons have won at least a share of three league championships. Wahama is aiming to become the first TVC Hocking team to three-peat in baseball since Eastern did so from 2008 through 2010.
“There’s a good group of underclassmen here,” Cullen said. “Billy Zuspan does a great job with our junior high and these guys have come up through with him. These guys have played together a lot, they’re decent athletes that love to play baseball and that’s what it takes.”
Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.