The Spice Girls ruled the pop music scene, while Titanic and Jurassic Park were raking in big dollars at the box office.
King of the Hill and South Park started their historic televisions runs and The Backstreet Boys made their debut in the United Sates riding their breakout hit, “Quit Playing Games (With My Heart).”
That all coincided with the last time the baseball team from Keyser High School visited the Capital City as a state tournament qualifier.
“It was 1997 the last time Keyser was in the state tournament and 1969 since they won one,” current head coach Scott Rohrbaugh said. “They had some pretty good players on that that team. Lucas Taylor played several years of Independent League ball after college and from what I remember it was a pretty loaded team.”
The last time the Golden Tornado rolled into Charleston, Rohrbaugh was not on the staff. Actually he was not even in the school system at the time.
“I was a procurement forester for a saw mill at that time. About 2000 or 2001, the lumber market went in the tank. Out of about five us, I was the highest paid forester, so I was the first to get a pink slip,” Rohrbaugh explained. “I did some consulting work and work for myself, but I also did some substitute teaching to have something to do. I went back (to school) and got my (teaching) degree from Marshall University and I was hired full-time in 2004 in Grant County.”
Rohrbaugh coached JV baseball until 2007 when the head coach stepped down and Rohrbaugh was named the Golden Tornadoes head baseball coach.
Now the veteran head coach has Keyser two wins away from the Class AA state championship.
Rohrbaugh admitted he had a good feeling at the beginning of the season that his team could make a state tournament run.
“In the back of my mind I did. That is not something that you want to talk to much about in the beginning,” Rohrbaugh said. “On paper, and I even stated it after our first win of the season, we looked really good, but we still had to come out and execute. I knew we had talent. Most of the kids that played on the team were freshman and sophomores last year.”
Last year the Golden Tornado won the sectional before falling to Fairmont Senior in the regional round. The Polar Bears finished Class AA state runners-up.
Keyser has no shortage of weapons at the plate which includes a pair of seniors, Caden Youngblood and Seth Healy.
“Both are really good players. Seth is actually going to Potomac State next year to play for (head) coach Doug Little. He is the second leading hitter on team batting .467,” Rohrbaugh said. “Caden Youngblood is a big strong kid hitting about .390. He has four home runs and 32 RBI on the season. The two of them together are about 25 percent of our offense.”
Youngblood provided one of the more memorable blasts in the regional round for the lads from Mineral County.
After splitting the first two games of the regional series with Oak Glen, the season came down to game three at Keyser.
“We were down 3-0 after their kid hit a big homer in the top of the first. We came in and sent eight batters to the plate in the bottom to tie the score,” Rohrbaugh explained. “We blanked them in the top of the second, got two runners on and Youngblood hit a three-run shot to put us up for good. You could feel it take the air right out of their sails when that one happened.”
The Golden Tornado are heavy on underclassmen that are reaping the rewards of hard work and dedication to the program.
Noah Broadwater has proven himself to be one of the best players in the state and leads the talented group of youngsters. The hard-hitting junior checks in with a team-high .488 batting average, has hit five home runs and drove in 35 runs.
“Broadwater is the best player in this area and he has loads of talent. He plays mainly at shortstop and is one of my top two pitchers. I could play him at any position. He is also a good catcher and has some speed, so he is a main part of our offense.”
While these three stand out, the strength of this year’s Keyser squad, and a big reason why they have returned to the state tournament, has been its ability to hit all through the line-up.
“We have eight guys batting over .300 in our line-up. If we hit, we do pretty good,” Rohrbaugh said. “That is what hurt us in the second game out at Oak Glen. Their pitcher kept us off-balance and we swung at some bad pitches. Game one and game three, we hit the ball pretty good and we scored some runs.”
Junior Logan Rotruck has been another big bat for the Golden Tornado hitting .420 with 28 RBI. Overall, Keyser has ripped over 60 extra base hits as a team this year.
“We stress hard line drives and hard ground balls. Our guys have been pretty successful with hitting line drives in the gaps and we have some speed,” Rohrbaugh said. “Several guys can run pretty good. I think we have 43 doubles on the year. If we can get guys on base, we make things happen because we have some speed.”
Success in the postseason centers around pitching and the Golden Tornado have a pair of aces to toe the rubber.
“Youngblood and Evan Jenkins are kind of a toss-up. They are both juniors and have been neck-and-neck as our 1-2 pitchers,” Rohrbaugh said. “Jenkins has a 2.54 ERA with 61 strikeouts and 16 walks. Noah is a 2.38 ERA guy with 67 strikeouts and 12 walks. They are pretty much a mirror image of each other. I am comfortable with either one of them up on the mound.”
The big question for teams making their first trip to Go-Mart Park, formerly Appalachian Power Park, is how can they deal with the nerves and the environment.
Rohrbaugh is confident his team can handle what is not entirely a new situation for them.
“It was just a regular game, but last year, us and Petersburg went up and played a game at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. Most of these guys have been on a really nice field,” Rohrbaugh said. “It is always a concern though, so we just have to keep level heads. I am confident my guys can keep their emotions and enthusiasm under control. It still will be different.”
The first round opponent for the No. 2 seeded Golden Tornado with be No. 3 Shady Spring who is back in the state baseball tournament for the second year in a row.
Sitting over 200 miles apart, the pitchers should have the early advantage with the lack of familiarity among the schools.
“I know they have a really good pitcher that throws hard and has some good stuff,” Rohrbaugh said. “We are just going to approach it as sit on the fastball and be plate disciplined. We want to lay off the curveball until they can prove they can throw them for strikes.”
Keyser and Shady Spring will play the second game of the evening session Friday night. The game will start 50 minutes after game one which features No. 1 seed Winfield battling No. 4 seed Lewis County at 5 p.m.