June 6, 2013
Williamson High School only won two state high school baseball championships in the 101 year history of the school. One was back in the late 1940s after World War II in 1948 and the other in 1965.
That 1965 team was said to be one of the best to ever take to the diamond at Lefty Hamilton Park. That was during Williamson’s glory years of the mid 1960s.
Cecil Hatfield was the coach of that squad. Hatfield recently sat down with this writer to reminisce about that memorable season.
“That was a special team,” Hatfield recalls. “You couldn’t ask for a better team or harder working group.”
Many of the players on the squad were 3-sport athletes during one of the most successful eras of Wolfpack sports. All three sports, including basketball and football, were very successful in the mid-1960s.
In 1965 the football team went 8-2, the basketball team had a record of 26-1 and was Class AAA state runner-up and the baseball team had a record of 23-1. (The basketball team was the Class AA state champion in 1964.)
Williamson had to defeat arch rival Logan and then a good Wayne team to make it to the state tournament. Then the team endured three rain delays during a week-long period, but went on to defeat Wellsburg, Martinsburg and Parkersburg to win the state championship. At that time there was no classification system for baseball, so the baseball tourney included every school in the state. Williamson won the title game 5-2 against Parkersburg and the tourney was played on their home field.
“Cecil had a vision about a group of guys he thought he could develop into a state championship team. It all started when we were in the 9th grade. He put us on the high school team and developed us by giving us the experience of playing with more experienced players,” said Greg Slater, a member of that historic squad. “Jim McQueen, Roy Brassfield, Mike Trujillo and I’m not sure who else, were our mentors and leaders. Coach Hatfield mixed us in with them and developed us as winners. We did not think about losing. We went out to perform and win.”
Hatfield recalls that he had both experienced and talented younger players that season. “We started two sophomores in Mike Slater and Mike McBrayer,” Hatfield recalls “We had speed to burn and we were solid defensively.”
Hatfield praised Ferrell’s work behind the plate. He threw out 12 of 13 base stealers in the state tournament.
“They worked hard and many of them started when they were freshmen,” Hatfield remembers.
“We were more like brothers than teammates,” said Ronnie Ferrell, the catcher on that team. “That’s how close we were.”
Ferrell caught two of the best pitchers in Wolfpack history which included Bill Craig and Richard O’Neil. Southpaw Curt Fletcher was the other hurler used by the Pack that season.
“Of course, Coach Hatfield, George Ritchie, and Jim Van Zant (The American Legion coach) all played a big role in our success. I think they taught us the fundamentals of the game and we practiced execution at each practice,” Greg Slater added.
“Emory Mounts taught us to slide. (Mounts was a former WHS star and also played professional baseball.) We practiced sliding; we practiced catching ground balls and fly balls at each practice.”
“We were fundamentally sound because of coach Hatfield,” Ferrell added.
The starting lineup was Ferrell behind the plate, Robert Wright at first base, Greg Hurley at second base; Greg Slater at shortstop, Bill Craig played third base when he wasn’t pitching. When Craig pitched, McBrayer came in from left field to play third base and Fletcher went into the outfield. Tom McQueen was the center fielder and Mike Slater roamed in right field.
“Of course we practiced hitting. I really think our success was because the coaches believed in us and we realized it. The other reason was we practiced game situations and we all knew what to do before the ball was hit to us. Our defense was strong and that was a major difference between us and other teams,” Greg Slater added. “Of course, you can’t be successful without good pitching and I believe you need three good pitchers to be successful and we had Bill Craig, Richard O’Neil and Curt Fletcher. We also had speed.
In one sentence - I still believe the success was because of Cecil having the vision for the raw talent he had when we were in the 9th grade.”
Some other members of the team included Terry Looney, Rusty Salton, John Raymond Smith, Bobby Corea, Marvin Whittaker, Roger Dudley and Sonny Burmeister.
The Wolfpack lost only one game that spring. It was the second game of a double header with visiting Scott High. The twinbill was the same day as the state band festival which was being held in Williamson. Several of the starters also played in the marching band. Some of them elected to miss the second game to participate with the band.
Both Hatfield and Ferrell recall how the fans came out in droves to watch baseball back in those days. “The old grandstand was full down at the park,” Ferrell recalls.
“We were the only team in the state to have some of our games televised,” Hatfield said. The Van Meter family had a local TV line and would broadcast some of the home baseball games on the local channel.
The squad had six batters to hit for an average over .350, which was against some of the best competition around. Some of those who had high batting averages were Hurley, Greg Slater, McBrayer, and Ferrell. Craig and Wright were the top RBI producers, but everyone in the lineup contributed, Hatfield stressed.
Craig threw a fastball in the mid 90s and he had a great curve. He was scouted by the Milwaukee Braves and other MLB teams. He went on to pitch in college, but had some arm trouble, which hampered his baseball career.
O’Neil was said to have pinpoint control and also good stuff on the mound.
McBrayer later signed a contract with the Pirates and played several years in the minor leagues. Hatfield said one scout loved Mike Slater and would have signed him, but instead Slater elected to go to WVU on a football scholarship where he excelled for the Mountaineers as a defensive back.
Many members of that squad went on to be successful and productive in their adult lives. No doubt they left a legacy that will live on forever in the storied history of the Wolfpack legends.
(Kyle Lovern is the sports editor for the Williamson Daily News. Comments or story ideas can be sent to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org)