Cole Stoots and Logan Smith have been to the VHSL mountaintop as individuals and they’d like to be able to share that experience with their pals.
The two state wrestling champions have played key roles this season for the baseball team at Lebanon (23-2), which tangles with the Page County Panthers (22-3) on June 13 in a Class 2 state semifinal at Calfee Park in Pulaski.
Stoots achieved the rare feat of being a four-time state champ on the mat, while Smith has won the last two 182-pound titles in Class 2.
How would they like to collect another first-place finish next week?
“Winning a baseball state championship with this team would top anything that I’ve accomplished in wrestling,” Smith said. “These guys are my family and I would love to celebrate and cherish that championship feeling with all of them.”
Lebanon coach Doc Adams knows those two guys won’t be intimidated.
“Wrestlers are pretty tough,” Adams said “They’re used to those brutal workouts and they have that hard-nosed mindset.”
Stoots has a 6-0 pitching record and tossed a gem in Lebanon’s victory over John Battle in the Region 2D championship game. Meanwhile, Smith cranked a two-run homer in Lebanon’s 15-1 state quarterfinal triumph over the Appomattox Raiders.
These aren’t just one-sport wonders.
“Not surprised at all,” said Lebanon wrestling coach Michael Webb. “I messaged them both the other day and told them basically winners know how to win and that’s what they do.”
You don’t see a ton of athletes who excel in both baseball and wrestling.
“I think wrestling has helped me become a better baseball player with the discipline that wrestling teaches,” Stoots said. “After wrestling in the big tournaments that we wrestled in and the state tournament, I usually don’t feel much pressure now. I actually thrive off the big mo-ments. Like with wrestling being an all eyes on you sport, I love that. So, I love when I get to pitch because really most of the pressure is on you and everyone is watching you. That just mo-tivates me.”
Stoots acknowledges that needing a takedown with a few seconds left on the clock is a little more feverish than being on the mound and unleashing a two-seam fastball or snapping off a curveball.
“Really going from wrestling to baseball is very relaxing,” Stoots said. “Wrestling is just so in-tense with the crazy hard practices and the weight cutting. But then in baseball you can sorta relax. With baseball, you have eight other brothers playing with you.”
Smith echoed many of those same sentiments.
“The biggest thing in wrestling is the responsibility is all on you,” Smith said. “If I mess up and lose, it’s all my fault and no one else’s. Going from wrestling to baseball is actually relieving, because in baseball if I mess up or have a bad at-bat, my teammates are always there to pick me up.”
Lebanon has certainly relied on a team effort all season and the Pioneers have scored 71 runs in their last six games. Ace pitcher Matthew Buchanan has been lights out too.
“We’re killing the ball right now – one through nine – and it’s a great time of the year for the bats to be hot,” Smith said. “Hopefully, we can keep it up for two more games.”
Stoots and Smith know how to grapple with pressure.
“These two guys are as tough as they come,” said Lebanon first baseman Izaac Pritt. “Wrestling definitely helps both of them due to the fact that wrestling is such a demanding sport and that it takes hours upon hours every day to be able to compete at the level that they do.”
Stoots won his fourth title in February at the Salem Civic Center with a second-period pin of Randolph-Henry’s Daniel Parrish in the 170-pound weight class. In the match that followed, Smith scored a 5-0 decision over Union’s Bryce Guerrant for his gold.
It was a shining moment for the school in Russell County and one that the two wrestlers will try to replicate on a baseball field four months later.
“They both stay calm under pressure and I think that is where the wrestling comes into the picture,” said Lebanon pitcher/infielder Casey White. “They both know how to handle tough situations and to never quit.”
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