Historic WLU Baseball Team to be Honored on Saturday
Hilltoppers’ 1990 NAIA World Series Squad Rewrote WLU Record Book
WEST LIBERTY, W.Va. – West Liberty University will be honoring one of the greatest baseball teams in school history this weekend as Saturday's home football game against UNC Pembroke has been designated as the "1990 NAIA World Series Team Celebration.”
Kickoff is set for noon at West Family Stadium.
Most of the players from that powerhouse 1990 team will be returning to campus to join legendary Hall of Fame coach Bo McConnaughy in the festivities commemorating the rise of the Hilltopper baseball program to national prominence during the late 1980s.
Former players expected to return include Tim Auber, Robb Bauer, Mark Chieffo, Shane Glass, Mike Goodwin, John Hawkins, Sean Jamison, Jason Jenkins, Rob Lucas, Mike Mattern, Graig Mitchell, Rich Moffo, Matt Morrison, Mike Pedone, Brian Perkins, Joe Puskarich, Jack Shaffer, Mike White and George Yanchek.
Perkins, the current Toronto (Ohio) High School head baseball coach, was a freshman catcher on that 1990 squad. He was instrumental in helping organize what was originally planned as a 30th anniversary event only to be postponed from a year ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The 1990 West Liberty baseball team was special in so many ways,” said Perkins, who has led the Red Knights to more than 300 wins and an Ohio state title in his 17 years at the helm. “From a great mentor in Coach Bo McConnaughy to a special group of seniors that demanded the best, this team has held a special bond for more than three decades. We’re very excited to be reunited back on the hilltop in a celebration of our 30-year World Series anniversary.”
That 1990 season got off to a rocky start for the Hilltoppers. Winning only four of their first 10 conference games, they were in danger of not even qualifying for the WVIAC Tournament at the midway point of the season. McConnaughy rallied the troops, however, and West Liberty closed out the regular season with 8 straight wins to shoulder its way into the WVIAC/NAIA District 28 Tournament at Princeton, W.Va.
The Hilltoppers didn't lose a game in Princeton, capping their run with a 7-6 walk-off win against W.Va. Wesleyan in the championship game. It was the sixth straight NAIA District 28 title for the Black and Gold – the longest such streak in WVIAC baseball history.
“The 1990 team was really the culmination of several great teams assembled by Coach McConnaughy,” said Goodwin, a senior pitcher on the 1990 team. “Bo’s leadership and winning attitude is what made West Liberty baseball a nationally-recognized force in the 1980s and 1990s.”
Edinboro (Pa.) transfer Rick Bubash, who led the team in hitting at .403, went 5-for-5 in the finale against Wesleyan and drove in the game-winning run in the bottom of the 9th. Designated hitter Matt Morrison – West Liberty's only first-team All-WVIAC honoree – was the District 28 Tournament MVP.
The Hilltoppers kept right on rolling in the Area 7 Tournament at USC-Spartanburg (now USC-Upstate), defeating USC-Spartanburg, 4-2 in the winners’ bracket final to advance to the championship bracket.
USC-Spartanburg edged Elon (N.C.), 4-3, in losers’ bracket final to stay alive but West Liberty outslugged the South Carolina squad, 9-8, in extra innings to advance to the NAIA World Series. Senior 1B George Yanchak drove in the game-winning run in the bottom of the 10th and Ryan Lucas, a 3-time All-WVIAC senior shortstop, was voted Area 7 Tournament MVP.
“With six straight NAIA District 28 titles and a World Series run, West Liberty was the WVIAC’s dominant team of the 1980s,” Yanchek said. “We were a reflection of our leader – gritty, tough and a never-say-die attitude. The 1990 team built on the tradition of our earlier teammates and banded together like brothers to help ‘Coach Bo’ reach heights no other WVIAC team had ever reached – or ever would.”
Hosted by perennial power Lewis-Clark State College at Harris Field in Lewiston, Idaho, the 1990 NAIA World Series probably should have been called the Lewis-Clark Invitational. The Warriors were already 3-time defending World Series champions and would go on to win the 1990, 1991 and 1992 titles to make it six straight.
The Hilltoppers got a tough draw in the opener, going up against an Auburn-Montgomery team featuring three NAIA All-Americans. The Alabama powerhouse broke through with a four-run rally in the bottom of the eighth to hand West Liberty an 8-4 setback, snapping the school-record 15-game winning streak.
That dropped the Hilltoppers into an elimination game against another perennial NAIA power in No. 1-ranked Dallas Baptist. Making their third straight NAIA World Series appearance, the Indians (now Patriots) eked out a 6-5 win to bring down the curtain on a very special season for the Black and Gold.
One of only three WVIAC baseball teams ever to make it to the NAIA World Series – joining West Liberty’s 1964 NAIA championship team and Fairmont State’s 1958 qualifiers – the 1990 Hilltoppers still hold a prominent place in the West Liberty record book. Their 33-15 final record still represents the most wins in a season at WLU while the 15-game winning streak is also a school standard.
Saturday’s festivities begin with a morning get-together in the Belmont Savings Bank Practice Facility adjacent to West Family Stadium prior to the football game. Following a brief photo session, the group will watch the game from a special reserved seat section in the grandstands before being ushered onto the field at halftime to be recognized by the crowd.