RIPLEY - Have you ever observed an athlete who seems to be a perfect fit for a particular sport?
Ripley High's sophomore slugger Jonny Stepp has the game of baseball all over him. Literally. He usually is the player with dirtiest uniform after seven innings of play, which is a compliment to his grit and love for the game.
Stepp plays the game with an "old school" flare that has caught the eye of many fans at Viking Park.
Stepp is the second oldest of four children by Samual and Wanda Stepp. All of the kids play sports. The sluggers older sister Samara plays softball and volleyball at Cross Lanes Christian and is a standout in both sports.
After attending Fairhaven Christian School in Charleston like his father who played basketball as a prep at the school, Stepp began his freshman year at Ripley High, and it was quite a transition.
"I came from a school where there were 100-150 kids to Ripley (around 1000 students). It was a bit of an adjustment but I am happy that I am here. I have made some great friends here and playing baseball for Ripley is really exciting for me."
Stepp, who played his little league and summer ball in Ripley, began his prep career as the starting second baseman for the Vikings as a freshman last season. He hit .285 last year and seemed to consistently put the ball in play and was a tough out.
This season has been one of transition for the slugger. Trevor Tucker was tagged as a possible replacement for the since graduated rock solid play of Ben DeWees behind the plate. Tucker suffered a major knee injury and Ripley Baseball coach Shane Casto had to find himself a new backstop who could handle a crew of young arms.
Stepp, who caught on the Ripley Little League squad that played for all the marbles on ESPN has not strapped on the chest protector since those days. He stepped into the role for his team and has done a tremendous job.
"You have to get used to the soreness in your knees and throwing arm because of how physical the position is. I like catching our pitchers. Each one is a challenge for me in their own way and I like watching them get better every game," said Stepp.
Coach Casto appreciates the hard work of his backstop. It is unclear if he will remain there for his junior year or if he is just keeping the plate warm for as long as his team needs him there.
"Jonny has done an outstanding job for us behind the plate this year. He has thrown out someone every game so far. Not bad for a guy that hasn't caught since Little League. We lost two pretty good catchers last year to graduation and we needed someone to step in and get it done and Jonny was more than willing. We're pretty lucky to have him back there for us."
Page 2 of 2 - Stepp joined teammate Christopher Jordan last season playing for the Huntington Hounds. The Hounds are a collection of West Virginia prep talent who travel and compete out of state as well as playing locally during the summer. It helped prepare Stepp for a rugged Mountain State Athletic Conference baseball schedule.
"I enjoyed playing for the Hounds and it helped prepare me for this season. I think the competition in high school has been tougher than what I faced with the Hounds. Next year I won't be playing for the Hounds, I am going to play summer ball here in Ripley," said Stepp.
Fast approaching mid season, Stepp has delivered the goods on the field. He is batting .357 with two homeruns, a double and 13 RBIs. He mashed two homers in the season opener versus returning State Champion Princeton High.
Stepp doesn't really have any hobbies outside of baseball.
"I just like working on my game and hanging out with my family and friends when I have time."
Whatever it is that you are doing, keep it up, "Jonny Baseball".