After losing three in a row to close the regular season, pitcher Ali Haynes and St. Albans swept their way to the sectional championship.
The Kanawha Valley has four teams still in the hunt for state tournament berths.Riverside and St. Albans in Class AAA, Herbert Hoover in AA and Buffalo in Class A survived the rigors of last week's double-elimination sectional tournaments. Now comes the real test as the postseason moves into regional semifinals Thursday where there will be no room for error.The Red Dragons (23-5), who finished third in the final AAA state coaches association poll, seem to have their mojo back after sweeping cross-river rival Nitro in the two-team sectional.SA ace Ali Haynes, who is battling a hand injury, fired a five-hit shutout and drove in all three runs as SA took the opener 3-0, then the Red Dragons collectively busted out of their hitting funk with a 12-4 five-inning mercy-rule win in the nightcap. The Red Dragons will host No. 6 Parkersburg South (20-13), which knocked out SA in last year's regional semis, in AAA Region 4.
The Red Dragons carried a three-game losing streak into last week's sectionals, including an 8-6 loss in the championship game of the Mountain State Athletic Conference tournament after falling behind 8-1. SA is also hoping to get starting second baseman Alyssa Bonham, who sat out the MSAC tournament and last week's sectionals with a leg injury, back in the lineup."We realized we need to come together as a team and play as hard as we can,'' said SA's Haili McCown after eliminating Nitro on Wednesday. "Just go hard and do like we did [Wednesday]. We feel we can make it and go all the way.''Buffalo (27-6), the defending state champion and top-ranked team in Class A, went 3-0 in its section, taking two straight from No. 9 Wahama (4-0 and 5-2) to advance.Bison freshman hurler Ali Burdette tossed a one-hit shutout and struck out 13 for a 4-0 win over the White Falcons in the opener, then Casey Cunningham drilled a grand slam and knocked in all the runs in a 5-2 win in the second game."I like our chances right now,'' said Buffalo coach Darrell Moore. "Defensively, we're playing really good right now. We've made some switches and it's made us a lot better. We moved our outfielder to third base and put our third baseman at second base."[Second base] was a spot we tried three or four kids to play and nobody really came through. When we moved Noelle [Dingess] to second, she's played really, really good there. Katie Allen at third base has done a really outstanding job for us. It's toughed our defense up a lot.'' Buffalo and Man in Class A Region 4 and the Valley-Fayetteville winner and Richwood in Region 3 are in a unusual position this season. Since those regions only have two sections instead of four, the teams will move to region finals but must wait until May 17 to play when all finals are scheduled.Buffalo hosts No. 4 Man (14-5) in Region 4 and owns a 7-3 victory over the Hillbillies.AA No. 3 Hoover (21-4) also seems to be hitting on all cylinders, sweeping through its three-team sectional without losing a game and outscoring its opponents 26-4. Ashleigh Tignor smacked a home run and drove in four to lead the Huskies past Sissonville 12-4 in Thursday's deciding game."I love it,'' said Huskies coach Missy Smith, whose team turned in a rare losing record last year and failed to advance out of the sectional. "We're hitting the ball really well and the defense responds with big plays."I'm enjoying it right now. We've been on a little bit of a roll. We just kind of steamrolled, building momentum with those wins [at the end of the regular season over No. 4 Wayne and No. 1 Chapmanville]. Right now is the best we've played.''
The Huskies host Sherman (20-11) in AA Region 4. The teams split during the regular eason.Riverside (16-11) will roll into Logan County with some momentum, winning four straight, including taking two from Capital (5-1 and 7-4) to earn the section crown. The Warriors visit No. 5 Logan (25-5), which survived a grueling sectional by taking two of three from No. 8 South Charleston, in AAA Region 3.The Wildcats finished a suspended game with George Washington on Wednesday then played SC twice, losing 1-0 then prevailing 11-2 to force a third and final game Thursday. Morgan Aguirre fired a one-hit shutout, taking a perfect game into the sixth, to lead Logan to a 1-0 victory to secure the title.Riverside and Logan didn't play during the regular season.In addition to Buffalo, the other two defending state champions remain in the mix in Lincoln County (AAA) and Ritchie County (AA). No. 4 Lincoln County will host No. 1 Cabell Midland in AAA Region 4 while No. 2 Ritchie hosts Point Pleasant in AA Region 1.Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at firstname.lastname@example.org