The stakes get even higher this week as the postseason moves into the regional finals.Herbert Hoover in Class AA and Buffalo in Class A are the only remaining teams from the Kanawha Valley that will be looking to punch their tickets for the state tournament, which takes place May 23-24 at Jackson Park in Vienna.Hoover (22-4), which finished third in the final state coaches association rankings, will host No. 4 Wayne (25-5) at 6 p.m. Thursday in the AA Region 4 final. Top-ranked Buffalo (27-7), the defending state champion, will host No. 4 Man (14-5) in the Class A Region 4 final. (See Page 2B for regional finals schedule.)Buffalo has been in a strange position, waiting two weeks to play after wrapping up its sectional championship.Since Class A Region 3 (Fayetteville and Richwood) and Region 4 (Buffalo and Man) only have two sections instead of four, the winners advanced straight to regional finals play and skipped the semis. The West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission mandates that all finals are Thursday in all three classes."You can practice only so much,'' said Buffalo veteran coach Darrell Moore. "You play so many games in a short period of time then it just drags and drags."You can practice your fielding a lot in game situations, but the hitting is what is different. You just don't know how to prepare. It's hard to get a good practice out of [our players]. There's a lot of distractions now. It's hard to keep them motivated.''
The Bison have played two games against teams still in the postseason to help fill the void. Buffalo beat Sherman 3-1 last week and lost to Parkersburg South 3-0 Saturday. Buffalo has also split up during practice for intra-squad scrimmages."The kids aren't thinking about that,'' Moore said. "They're thinking about their opponent and going to the state tournament."It doesn't make any difference who you play in between, you know there's only one game that matters. You don't play with the attitude. I think they'll be ready. During tournament time they're pretty focused.''
In addition to Man, No. 2 Moorefield (31-4), which has the best record in Class A, No. 3 St. Marys (22-4) and No. 5 Wheeling Central (21-7) are the only other ranked teams still alive.Hoover defeated Sherman 5-2 in last week's regional semifinal behind freshman Allison Rager's 3-for-3 performance and senior leadoff hitter Chelsie Stover's two hits and two RBIs. Rager also surrendered just four hits.
The Huskies have rebounded this season behind an infusion of young and hungry talent after posting a rare losing campaign last season. Hoover starts two freshmen and three sophomores, while senior Chelsie Stover is a first-year starter after sitting out last year when she transferred from AAA George Washington."I think a hot start was one of the things that kind of sparked us,'' said Hoover coach Missy Smith. "When you're playing with a bunch of young kids who are used to winning ... we just took that hot start and kept it rolling."They lost one game in two years down at the middle school and they're used to winning. They kind of brought that youthful enthusiasm to the team and the older ones picked up on that.''
Smith said there have been contributions all season long up and down the lineup."There's nothing I really can put my finger on,'' she said. "It hasn't just been the young ones. It's been everyone. It's kind of been a rotation. One game it's the bottom of the order and the next game it's the top of the order. They've got it done.''Wayne eliminated No. 1 Chapmanville with a convincing 8-3 victory in last week's semis, while No. 2 Ritchie County (25-5), the AA defending titlist, edged Point Pleasant 3-1 in Region 1 to move on. Ritchie has its work cut out in the finals, traveling to No. 6 Magnolia (28-3), which has posted the most victories in AA.No. 8 Liberty Raleigh (11-12), one of only two teams with a losing record still alive, and Shady Spring (13-12) and Lincoln (23-8), which are tied for No. 9, are still vying for AA state berths.Top-ranked Cabell Midland ousted Lincoln County, the AAA defending state champion, 4-3 in the Region 4 semis. No. 5 Logan (26-5), No. 6 Parkersburg South (21-12), and No. 7 John Marshall (31-3), the only team to surpass 30 wins, are the only ranked teams still playing.Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at email@example.com