Junior left fielder Addie Fullen (left), sophomore pitcher Courtney Rogers (middle) and sophomore second baseman Madison Casto (right) are part of the young nucleus that has Hurricane ranked No. 2 in Class AAA.
HURRICANE, W.Va. - The stars seemed to be aligning for Hurricane last year.
The Redskins won their first Mountain State Athletic Conference softball championship and set the school record for wins. Then in the postseason it all came crashing down to Earth like a meteor burning through the atmosphere as they failed to advance past sectional play.
Hurricane's players have not forgotten that feeling of heartache and helplessness and made a vow to do everything in their power to not flame out again.
So far the Redskins are carrying through on their promise, opening the season by winning their first five games and earning a No. 2 ranking, the school's highest, in the Class AAA state coaches association preseason poll.
"That loss really killed us,'' senior catcher Linzie Reynolds said of the sectional failure during a break in practice Tuesday in the Hurricane High gym. "It was heartbreaking. I think it surprised a lot of people. They expected a lot more out of us.
"My team, seeing them hurt, it was the worst feeling in the world and hopefully I don't have to do that this year. I think we can only build from it. I think we've become a lot closer. We realized we needed to pull together and work harder. If you want to be the best you have to overcome many obstacles. We go into every game ready to work.''
The Redskins began making amends right after last season ended with the team getting together for summer and fall ball and voluntary workouts this winter.
"It definitely lit a fire under everybody,'' said senior Haley Byrd, who plays first and third base. "It really did help us in the offseason. We were a lot more driven.
"I think everyone came out and worked harder. I felt prepared for this year. We had a lot of freshman starters and they have that experience under their belts now. We're strong all the way around.''
Several players made personal sacrifices.
"I decided not to play basketball so I could focus on softball this winter,'' said sophomore second baseman Madison Casto. "I worked out and had hitting lessons.
"We have been really focused to drive ourselves more and push ourselves more. Just to be smarter and better players. We have to think we're going to lose every day.''
Byrd said last year's disappointment forged a strong bond among the players.
"We're a lot closer this year than we have been in the past,'' she said. "Our team loves food so we go out and eat all the time. We have sleepovers and little get-togethers. It helps with team chemistry. The seniors are very encouraging. We want to be there for [the underclassmen] on and off the field.''
The Redskins boast one of the most talented and young teams in the state with all the ingredients in place for a title chase.
They have a 1-2 pitching combination of sophomores Emily Davis, who posted a 9-1 record last year, and Courtney Rogers (10-2). Rogers, who earned AAA all-state second-team honors, also added six home runs, 12 doubles and 36 RBIs.
Casto (.521, 23 RBIs, 21 stolen bases), who was also a Class AAA all-state second-team pick, and sophomore shortstop Cassi Sargent (.414, 11 doubles, 25 RBIs) turned in impressive freshman campaigns.
Senior center fielder Nicole Pierson (.448, six doubles, 23 RBIs), junior left fielder Addie Fullen (.393, four home runs, 25 RBIs), a AAA all-state second-team selection, and Reynolds (.431, 18 RBIs) make the lineup even stronger along with Byrd.
The Redskins know they have to stick to the lessons they have learned through this experience if they want to go where no Hurricane team has gone before.
"Every game, that's the only thing you focus on,'' said Reynolds. "We don't focus on anything else. You can't give up. No matter what, you push through. I think we can win it all.''
"If we push ourselves hard enough,'' added Casto, "we can win the state championship.''
Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at email@example.com or 304-348-4811.