Huskies playing with fire
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Herbert Hoover had a wake-up call last year. No, make that a five-alarm fire.
The Huskies entered last year's Class AA regional final against Wayne brimming with confidence after defeating the Pioneers twice during the regular season. Wayne pulled the postseason rug out from under Hoover, eking out a 4-3 win that ended the Huskies' 14-game winning streak and sent them home again without a state tournament appearance for the seventh consecutive season.
"They put it to us,'' said Hoover senior catcher Damia Mogielski after Friday's 4-0 home win over Chapmanville. "They outplayed us. It was just a shock, a slap in the face that we should always play our best and never give up. That's what we did; we gave up. It hit us hard. We really want to get it done this year. It's [the seniors] last chance."
"It was a tough few days at school afterwards," added Hoover sophomore pitcher Allison Rager. "Tough getting back on the field."
Hoover has a renewed focus and spirit after getting burned by Wayne, which went on to capture the state championship. The Huskies opened their season with a 2-1 victory over the Pioneers, casting aside - at least temporarily - the demon that haunted them until a new year began.
"It puts more fire in us,'' Mogielski said.
"Every time we think about [the loss to Wayne in the regional finals] we try to work harder,'' added Hoover senior first baseman Amber Oaks. "We still have a lot of work to accomplish, though. We've worked all offseason, and we're working harder this season.''
The Huskies took extra steps to make amends for last year's shortcomings.
"I know many of us played travel ball, a few people are going to hitting coaches and coming out here as often as they can to get on the field,'' said Mogielski. "I think [Hoover coach] Missy [Smith] is not going to complain about us right now.''
Hoover (2-1) was voted second in the state coaches association preseason poll, but the Huskies are far from a finished product. After upending Wayne on the road, Hoover dropped a 2-1 decision at home to Class AAA No. 4 Lincoln County before bouncing back with a victory over visiting AA No. 3 Chapmanville on Friday.
"We're going to make a run at it, for sure,'' said Smith of the AA title. "It depends on how much better we get between now and then. Every game we play, we get a little bit better. Our region is stacked, as it always is. We've got to go through some tough teams. We feel whoever comes out of the region's got a good shot to win it. You just run the gantlet to get there.''
"We're not hitting as well as we should, but [Friday] we showed a big difference,'' said Rager, alluding to Hoover's eight hits against Chapmanville. "We're building.''
Smith said the one trait her team possesses that gives her the most hope will be an invaluable commodity as the stakes become higher in May.
"We're tougher,'' said the Hoover coach. "I can speak volumes about how important that is. It's one of the hardest things to teach. These girls are tough and they want to win. They expect to win, that's what I like.''
The loss to Wayne when it mattered most still resonates with the Huskies.
"We'll definitely remember that and it makes us work harder,'' said Rager.
Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4811.