CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The 33rd state softball tournament offers up a mixed bag, which should make for a topsy-turvy two-day run at Vienna's Jackson Park.Wayne and Buffalo return as defending state champions in Class AA and Class A, respectively, while the Class AAA field is wide open after No. 1 and reigning state titlist John Marshall was bounced in the regionals.Hurricane leads a pack of teams that are either appearing at states for the first time or have had long absences. Then there are stalwarts such as Man, Moorefield, Ritchie County and Wheeling Central that are seeking to reclaim past glory.Some of the top contenders will be in a hole after the first game today with No. 3 Hurricane (30-6) squaring off with No. 6 Wheeling Park (20-5) at 9:30 a.m. in AAA to open the double-elimination event. Top-ranked Buffalo (31-4) plays No. 2 Central (21-8) in Class A at 9:45 a.m. and No. 1 Ritchie County (29-2) faces No. 3 Wayne (26-6) at 10 a.m. in AA. (See schedule, Page 2B.)Wheeling Park pulled the biggest upset heading into states after dispatching John Marshall, which had won 24 straight. The Patriots had lost three times to the Monarchs during the regular season.Hurricane, which advanced to states for the first time in school history and hadn't played in a regional until this year, is probably the most battled-tested squad. The Redskins successfully navigated a minefield of No. 4 Lincoln County, No. 2 Cabell Midland and No. 8 St. Albans in sectional and regional play.The only other ranked tam in AAA is No. 10 Ripley, which sports only one senior in the starting lineup and is making an appearance after several years absence. Jefferson, the other AAA participant, finished the year unranked.
"It's been a great year,'' said fifth-year Hurricane coach Josh Caldwell. "I thought we definitely had a chance to do a lot of great things. I feel like you've got to seize the moment once you get there. Now that we're there, we have to take full advantage of the opportunity.''Buffalo is seeking program history when it goes for its third straight Class A championship. The Bison, who have won 19 straight, haven't lost to a Class A team since an 11-9 setback at Wheeling Central on March 30.The Bison, though, will have some competition in Class A, where all four competitors are ranked. In addition to Central, No. 3 Moorefield and No. 9 Man make for a challenging bracket.Man, the Class A champ in 2008-09, was given some breathing room after moving out of Buffalo's regional because of reclassification. Moorefield was the runner-up last year while Central has won the most titles of any team in any class with eight, but none since 2007. The last time the Maroon Knights played in the title game was 2011 when they lost to Buffalo."The hard work they put in during the offseason, fall ball and in the summer, they're ready,'' Buffalo coach Darrell Moore said of his players. "I don't think they're overconfident. I'm tickled to death with them if they don't [win three state championships in a row]. The schedule they've played and come through?''Wayne and 2011 champion Ritchie County are the cream of the crop in AA. The other contenders include No. 5 James Monroe, which hasn't been to states in 16 years, and No. 7 Petersburg, a first-time participant.Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at email@example.com or 304-348-4811.