CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Even though this will be Greg Garber's third stint as head coach of the South, it may be his most special one yet.The St. Albans coach will send off Red Dragons senior pitcher Ali Haynes, his niece, and catcher Mariah Caudill at the North-South All-Star softball games today in Buffalo. There will be two seven-inning games followed by a five-inning contest beginning at 1 p.m. in the 21st annual event for high school seniors.Haynes and Caudill have guided the SA program to a 107-19 record during their four-year stay, including the 2010 Class AAA state championship. The duo is heading to West Virginia State to continue their softball careers."I think that's pretty cool,'' said Garber of coaching his players in their last prep game. "I've been with them a long time going back to 7 years old. That will be special. We have a lot of games under our belts. Both of them are like my daughters.
"We've been around each other so much. It doesn't matter if it's season or out of season, we're always talking. It's sort of like a parent feels when their kid graduates and know they're going to be moving on. They're happy for them for the success they've had and excited about the future ahead, but also a little part that's sad that you're not going to be with them that much.''Haynes and Caudill are part of a star-studded South lineup that features seven players from the Kanawha Valley. The other players from Kanawha and Putnam counties include Nicole Pierson and Linzie Reynolds of Hurricane, Alli Burdette of South Charleston, Rachel Ward of George Washington and Bekah Baldwin of Sissonville. (See Page 2B for rosters and all-time series scores.)Haynes, Caudill, Burdette, Reynolds, Sherman's Mackenzie Smith, Scott's Allyson Johnson, Lincoln County's Morgan Hutchison, Wayne's Jessica Watts, Man's Summer Sword and Cabell Midland's Morgan Zerkle and Morgan Kelley were first-team all-state selections this past season. Pierson and Reynolds led the Redskins to their first Class AAA state championship while Watts helped Wayne to its second straight in AA."I like our team,'' said Garber, who surpassed 500 career wins this past season. "I think we've got the best of the best in southern West Virginia. We've got so much talent. I'd like to keep them for a few years."They're excited about playing, too. They all said yes. A few of them changed their vacation plans so they could play in this game. Anytime I step on the field I want to win, and all these players feel the same, too. They have that passion for softball like I do.'' Morgantown's Tara Hanson and Robert C. Byrd's Mecca Henderson, both first-team all-state selections, and Bridgeport's Tori Rovello and Gilmer County's Tiffany Young, who were second-team all-state picks, highlight the North roster, which will be coached by University's Barb Solly. The South features 11 first-team all-state players while the North has just two."It's always that way every year,'' said exasperated North-South game director Darrell Moore. "You can't get any commitment from [the North players]. The coaches try and try and try to get people to commit.''BRIEFLY: A skills competition will begin at 10:30 a.m. featuring a home-run derby, fastest arm (overhand and underhand), 20- and 60-yard sprints, accuracy throw and bunting. ... Tickets are $5 per person and children ages 12 and under are admitted free. All proceeds help pay for awards handed out to the players during the festivities. ... Awards will be given to an MVP from the North and South teams for each of the three games and skills competition winners. ... The West Virginia Sportswriters Association all-state players will be recognized and all-state selections for first and second teams will receive their awards. ... The South leads the all-time series, which began in 1993, 25-21. The South won two of the three games last year by scores of 4-1 and 6-2 while the North was victorious 12-2.Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at email@example.com or 304-348-4811.