All season long, the Sissonville and Herbert Hoover softball teams seemed set on a collision course in the regional semifinals.
The Indians, ranked fourth in the final Class AA Daily Mail statewide sportswriters poll, held up their end, winning their sectional title on Monday, and the No. 1 Huskies hoped to do the same as they began postseason play on Tuesday.
Hoover took the first step, making short work of Clay County, earning a 27-0 mercy rule victory at home in Falling Rock in Region 4, Section 1 action.
The Huskies (23-5) now will play Nicholas County in a best-of-three series to determine the sectional championship and Sissonville’s opponent. Clay’s season ends at 2-18 after the Panthers were also defeated by the Grizzlies 8-0 earlier on Tuesday.
While Sissonville possibly awaits in the next round, Hoover knows they can’t take anything for granted despite beating Nicholas County 9-1 and 16-0 in the regular season.
“You have to take it one game at a time in the postseason,” Hoover coach Missy Smith said. “We talk about it all the time and preach it. Sissonville did win last night so they are waiting on somebody. We want it to be us but we can’t play Sissonville if we don’t beat Nicholas.”
“It is a little difficult knowing we want revenge from last year,” Hoover standout junior Allison Rager said. “We just want to take it one game at a game. Just because we beat Nicholas already this season doesn’t mean we can take them lightly.”
Rager led the way with a 3-for-4 performance at the plate, including a home run, and four runs batted in. Kelsey Naylor and Madison Bowles drove in three runs each for the Huskies, and Caroline Thornburg collected three hits.
Hoover pounded out 14 hits and were aided by 12 Clay County errors. 17 different Husky players got to bat in the game, pleasing Smith to be able to get everyone into the postseason game.
“The girls have fun in these games, everybody gets to play, and it gets the nerves worked out,” Smith said. “It is a team game and when you can get kids in, it is nice and really makes it worth it. They show up and work hard everyday just like the starters do.
Hoover sent 15 batters to the plate in the first inning, scoring nine runs off seven hits, two walks, a hit batsman, and five Clay errors.
Rager collected two hits and drove in a run in the inning from the lead-off position while Bowles drove in three runs in her two plate appearances.
Ashleigh Tignor, Naylor, and Mikayla Craze also drove in a run each. Hoover added three more runs in the second inning on a three-run homer from Rager, her ninth of the season, to lead 12-0. The Huskies sent 20 batters to the plate in the fourth inning, tacking on 15 more runs.
Rager is putting together a very impressive season with her nine home runs this season compared to just three last year, showing more power in her all-around game. She leads the team in several different offensive categories.
She is first in batting average (.507), runs batted in (43), home runs (nine) and doubles (nine). Rager is also the team’s top pitcher with a 13-3 record, has the lowest earned run average in the area (0.69), and is second in strikeouts (114).
While her success isn’t surprising, the home run total is, but Smith indicated that is the norm not just for Rager, but the entire team as well.
“We have hit more home runs as a team this season than we ever probably have combined with me coaching,” Smith said. “Allison has nine, Tignor has seven, and (McKenzie) Edmonds, Bowles and Craze have several each, too.”
Rager has put in extra time with a hitting coach out of Huntington, Adam Lalonde, a member of the men’s U.S. National team. She said that has helped her offense tremendously this season.
“He is really good and knows his stuff,” Rager said. “This is the first time working with him and that has helped me out a lot. I’m just glad all my hard work in the offseason is paying off. The extra home runs have been great. It is a good feeling.”