CHARLESTON, W.Va. — When Herbert Hoover left fielder Kelsey Naylor laid out and made a crucial diving catch in the eighth inning to help preserve the Huskies’ regional semifinal victory over Sissonville, the freshman said it was the greatest moment of her life.
Her teammates called it the MVP catch and Naylor’s play has created a buzz in the Hoover community.
Hoover coach Missy Smith hopes Naylor and the Huskies can continue the momentum when No. 1 Hoover hosts No. 2 Wayne in the Class AA Region 4 final on Thursday at 6 p.m., with the winner advancing to the state tournament next week in Vienna.
“Everyone was proud of Kelsey and the support the crowd and community have given her is special,” Smith said. “Social media is its own animal ... It has really been a confidence boost for Kelsey and the other girls too.”
“By far, it’s the best moment of my career,” Naylor said. “I was very proud and happy. It meant a lot. Since then, it’s been very crazy. It is wonderful. I’m so thankful for all the support of the team and I couldn’t have done it without the crowd being there.”
Hoover will have an opportunity to reach its first state tournament since 2005 in large part because of outfielders Naylor, senior Mikayla Craze and junior Kati Angle.
The Huskies’ season could be over if not for those three, all of whom made crucial plays late in staving off elimination Saturday against Sissonville.
With Hoover clinging to a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the eighth inning, Naylor sprinted to make the catch on a ball hit by Sissonville’s Katelyn Linville. This robbed Linville of at least a single and perhaps an extra-base hit. Sissonville’s Nos. 2 and 3 hitters coming up.
“It was a game-changer,” Smith said. “They had some momentum as soon as it left the bat and it really sucked the wind out of them. If (Linville) gets on with that kind of speed and with that part of the lineup coming up, it makes it tough for us.
“It was one of those moments you won’t forget for the rest of your life,” said Craze, who was the closest to Naylor’s game-saving grab from her center field spot. “When Kelsey caught it, I just grabbed onto her and it was a great feeling.”
Naylor’s heroics may not have been possible without Craze. With Hoover trailing 1-0 with two outs and two on and down to the last strike in the seventh inning, Craze singled to drive in the tying run on a 2-2 count to tie the game at 1-1 and force extra innings.
In the eighth inning, Angle singled with one out and reached second base on an error, and then scored the game-winning run on a single from Ashleigh Tignor.
“I challenged the outfielders to step it up and they really came up big for us in the Sissonville game in a tight game,” Smith said. “Without them, it is a totally different ballgame.”
Craze has been Hoover’s starter in center the past two seasons. Last season, she was an all-state selection and she plans to continue her career at WVU Tech.
“Mikayla is special,” Smith said. “It takes a lot to earn a spot as a freshman. We have a lot of good players on our team but she stepped right in and is a four-year starter. We have been lucky to have her.”
Craze has made huge sacrifices for Hoover. As a junior, she batted leadoff, but she’s swallowed her pride to hit eighth for the Huskies in her senior season.
“She has done whatever we have asked her to do,” Smith said. “The reason she is at the eighth spot is to give us some pop at the bottom of the lineup. You try and space your hitters out and make sure your lineup can produce in all spots.”
Naylor, meanwhile, has provided Smith and the Huskies some great productivity by playing solid defense in left. She typically bats sixth or seventh in the lineup.
Smith couldn’t be more pleased with Naylor’s progress.
“She has absolutely stepped up for us and did good things for us,” Smith said. “She struggled a little bit at first and we had to make a change, but she earned it back. She came out every day in practice, didn’t get down and busted her tail.
“That is what you are suppose to do when you want to earn a spot. The last thing you want to do is let someone take it. She was diving for balls and not letting anything get by her. We had no choice but to put her back in.”
Angle, meanwhile, moved from the bottom of Hoover’s lineup as a sophomore to the No. 2 spot in the order this season.
“She put in a lot of work in the offseason and improved her bat,” Smith said. “We retooled the lineup. It makes my job easy when they come in midseason form before the season.”
Craze hopes Thursday’s game isn’t the last with her fellow outfielders.
“It’s my last chance to get to the state tournament,” she said. “It will be the last time I play on my home field. I don’t want it to be the last time I play with a lot of the girls I have grown up with.”