Strike first, gain momentum early, buckle down on defense and advance.
In a sense that is the goal of every prep softball team as it enters the 2014 state tournament at Jackson Park in Vienna on Wednesday, when only Class A Buffalo has an opportunity to successfully defend its state championship from a year ago. Class AAA Hurricane and Class AA Wayne, last year’s champs in their respective classes, have already been eliminated from postseason play.
For the Bison (26-7), their bid for a fourth consecutive state title begins with a game against the team they eliminated to clinch their most recent crown, Region 2 champion Moorefield (23-6). The teams play the second Class A first-round game of the day beginning at approximately 11:30 a.m.
“Of course, everybody wants to score first then play good defense, but especially when you get to this point momentum is so important,” Buffalo coach Darrell Moore said. “As for Moorefield, we’ve played each other the last few years, and I’ve seen her players since they were freshmen. I think they returned seven (starters) and we returned all of ours.
“We have charts on them and they have charts on us. It’s just a matter of getting out there and making the plays,” said Moore, who was named the 2014 Kanawha Valley Coach of the Year. “Whoever makes the great plays is going to win this ballgame.”
Herbert Hoover (29-6) makes its first state tournament appearance as a Class AA program when it faces Region 2 champ Petersburg (23-5) at approximately 11:45 a.m. Class AAA Lincoln County (28-8), which won Region 4 and marked the sixth straight year a team won the region after not winning it the year before, takes on Region 2 champion and top-ranked Musselman (26-3) at approximately noon.
“We’re the visiting team, that’s pre-determined, so we feel like if we can get a lead if our defense plays like it’s been playing we should be in good shape,” said Hoover coach Missy Smith, whose program is making its first appearance at states since 2005 and is led by Kanawha Valley Player of the Year Allison Rager.
“That momentum is super-important,” Smith said. “Everybody left is good. They’ve won their sections and regions — it’s not like basketball where you can lose a sectional championship and keep playing — and they’re good and on a roll. We struggled with our defense early in the season but the girls saw that and worked to improve it. That’s a big reason why we’re still playing.”
Tournament-opening games include Magnolia (17-14) vs. Sherman (20-13) in Class A at 9:30 a.m., Class AA Ritchie County (25-5) vs. Westside (16-2) at 9:45 a.m. and Class AAA Wheeling Park (18-6) vs. Ripley (21-7) at 10 a.m. Wheeling Park, Ripley, Ritchie County, Petersburg, Moorefield and Buffalo return to the state tournament after reaching the season’s final week a year ago.
Depending on the perspective, Lincoln County and Hoover either have a lot to live up to or have the odds in their favor in their pursuit of state championships. Since 2004, nine of the 10 Class AAA state champions have come from Region 4, with the Panthers winning their first title in 2011. As for Class AA, seven of the last 10 champs have come from Hoover’s region.
Buffalo has its own in-house legacy to live up to. The Bison have won five state championships since 2002, and its group of seniors consisting of pitcher/shortstop Chelsey Parkins, left fielder Katie Higginbotham and third baseman Katie Allen, second baseman Noell Dingess, first baseman Paige Roush and Kayla Reynolds, have a career record of 127-27 entering the tournament. Moore said winning the opener is vital for any club wanting to put itself in good position to win a title.
“You always want to get the first win because you don’t want to go through the loser’s bracket. It’s hard to come back after that first loss,” Moore said. “You get that first win and then you get a little bit relaxed and tend to play better.”
The losers of the morning session games in each class will play in an elimination game that starts the afternoon session Wednesday. The final game of the day will pit the winners of the morning games against each other.
From there, the remaining teams with one loss each will begin play in a loser’s bracket final Thursday morning. The winner of that game will take on the final undefeated team in a championship game Thursday afternoon, and must beat that team twice in order to win the title.
Contact Preps Editor Derek Taylor at email@example.com or 304-348-5170. Follow him on Twitter @ItsreallyDT.