When the subject comes up in conversation, I often tell people that Hurricane’s softball team — in particular the 2017 version — was not only the most talented prep team I’ve ever covered, but likely the most talented prep team in any sport in the history of West Virginia high school athletics.
A bold statement to say the least, but if you were paying attention on Friday and Saturday, some of that squad’s alumni were making quite an argument in support of that theory.
On Friday, I was scrolling through Twitter when softball tweets started knifing through the basketball, XFL and — yes, unfortunately — politics, and a few of the names being mentioned caught my eye.
The first was Kiersten Landers, a name that many in the state probably hadn’t seen for a while. If you didn’t follow her story after graduating from Hurricane in 2018, she went off to Tallahassee to continue her playing career at Florida State, the national champion that same year. But before her freshman year could begin a year ago, the speedy outfielder tore her ACL, forcing her to take a medical redshirt.
To say the least, it didn’t take long for her to remind everyone what made her such a highly recruited prospect and a four-time first-team All-State player.
On Tuesday, Landers was given the ACC Player of the Week award. Her stat line, through her first five career games are as follows — a .579 batting average (11 for 19), .600 on-base percentage, a double, seven runs, seven RBIs, two stolen bases and, oh yeah, she had a walk-off single to deliver the Seminoles a 2-1 win over North Carolina in her very first game.
FSU is off to a 5-0 start, with two of those wins coming against No. 1 Alabama. Landers was 4 for 8 in those two contests. If the Crimson Tide couldn’t find a way to get her out, imagine what it was like for a pitcher/infielder at Capital or Greenbrier East.
While Landers was making waves in her debut on Friday, a couple of her former teammates were going off as well.
Jayme Bailey, who hit in the second spot behind Landers on that 2017 squad, was 1 for 3 with a pair of runs and an RBI as Virginia Tech downed Iowa 9-1. The Hokies are also through five games and off to a 4-1 start with Bailey hitting .467 (second on the team) with a homer, two doubles and six RBIs.
But unlike Landers, this isn’t new territory for Bailey, who exploded onto the ACC scene a year ago with quite a debut season. She hit .380 as a freshman, the highest batting average for a rookie in Virginia Tech history and the fourth-highest ever for any player, with 13 doubles, six home runs, 44 runs and 16 RBIs. Bailey was a pivotal part of a Tech team that broke 20 program records and won the ACC regular-season title. She earned a first-team All-ACC spot for those efforts.
And while both of their openers were being played on Friday, the Marshall softball tweets began to come in with Katie Adams, the state Player of the Year in 2016 and 2017, doing her thing as well.
Adams hit in the three spot behind Landers and Bailey on that 2017 squad, and while Landers was torturing North Carolina and Bailey was helping push Tech past Iowa, Adams was in the middle of a 3-for-4 day against Saint Francis that included a double and three RBIs.
The Thundering Herd would lose that game 5-4, but took a 9-4 victory over Bucknell that night with Adams adding a hit and another RBI. So far, the team is 2-1 with Adams off to a .444 start.
So, interested as to what the rest of that team was up to, I hit a few team web pages on Tuesday and this is what I found.
Outfielder Paige Scruggs, who originally went to Division I Morehead State, is now hitting .385 with a double and a team-leading eight RBIs for 4-4 West Virginia State. St. Leo University (Florida) is off to a 7-2 start and its leader in hitting at the moment is freshman Taylor McCray, Hurricane’s stalwart at first base over the past three years. McCray is hitting .444 with five starts and eight games under her belt to go with a double and three RBIs.
Zoey Dunlap (Youngstown State) and Caiti Mathes (Marshall), both players that graduated with McCray last spring, have yet to make their official debuts.
When talking about that 2017 team I often challenge people to name another team in any sport in our state’s history with nine Division I-caliber players on it. The Redskins’ Harlie Vannatter (Bowling Green) and Lindsey Phares (Wisconsin-Green Bay) are Division I signees who will play their senior seasons with the Redskins this spring.
On top of their talent, all of them — and yes, I’ve interviewed them all — are candid and well-spoken kids, though they prefer to let their play do the talking.
And from around the country already this spring, their voices, and bats, are resonating.
A quick return of the Kenny Earl Barker Memorial Lock of the Week after a couple of off weeks to regroup.
This time around, we are going to take a look at NASCAR. It’s hard to call picking one driver in a 40-man field a “lock,” but I gave a look to the Daytona 500 odds on Tuesday as well. I’ll just say, you could do worse than throwing a five-spot down on Bubba Wallace at 70-1.