For Buffalo’s softball team, 2020 was all about turning the Tide.
The Sherman Tide that is, a team that had ruled supreme in Class A Region 4 Section 2 over the last handful of seasons in making three straight state tournaments.
The Tide won the Class A crown a year ago, marking the first state championship in school history. But after graduating five seniors from that team, Buffalo was fairly confident that it was its time to return to the state tournament.
Now, like every other spring sports team around the state, there are only what-ifs.
“We would’ve been really competitive,” Bison coach Billy Rasnake said. “It probably would’ve come down between us and Sherman, and Tug Valley was another young team with good talent.”
Buffalo knows a little something about softball championships, as the program ripped off five straight state championships from 2011-2015. Since then, however, the Bison have yet to make it back to the state tournament at all, with the last holdovers from those teams graduating two seasons ago.
Still, growing up in that town and playing softball, the team’s players now are all too familiar with that tradition. Senior hurlers Lindsey Russell and Maggie Bird, both of who would have been pivotal to the team’s success this year, rode buses to those games in Vienna as elementary and middle schoolers.
That experience, and the desire to guide the program back, make the situation even worse for the Bison.
“Our goal is always to get back the state tournament,” Rasnake said. “Lindsey and Maggie and our seniors, they couldn’t wait to get to high school and try to win a championship.”
Russell was a first-team All-State selection a year ago after hitting .460 with 10 home runs while leading the team in wins (11) and strikeouts (123).
Bird hit .463 and went 9-5 with 80 strikeouts in earning second-team All-State honors.
Those two spearheaded a group of five seniors who Rasnake has been around since before their prep years. Rasnake, who took over the head coaching job this season after serving as an assistant, coached the middle school team before moving up.
“I didn’t even text them [the day after the announcement cancelling the season], I just didn’t know what to tell them,” Rasnake said. “Then we sent out a big group text for all five of our seniors just thanking them. Once this is lifted, maybe we can do something as a whole team.”
Also back in the fold was Abby Darnley, a returning sophomore catcher who was squarely in the mix in a crowded race for Kanawha Valley Freshmen of the Year honors a year ago. Darnley, a legitimate Division I prospect, hit .557 with 15 home runs and 46 RBIs in her rookie campaign, setting the benchmark fairly high for the rest of her career.
But Rasnake said pressure hasn’t been a problem yet for Darnley, and her work ethic could lead to even bigger things in the near future.
“That’s what it takes to be good,” Rasnake said. “She works out every day and she’s still hitting at least four times a week.”
Darnley’s twin sister Katie was also a returning starter, as was senior Abeigh Meadows. The team had no juniors on its roster.
Looking toward the 2021 season, Buffalo will have to completely overhaul its rotation, which has consisted of Russell and Bird since both came in as freshmen three seasons ago.
While this year’s team brought in a freshmen class of four, Rasnake said pitching help could be on the way from next year’s crop of ninth graders.
But now, with everyone missing time in terms of both the high school season and travel ball, it’s concerning for every coach, but especially one that will not have a senior on his roster next year.
“We have a lot of incoming freshmen next year and hopefully we get the three-week window opened up so I can work with them,” Rasnake said. “I still haven’t really gotten to meet them.
“It’s really worrisome they didn’t get the experience. You can’t simulate game experience without playing games.”