As stout as Class AA Region 4 softball has been over the years, a lot of great teams and great players have been swallowed up early in the postseason.
A good example is Poca, which hasn’t made the state tournament in recent years but sure has piled up its fair share of wins and produced its share of college players.
Tori Ward (Glenville State), Casey Skeens (Eastern Michigan), Sarah Fisher (Kentucky Christian), Molly Collins (Muskingum), Mercedes Bush (Glenville State) and Karlie Hill (West Virginia State) have all come through the program and played at the next level in the last four years.
But with all of them gone, it was a struggle for the Dots a year ago as the team turned in a 2-26 campaign with a young roster that would have remained youthful this season. Poca had nary a senior on the team, but despite that, coach David Skeens had higher, yet reasonable, hopes for this bunch.
“I don’t know if we could have beaten Nitro or Sissonville or Winfield, but hopefully we could’ve played with them,” Skeens said. “We would’ve won more games against average teams and competed better. Last year we had some games we could’ve won and they got canceled on us, but I think we’d have done a lot better this year.”
To his point, there were certainly bright spots on the roster.
Junior Chloe Casto worked with Tim Fouts, father of Alabama pitcher Montana Fouts, and according to Skeens had made significant strides toward improving in the circle. Several other returning starters would have also been back in the fold, including junior outfielder Devin Ord, who, along with Casto, would have been depended on for leadership.
Sophomore Kami Williams would have returned to catch after leading the team in hitting a year ago, and fellow 10th graders Logan Holbert (left field) and Katie Koontz (middle infield) also would have started for a second straight season.
While several programs had to say painful goodbyes to senior classes, Poca’s biggest problem — or worry — is that a crucial year of development has been taken away.
“Next year, I’ll have two groups [this year’s freshmen and next year’s freshmen] that have never played [at the varsity level],” Skeens said. “And you look at a player like Chloe, she works hard at anything. She knew she’d have to pitch this year again for us and she put in a lot of time and money into it.”
Three freshmen would have arrived this season bringing some promise with them. Jenna Cook is the younger sister of Poca quarterback Jay Cook and was in the running for a starting spot, likely in the middle infield. Jayla Randolph was also in the running to start as a rookie at third base.
While the team was likely to be dependent on Casto for pitching, Skeens saw an extremely athletic squad offensively that was likely to rely on small ball and keep the base paths hot. In particular, Skeens estimated that Holbert’s speed could push her to a college career as well.
In addition to a young core that figures to keep improving, Skeens said there is also help on the way. Next year’s class of incoming freshmen brings with it some promising players, including Kendra Dunbar and Cameron Starcher, both of who could help bolster the rotation along with Casto.
But whether or not Poca can return to respectability or even beyond may rely heavily on how its current players improve at a time when nobody is allowed to play games.
“It would have been interesting to see how they’d have done against competition,” Skeens said. “We had some kids that would have developed and leaders like Chloe and Devin. They started as freshmen and more or less led our team, and we had some freshmen that would’ve been fun to see grow and to see how they would’ve done as well.”