A late five-run deficit after a long day and a long journey up through the losers bracket wasn’t about to faze Herbert Hoover’s softball team, not on a day when the community it represents was reflecting on five years of its own resilience.
The Huskies, who have embodied and emboldened the greater Elkview community since the massive floods that crippled the area on June 23, 2016, gave its fans perhaps the wildest ride yet in a state softball tournament on the fifth anniversary of the disaster on Wednesday.
After losing its opener to Sissonville and surviving a late game against Independence on Tuesday in the double-elimination tournament, Hoover willed itself to three straight wins on Wednesday, including back-to-back 10-0 and 6-5 decisions against Oak Glen in the championship round. It was all capped by a rally from a 5-0, fifth-inning hole in the winner-take-all game as the Huskies claimed their fourth straight state Class AA title in dramatic fashion at Little Creek Park.
Hoover (28-4) got to the finale with a pair of 10-0 wins, one over Sissonville on Wednesday morning and another blowout victory in five innings over Oak Glen (29-3) as the Huskies completed their most gripping and perhaps least-expected run to a state title yet, with six sophomores, a pair of juniors and just one senior leading the way.
And while the season came with a few growing pains, the team hit its stride late in the year and, despite the early state-tournament setback, mustered enough to see it through.
“Back when we were in the region and we were down 9-7 [to Lincoln] down to our last three outs and we came back and won, my assistant Jamanda [Rollyson] said, ‘That may have just won us the state championship,’ and it absolutely laid the foundation,” Hoover coach Missy Smith said. “There’s no quit in this group. It doesn’t matter who’s at the plate, it doesn’t matter who’s on the mound, they believe in each other and they believe in themselves and that’s hard to stop.”
After Hoover took care of Independence 9-1 on Tuesday evening, the Huskies carried that momentum into Wednesday, with junior Grayson Buckner throwing all 11 innings in the early lopsided victories, leaving her with just three of her 14-inning limit left heading into the final game.
That brought in sophomore Josi Fix, who was good through three innings before running into trouble in the fourth. Oak Glen scored all five of its runs in the frame, led by singles from Maddie McKay and Sarah Brown to start. Olivia Munoz and Makayla Zoellers followed with squeeze bunts, both of which were fielded and thrown late to home, allowing two runs to cross without an out. An RBI single from Grace Smith and a two-run hit from Sydney Brown capped the frame, giving the Bears a 5-0 lead heading to the top of the fifth inning.
But Hoover started chipping away immediately, plating one in the fifth on an RBI triple from Caroline Woody and one in the sixth on an RBI infield hit from Emma Veltri to make the score 5-2. Hoover left five on base in those two frames, but answered the bell when it had to in the seventh.
Woody and Sydney Bright led off with back-to-back doubles to make the score 5-3. After a popout from Cortney Fizer, Buckner reached on an error and Abby Hanson drove in another run with a ground-rule double to left center. Sydney Shamblin then drove in Buckner with a sacrifice fly to right to tie things at 5.
Buckner spent her final inning in the circle in the bottom of the seventh after coming on in relief in the fifth, working around a hit-by-pitch and a walk to give the Huskies a chance in extra innings.
Brooklyn Huffman singled to start things in the eighth and, after a sacrifice bunt by Woody and a fly out from Bright, Fizer, the team’s only senior, singled to center to give Hoover a 6-5 advantage.
Fittingly, it was Fizer who made a catch in center field with a runner at second with Fix back in the circle in the bottom of the frame to deliver the win for Hoover.
Fizer, who won her third title in four years (the 2020 season was canceled due to COVID-19) and served as the central leadership source for this year’s young Huskies squad that was largely an unknown entering the year, said despite the grueling innings against some of the state’s best, there was never a doubt among her and her teammates.
“I knew we could do it from the start, I knew if there were any obstacles we could get through it,” Fizer said. “When we lost that first game, I had no doubt that we could come out of it and win it.”
Though the tournament was at Little Creek for the first time, the scene was familiar as a mob of blue- and red-clad fans lined the fences all day on the Class AA field. That resilience Fizer spoke of is the mentality and the standard for the team and the people.
With the win, Hoover has still claimed every softball title since the flood five years ago, consistently serving as a point of pride and a springtime release from the reality of trying to rebuild houses, schools and a community as a whole.
For five years, the Hoover softball program has carried all of that on its shoulders. And if Wednesday’s crowd and celebration was any indication, the love affair between a recovering community and its softball team isn’t about to end anytime soon.
“We can’t win without them,” Smith said. “They say it takes a village and we have a river and that’s exactly where we want to be. It’s a special community to be a part of and we’re lucky.”
Buckner yielded just five hits, one walk and no runs over 14 innings against the Indians and Bears.
Offensively, the Huskies scored 10 runs all in the fifth inning in the first game against Oak Glen, and the hitting effort throughout the day spanned the entirety of the lineup. In addition to scoring the winning run, Huffman singled and drove in two with a double in the first game, Woody finished the second game 3 for 4, Bright singled twice and drove in two in the first game, Shamblin singled twice and drove in a run in the first game, Fix had a two-run single in the first game and tripled and walked twice in the second, with Veltry walking twice in the first game and registering a pair of infield singles in three second-game at-bats.
Bright, Fizer, Huffman, Shamblin and Buckner each made the all-tournament team for the Huskies with Lizzy Kell, McKay and Sarah Brown making the list for Oak Glenn. Sissonville’s Madison Legg and Independence’s Chloe Hart rounded out the squad.