Prep softball: Buffalo's Higginbotham comfortable, capable in her role
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Buffalo left fielder Katie Higginbotham seems to be the critical element in entering Thursday's Class A Regional 4 softball championship game against Doddridge County.
Heading into the game, with a confident Higginbotham in full effect alongside her teammates, Buffalo (30-4) is a heavy favorite over Doddridge (19-9) to journey to the State Tournament and a quest for a third consecutive state title.
As only a junior, Higginbotham has started all three years of her high school career under veteran Bison Coach Darrell Moore. But in her three years and more than 100 games, neither she nor her teammates have faced Doddridge County, a team from the Little Kanawha Conference that moved from Region 1 to Region 4 as part of the domino effect caused by 2012's class realignment at the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission.
The Bulldogs competed in Region 2 in the middle part of the last decade, with schools from the Eastern Panhandle.
"Well nobody knows what to expect, but the girls know that," Moore said. "The only thing we can do is jump on them fast, and having Katie as our leadoff hitter almost guarantees that for us."
Higginbotham enters the week batting .485 and has 26 stolen bases. Her ability to get on base shows in the numbers, but her ability to move on the bases is going to be the key element for a victory Thursday, she said.
"I know I have to get on base, regardless of how that is, but I know I can do that for my team. I have confidence in myself because of the people behind me," Higginbotham said.
Following her in the batting order are sophomore Ali Burdette and junior Chelsey Parkins. With Higginbotham setting the table, the Bison have not lost to a Class A team since they dropped an 11-9 decision to second-ranked Wheeling Central (20-8) on March 30 in Wheeling.
Higginbotham, an All-State selection as a sophomore, said she understands the process, and the importance of her role. More importantly, perhaps, she said her teammates do as well.
"I know my role as a leadoff hitter, but Chelsey and Ali know their parts as well," she said.
Parkins is hitting a Kanawha Valley-leading .554 with 50 RBI while Burdette is batting .515 with six home runs and 43 RBI.
Moore said Higginbotham's understanding of her options at the plate is critical to her success.
"We have to get on base and Katie guarantees that, but it's not all her speed," he said. "Her best attribute in making her such a good hitter is how selective she is when she's in the box. That's what makes her such a good aspect to our program. An athlete like her changes the game."
Moore commended Higginbotham for her leadership - there is only one senior on the squad - but also her modesty and capacity to invite others to lead.
"Katie has played a big role in leading the girls, especially underclassmen, but she does so through example," Moore said. "She never complains. (She) does what she has to and works hard."
Buffalo's lost several key players to graduation after the 2012 season, including All-State catcher Casey Cunningham. Those losses created both obstacles and advantages. Moore said that although the girls have had to work harder under these circumstances, it has created a variety in position holders; except for Higginbotham.
She anchors the team in the outfield and in the lineup. Although Moore tested her talents in center in the beginning of season, Higginbotham has played almost all of the season in left, where she spent her freshman and sophomore seasons.
"I will play wherever coach wants me to play," she said. "You never know what he has planned."
The winner of Thursday's game will play either Wheeling Central or St. Marys (23-8) in the first round of the State Tournament at Jackson Park in Vienna on May 22.