Prep softball: Catchers key in Region 4 final
There's not too much that the softball teams at Hurricane and St. Albans have in common other than the use of the color red in their uniforms.
St. Albans is a perennial Class AAA power. Hurricane won 20 games in a season for the first time just four years ago, in 2010, the same year SA won its only state championship. It is the only big-school title won by a Kanawha Valley team in the sport.
The Redskins (29-6) hit for power and average throughout their lineup, from spots one-through-nine in the batting order. St. Albans (28-4) is a top-heavy team that relies heavily on the run production supplied by its three most experienced players.
St. Albans has ridden the reliable right arm of one pitcher for three years. Hurricane typically starts the same pitcher from game-to-game, but often calls upon its top reliever by game's end.
When the teams meet at 6 p.m. today in Hurricane for the Region 4 championship there is one similarity that could significantly alter the game's outcome, depending on who gets the upper hand.
Catchers Linzie Reynolds and Mariah Caudill are the top backstops in the Kanawha Valley. Both are seniors, and among the area's leaders in batting average, home runs and RBI.
"I think she's a great player. We said that from the very beginning, and every time we play them Linzie's been No. 1 in our (pregame) rundown of things," said Caudill, who was the All-Kanawha Valley selection at catcher as a junior.
"She throws down runners. She's got the green light to throw to wherever she wants to, so you've got to pay attention. She has a certain confidence about her. As a catcher, I like to look at a hitter when she's up at the plate to kind of get an idea of their approach. If they go up there with confidence I know, 'OK, this girl's looking to hit' and that will affect where and how we pitch her.
"Linzie always goes up there with that kind of confidence."
Reynolds is hitting .476 with six home runs, 13 doubles and 43 RBI entering the regional final. Caudill is batting .460 with four homers, a Kanawha Valley-leading seven triples, four homers, 10 doubles and 55 RBI.
Passed balls are few and far between in games involving either senior. Caudill's height and agility allow her to stop just about anything thrown her way, and Reynolds' athleticism makes a pitch that goes to the backstop a rarity.
"She is one of the best catchers around, period. She's just a great athlete and a great player, on and off the field," Reynolds said of Caudill. "She was an all-stater, and something I've been working toward since I was a freshman.
"It's not just in the field that she's so good. It's at the plate, and she's a great teammate."
Still, as St. Albans senior ace Ali Haynes (27-4) prepares to face sophomore and fellow rise-ball fanatic Courtney Rogers (18-3) for the third time this season, defense will be the key for both teams, Caudill said. The Red Dragons were on top of their defensive game a week ago, when Haynes threw a five-hit shutout in beating Point Pleasant 6-0 in the Region 4 semifinals.
In a pair of shutouts of St. Albans in the regular season, Hurricane benefited from numerous unearned runs. The Redskins beat SA 9-0 on April 9 at home then beat the Dragons 13-0 in St. Albans on April 18.
Those lopsided wins could hinder Hurricane's mindset if the team isn't careful, Reynolds said.
"They're probably the most difficult team to play, besides the fact that we've beat them twice," Reynolds said. "They're going to come back wanting to murder us. We're going to have to play at 110 percent the whole entire game. This isn't going to be like Cabell Midland or the Lincoln County game, it's going to be 20 times harder."
Hurricane held on to beat Midland 6-5 in the regional semifinals last week, and pounded Lincoln County in the third game of a three-game series to win its section two weeks ago.
Caudill said she believes her team to be playing its best ball of the season at the right time.
"I think we honestly need to play exactly how we did at Point Pleasant. I think our defense stepped up a heck of a lot in that game," Caudill said. "Even if they hit a home run, we can't let that affect us. If we let it affect us, it'll turn into more runs.
"I think it's going to be a battle of the small things."
The winner of today's game will face either Wheeling Park (19-5) or top-ranked and defending Class AAA state champion John Marshall (30-3) in the first round of the State Tournament next Wednesday at Jackson Park in Vienna.
Contact Preps Editor Derek Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5170. Follow him on Twitter @ItsreallyDT