CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Entering the 2013 season the softball team at St. Albans High School was as much of an unknown quantity as it had been in a decade.
There was the reliable battery of pitcher Ali Haynes and catcher Mariah Caudill back in the fold, sure. There was also junior Madi Marshall, who made a move from third base to shortstop to replace 2012 All-State pick Rachel Hickman, who had moved on to Randolph (Va.) College.
Little else was truly known. Given the way the Red Dragons closed the previous season - with Haynes battling an arm injury and the team's offense anemic before and through a Class AAA Region 4 semifinal loss to Parkersburg South - there were serious questions about the program's ability to remain near the top of the Region 4 heap.
The emergence in 2012 of a young and immensely talented team at Hurricane and the steady production of new players at Cabell Midland and Lincoln County played no small role in these doubts.
Nevertheless, with new starters at seven positions and a pair of freshmen in key positions, there were the Red Dragons, with 28 wins in their hip pocket and playing for a spot in the Class AAA State Tournament last Friday before bowing to Hurricane 2-0.
"If you told me when this season started that we'd be two innings away from the State Tournament coming out of Region 4, I'd be happy with that," St. Albans Coach Greg Garber said. "I'm extremely proud of the kids. The girls have worked so hard this year."
Garber, who surpassed the 500-win total for his career midway through the season, has been chosen by the Charleston Daily Mail as the Kanawha Valley Coach of the Year. The Red Dragons finished 28-5.
"We only lost five games this year. Three to them," Garber said in reference to Hurricane following the regional title game.
"You saw the first two games. A lot of people thought they were going to put it on us again tonight. I think we gave them everything they could handle."