CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- If you're part of the Herbert Hoover softball program, there's no better time than the present.
The Huskies (20-3) began Class AA Region 4, Section 1 play Monday night in Summersville, taking on the loser of the sectional opener between Clay County and host Nicholas County.
Hoover, which was ranked No. 1 in the West Virginia Sportswriters poll for much of the regular season, fell to No. 2 in the season-ending rankings released Monday afternoon.
The Huskies have carried momentum throughout the year, beating defending state champion and third-ranked Wayne (25-6) both times the teams met, but fell to Region 4 rival Scott, ranked fourth in the state with a 17-8 record, in the season's final week.
While Coach Missy Smith's team looks like the most balanced and capable group in a stacked Region 4, there is rarely an open window of opportunity there for very long. Wayne's roster is full of players who started for the Pioneers' title team from 2012, and - a little closer to home - there's a rival champing at the bit to return to glory.
Unranked Sissonville (12-12) starts its best-of-three sectional tournament against Poca (7-18) at 6 p.m. today at Poca. The Indians' all-freshman infield that surrounds senior pitcher Bekah Baldwin includes one of the area's top ninth graders in third baseman/pitcher Alexee Haynes, and dropped a pair of one-run games to Hoover this season.
A likely Region 4 semifinal would take place in Falling Rock, and if the regular-season meetings between the two are any indicator, the improved hitting of the Huskies in the final weeks of the season will provide Smith with a sense of relief.
Just two weeks ago Hoover had only three players hitting better than .350. By season's end not only were sophomore center fielder Makayla Craze (.494), third baseman McKenzie Edmonds (.461) and sophomore pitcher Allison Rager (.397) over the minimum mark for area leaders but they had been joined by shortstop Zoey Carte (.411), catcher Damia Mogielski (.393) and right fielder Ashleigh Tignor (.353).
Hoover has typically won its games on the strength of its defense in recent years. If the Huskies continue to hit the ball as they have of late, they should emerge from Region 4 and battle 2012 runner-up and top-ranked Ritchie County (25-2) for the state title. A regional final for Hoover - likely to be against Wayne or Scott - would be at Hoover on May 16.
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IN CLASS AAA, a couple of pitchers who have made area history lead their teams into sectional play with decidedly different odds at reaching the State Tournament.
St. Albans senior Ali Haynes enters Wednesday's Region 4, Section 2 tournament with more career wins (72) than any pitcher in Kanawha County Class AAA history. The Red Dragons have overachieved this season, going 24-4 with little speed in the outfield and just Haynes and catcher Mariah Caudill as the final holdovers from SA's state championship season of 2010. They're justifiable favorites against Nitro and rebuilding Logan in their section, and appear to have the upper hand on either Winfield or Point Pleasant, one of whom they would meet in the Region 4 semifinals.