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Derek Taylor: Hoover softball team should emerge from stacked region

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.

On the other side of that region, however, lurks a minefield for any team hoping to make it to Vienna.

Mountain State Athletic Conference champ and No. 2 Cabell Midland should run roughshod in Section 1 against local rivals Spring Valley and Huntington. It's in Section 2 where the Region 4 fun begins, tonight in Hurricane.

It's there where the fourth-ranked Redskins (26-5) will host a best-of-three sectional set against No. 3 Lincoln County (22-6). The Panthers are more of an unknown quantity than in previous years thanks to the school's defection from the MSAC. Lincoln County did not play St. Albans this season - a rarity - and handed Hurricane a 9-1 loss in Hamlin on March 29, in the teams' only meeting.

The Panthers have been somewhat enigmatic. They've dropped games to Sissonville and to Logan and dealt with ace pitcher Brooke West's troubled back throughout the year by splitting her time with sophomore Faith Huffman, who has been up to task more often than not.

This is the big, red-letter section within the area. Fresh off its MSAC title win in 2012, Hurricane was unceremoniously dismissed from postseason play when Lincoln County swept the Redskins. This time, Hurricane enters the postseason coming off a reality-check of a loss to Midland in the MSAC title game. With sophomore Courtney Rogers leading a bruising offense, it will be hard for Lincoln County to get two road wins in three days.

Look for Hurricane to emerge from this week's action, then edge Midland on May 9 in the teams' fourth meeting of the year. That will set up a Region 4 final between Hurricane and St. Albans in Hurricane on May 16.

The Redskins have beaten Haynes 9-0 and 12-0 this season, and while the St. Albans senior is among the fiercest of competitors, the combination of Hurricane's ability to put the ball in play and eighth-ranked St. Albans' lack of team speed - the outfield of Addie Fullen in left field, Nicole Pierson in center and Amber Null in right is one of the fastest around and the ability of Madi Casto and Cassi Sargent to beat out infield hits is impressive - gives the Redskins a decided advantage, and will pave the way for their first State Tournament appearance.

While Hurricane should stop Haynes' four-year run of prep success, in Region 3 Alli Burdette at South Charleston could be on her way to returning the unranked Black Eagles (17-9) to the Promised Land. With 277 regular-season strikeouts and a 0.96 ERA, Burdette is unquestionably the most dominant pitcher in the region. That SC has begun to get solid offensive - and more importantly, defensive - contributions from players such as Meredith Cain, Kaylie Stanley and Madison Pauley makes Burdette's job considerably easier.

The Black Eagles should handle George Washington in their best-of-three series in Section 3 before meeting up with No. 10 Ripley (13-5) for a third time this year. Burdette has handled the Vikings twice, allowing just one run in two games. Look for them to advance to a Region 3 final against Shady Spring and eventually make their first trip to Vienna since falling in the 2008 title game.

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TWO-TIME defending Class A state champion Buffalo will use its section and regional semifinal games as tune-ups before facing either No. 5 Gilmer County (19-7) or No. 8 Doddridge County (15-9) in the Region 4 final. The top-ranked Bison (25-4) have started to hit the ball better in recent weeks, and with the 1-2 pitching punch of junior Chelsey Parkins (12-1, 121 strikeouts and a 1.04 ERA) and sophomore Ali Burdette (11-2, 116, 0.78) should again be playing on the final day of the season.

Contact Preps Editor Derek Taylor at derek.taylor@dailymail.com or 304-348-5170. Follow him on Twitter @ItsreallyDT.


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