Prep softball: Hurricane could be next state title story out of Region 4
Region 4 softball is so competitive in Class AAA that it is rare for a single program to stay on top of the pecking order for very long.
There are the state's 17 titles dating to softball's beginning a sanctioned sport in 1981, but that paints only part of the picture. Those titles are split between seven of the 10 schools that make up the region.
Of the three that have yet to stand at the summit of statewide supremacy, one enters the 2013 season as perhaps the odds-on favorite to survive an always-rigorous regional tournament, and that team did not even survive its section a year ago.
"That's an honor, but we've got to prove that we deserve that," Hurricane Coach Josh Caldwell said Monday of his team's status as preseason favorite.
"We beat all the teams in the region last year, but when it came to the sectional tournament we didn't perform as well as we needed to. The kids have worked hard in the off-season, though, so we're looking forward to getting started," Caldwell said.
Hurricane finished 25-5 in 2012, won its first Mountain State Athletic Conference championship and did so while starting four freshmen and a sophomore.
In their climb from Region 4 obscurity to take the MSAC crown, the Redskins relied on a rotation of three pitchers, two of which return.
Sophomores Emily Davis (9-1) and Courtney Rodgers (10-2) were All-Kanawha Valley selections as freshmen, with Rodgers winning the area Rookie of the Year award as she added six home runs, 12 doubles and 36 RBI to her stat line.
Sarah Green was the team's third pitcher a year ago, but decided to not play this season. Still, the combination of Davis and Rodgers gives Hurricane depth in the circle simply not possessed by its two biggest competitors for Kanawha Valley prominence in 2013, St. Albans and South Charleston.
Both of Hurricane's rivals rely heavily on the abilities of single aces Ali Haynes (St. Albans) and Alli Burdette (SC).
"I think it's huge. It's very important to have more than one who can throw," Caldwell said. "Last year we had a couple weeks where we had nine games. Both those girls won big games for us last year, and both have the capability to beat anybody.
"I've been in it the other way, too, where I've only had one. When you get later in the season or a girl gets hurt, it can be devastating."
The experience is not relegated to the circle. Sophomore second baseman Madison Casto impressed with her bat (.521, 23 RBI), her speed (21 stolen bases) and her glove, and could challenge George Washington shortstop Rachel Ward for the claim of being the area's best defensive infielder.
"She's worked extremely hard all year to get into better shape," Caldwell said of Casto. "In the MSAC championship we probably don't win the game without three or four plays she made, especially early in the game when it was close, that allowed us to get out to a little lead against St. Albans."
Sophomore Cassi Sargent returns at shortstop after hitting .414 with 11 doubles and 25 RBI. Rodgers plays first when not pitching, and Davis plays third when not in the circle. Senior Haley Byrd fills in for either as the situation dictates.
The Redskins lose just one starter from 2012, with former right fielder Allie Brown now on the basketball team at West Virginia Wesleyan. Senior center fielder Nicole Pierson (.448, 6 doubles, 23 RBI) and junior left fielder Addie Fullen (.393, 4 HR, 25 RBI) return to their starting positions from a year ago, as does senior catcher Linzie Reynolds (.431, 18 RBI).
Caldwell said the biggest key to his team being able to build on its precocious success is found in its collective work ethic.
"Everybody's been around kids who were stars and winners in little league or middle school. You've got to outwork them, even if its somebody you used to be better than," he said. "A lot of these kids want to play at the next level, so they know they've got to keep working to improve."
Hurricane opens the regular season at 6 p.m. on March 14 against Capital.
Contact Preps Editor Derek Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5170. Follow him on Twitter @ItsreallyDT