CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Stifling excitement is one of the most difficult things to do for a high school team that is historically unfamiliar with success.
Hurricane's softball team will play for a regional championship and a State Tournament berth for the first time in school history at 6 p.m. Thursday when the Redskins (29-6) play host to traditional power St. Albans (28-4), a team Hurricane has beaten twice this season.
When the Redskins were leaving the field after a 6-5 win over Cabell Midland in the Region 4 semifinals last week, the public address system at the field blared the 1977 Queen classic "We Are the Champions," a tune overly familiar to every sports fan.
Hurricane players aren't buying into the notion that they've accomplished anything. Sophomore third baseman Emily Davis, whose two-run double in the third inning of the regional semi gave the Redskins the lead for good Thursday, spoke of their upcoming game with a tone that was the equivalent of a record needle being yanked off the turntable.
"I know we beat them twice this year, but we've still got to play them like any other team we play," Davis said of the Red Dragons. "You never know what they're gonna bring. They've been here before."
Hurricane beat St. Albans 9-0 at home April 9, then 13-0 at St. Albans on April 18. Still, it will be ninth career postseason start at the regional level or higher for SA seniors Ali Haynes and Mariah Caudill, and the first regional final appearance for any player in a Hurricane uniform.
The only change for either team since their last meeting is in St. Albans' outfield. There, speedy freshman Katie Holstein has taken over in center field, and the team is 9-0 since her insertion into the lineup.
"St. Albans has a team that can come here and win next week," Hurricane Coach Josh Caldwell said. "They've got the same ticket to punch that we do.
"We can't come out and say 'Oh, we beat them twice.' A few things happen and it's a tight game ... we can't let that happen. So, we'll get with our seniors and we'll coach 'em up and make sure that doesn't happen."
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IT WAS with no small amount of irony that Ripley's Chelsey Hager struck out 22 South Charleston batters in leading the Vikings (22-10) to a 4-1 win in 11 innings in a Class AAA Region 3 semifinal last Thursday at South Charleston (20-10).
The loss served as the final high school game for SC All-State pitcher Alli Burdette. An Elon University signee, the hard-throwing Burdette struck out 15 in the loss.