CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Buffalo left fielder Katie Higginbotham seems to be the critical element in entering Thursday's Class A Regional 4 softball championship game against Doddridge County.
Heading into the game, with a confident Higginbotham in full effect alongside her teammates, Buffalo (30-4) is a heavy favorite over Doddridge (19-9) to journey to the State Tournament and a quest for a third consecutive state title.
As only a junior, Higginbotham has started all three years of her high school career under veteran Bison Coach Darrell Moore. But in her three years and more than 100 games, neither she nor her teammates have faced Doddridge County, a team from the Little Kanawha Conference that moved from Region 1 to Region 4 as part of the domino effect caused by 2012's class realignment at the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission.
The Bulldogs competed in Region 2 in the middle part of the last decade, with schools from the Eastern Panhandle.
"Well nobody knows what to expect, but the girls know that," Moore said. "The only thing we can do is jump on them fast, and having Katie as our leadoff hitter almost guarantees that for us."
Higginbotham enters the week batting .485 and has 26 stolen bases. Her ability to get on base shows in the numbers, but her ability to move on the bases is going to be the key element for a victory Thursday, she said.
"I know I have to get on base, regardless of how that is, but I know I can do that for my team. I have confidence in myself because of the people behind me," Higginbotham said.
Following her in the batting order are sophomore Ali Burdette and junior Chelsey Parkins. With Higginbotham setting the table, the Bison have not lost to a Class A team since they dropped an 11-9 decision to second-ranked Wheeling Central (20-8) on March 30 in Wheeling.
Higginbotham, an All-State selection as a sophomore, said she understands the process, and the importance of her role. More importantly, perhaps, she said her teammates do as well.
"I know my role as a leadoff hitter, but Chelsey and Ali know their parts as well," she said.