PREP SOFTBALL: Hurricane seeks repeat as state champion
HURRICANE -- Josh Caldwell hopes that history doesn’t repeat itself in the 2014 prep softball postseason.
Being the coach of the defending Class AAA state champion team at Hurricane, the previous statement doesn’t exactly make sense without proper context. Still, there’s vivid recent history to show that the Redskins have cause for concern.
After stomping its way to the 2012 Class AAA softball state championship, John Marshall dominated the 2013 regular season, finished its schedule as the top-ranked team in the state, but was kept from even reaching the state tournament when upstart rival Wheeling Park knocked off the Monarchs in the Region 1 title game. Park went on to reach the state championship game before falling to Hurricane.
Like John Marshall a year ago, the Redskins (23-3) ran roughshod through their regular season schedule, until last week at least. Consecutive losses to Cabell Midland and Ripley in the Mountain State Athletic Conference playoffs have Caldwell’s team entering the postseason with its first two-game losing streak since 2012.
Second-ranked Hurricane therefore enters its Region 4, Section 3 series against No. 7 Lincoln County (20-8) at a two-year low point. Sectional play begins today throughout the state, but the Redskins and Panthers will play their best-of-three set over three scheduled days beginning at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Lincoln County High.
“It’s been a couple years,” Caldwell said when addressing Hurricane’s track record in overcoming noteworthy adversity.
“We need our leaders to step up,” Caldwell said. “We had a big group of seniors last year that stepped up when they needed to, and we’ve got Addie (Fullen) and a couple other seniors and our juniors and they need to step up and be vocal leaders, and we haven’t had that in the last couple nights.”
All-State outfielder Fullen, 2013 state Player of the Year Courtney Rogers and junior shortstop Cassi Sargent particularly struggled through the MSAC playoffs. The No. 2, 3 and 4 hitters in the Hurricane lineup were a combined 5 for 24 (.208) against Midland and Ripley, with Sargent’s triple against Midland and Fullen’s solo home run against the Vikings the only extra-base hits produced by the typically hard-hitting trio.
Making matters worse for Hurricane right now are injury concerns. Sophomore right fielder Abigail Osborne missed the MSACs with a concussion and sophomore first baseman Maddi Hebb sat out of the consolation loss to Ripley with shoulder problems. Hebb’s absence led to freshman catcher Katie Adams moving to first base with freshman Camryn Metz stepping in behind the plate.
Caldwell said Osborne and Hebb are day to day and it is unable to tell if they will be able to go when sectional play starts.
“I don’t know in either case. It’s a bad time to have it but we have it, so we’ll have to look at some things in the next couple days and see where we’re at come Tuesday,” he said.
Region 4, Section 3 has become one of the state’s most competitive in the last three years. Caldwell said he hopes the rivalry that has been born out of mutual success between the programs -- the Panthers won the state title in 2011 -- will be the spark needed to pull his club out of its recent doldrums.
“You would hope it would do that, and the finality of it you’d hope would do it,” Caldwell said. “Lincoln County has seniors, too. Brooke West has won a state championship and won a lot of games and obviously she doesn’t want to lose either.”
The teams have met three times this season, with Hurricane sweeping the regular season series by scores of 8-2, 5-4 and 6-0.
“They’re going to be fired up. If we’re not, we know what’ll happen,” Caldwell said.
West led the Panthers to the 2011 state title as a freshman pitcher, and plays first base as well for coach Rod Henthorn’s team. Junior Faith Huffman has taken over as Lincoln County’s top pitcher in the past two seasons as West has battled back injuries.
Most area teams begin sectional play Tuesday or later this week. The Class AAA Region 3, Section 3 series between George Washington and host South Charleston (13-13) begins at 6 p.m. today at South Charleston. Also today, Class AA Region 4, Section 2 rivals Poca (16-12) and Sissonville (17-7) play a doubleheader that begins at 5:30 p.m. at Sissonville High School. If necessary, the teams will meet again Tuesday.
Contact Preps Editor Derek Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5170. Follow him on Twitter @ItsreallyDT.