Local high school softball teams enter the first full week of May with state tournament aspirations, as section tournament play commenced Monday.
Fayetteville, Meadow Bridge, Midland Trail and Valley will participate in Class A tourneys, while Riverside and Oak Hill are set for Class AAA play.
Fayetteville and Midland Trail will join host Richwood in a double-elimination event beginning Wednesday, March 6. A doubleheader will be played on the first day beginning at 5:30 p.m.
"We're ready to play," said Fayetteville coach Mike Bone, whose team was 8-15 as of Wednesday. Fayetteville beat Midland Trail twice in the regular season but didn't face Richwood.
A challenging regular season slate has helped prepare the Pirates, Bone feels. "We probably play one of the toughest schedules in single-A, I would think," he said. "We've just got to keep grooving and playing" and "focus on the task at hand."
"The kids have really stepped up," Bone added. "A lot of kids are playing in different positions."
The Pirates will be led by senior pitcher Kaitlyn Sisler, whom Bone calls "a gem." Sisler has been the Pirates' top hurler, as well as leading the charge with a .341 batting average, eight doubles and three homers. "Kaitlyn has worked so hard the last two years."
Others contributing offensively for FHS include Alexa Roles (.316), Faith Norris (.293, four doubles), Carrie Taylor (.291), Kayla Patrick (.277) and Savannah Kincaid (.230).
Ashley Fridley, the secondary pitcher, has contributed two triples at the plate.
As a team, the Pirate defense has turned 15 double-plays this season, Bone said.
Midland Trail coach Candace Young says her team has experienced a yo-yo season but can do some damage in the postseason if it's on the top of its game.
As of mid-week last week, Midland Trail had five players batting over .300, led by Madison Syner at .388, with Mallory Stonestreet close behind at .372. Also contributing are Makenna Nickell (.333), Patience Isaacs (.306) and Jessica Fox (.302).
Pitching-wise, Makenna Nickell and Taylor Dickerson have carried the load, with a "really developing" Dickerson having a perfect game to her credit.
"However, we struggle with walks and getting deep into counts," Young said. "But that kind of goes with the territory of sophomore and freshmen pitchers."
The Patriots' attack has been somewhat inconsistent, Young said Wednesday. "While we sometimes do well batting, errors have been the one thing that kills us. We struggle with errors from everyone, seniors to freshmen."
Young said the Patriots have enjoyed some big wins and played pretty tough with foes such as Oak Hill and Fayetteville, but there have also been lowlights such as a recent 16-0 setback to Braxton County. "I never know what team I'm going to have."
Injuries have stunted Midland Trail's progress at times, Young said.
"The loss of Sarah Beebe has hurt us a bit," she said. "Her ability on the field was one thing, but it was her presence and knowledge of the game.
"She was a talker and even as a sophomore commanded the field. No one has stepped up to fill her shoes, which has hurt us some."
Also, Fox, the third baseman, has played while battling wrist and ankle injuries. And, two of the team's catchers are currently sidelined, so "we are down in all areas."
"My biggest issue going into the tournament is our focus and hustle," Young concluded. "When we come to play, we are hard to beat, but they pick and choose when to show up. I have struggled all year trying to get them to think outside themselves and play harder for the team rather than themselves.
"If my pitchers throw well, we cut out errors, and hustle, we will hold our own against Fayetteville and Richwood."
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Van High School will host the Class A Region 3, Section 3 softball tournament at Sherman High's field in Seth beginning Tuesday, May 5.
At 5 p.m. on May 5, Van and Valley will face each other. The loser will face top-seeded Sherman at 7 p.m. tonight.
Games will continue at 5 and 7 p.m. on Wednesday, May 6.
Admission is $5.
Entering the postseason, senior Kailey Cooper has led the Greyhound charge. As of last week, Cooper had posted an 8-5 pitching record as well as hitting .460 (23-for-50). Cooper, who also has a save on the mound, has struck out 117 batters this spring. She has a no-hitter and three one-hitters to her credit.
Jersey Thompson, who has compiled a 3-3 record as Valley's second pitcher, leads the Greyhound hitting attack with a .507 batting average (33-for-65). Among the other contributors have been Emily Beard (.396, 25-for-63), Brianna Canterbury (.345, 19-for-55), Emily Smallman (.320, 16-for-50), Jenna Allen (.309, 17-for-55), and Rachel Hagen (.237, 14-for-59).
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Class AAA Riverside (18-10) will take part in the double-elimination Region 3, Section 4 softball tournament at Capital High School starting on Tuesday, May 5.
The Warriors will face Capital (0-12) at 6 p.m. tonight, with the loser to meet top-seeded Ripley (15-8) on Wednesday. Single games will continue at 6 p.m. Thursday and beyond, as necessary.
Ripley won its lone regular season matchup with Riverside 7-0 on April 16. The Warriors defeated Capital 17-1 in their only meeting on March 24.
Riverside coach Mike Taylor feels his team has an opportunity to advance out of the section tournament, but he says the Warriors must step up their play.
"Our record is pretty good, but we haven't beaten some of the (favored) teams (they need to)," Taylor said. "We beat teams we were favored to beat.
"We need to get over the hump and beat good pitching and beat a good team."
RHS lost six seniors from a year ago, and the current squad has just one 12th-grader in Kailey Garten. "We're pitching three freshmen," Taylor said. "We're young in some pretty big spots."
Freshman pitcher/first baseman Gracie Donato "has come in and done a real nice job," Taylor said. Donato has fashioned a 7-3 pitching record with a 1.35 ERA and is batting .429 with three home runs and 27 RBIs.
Fellow freshman Hannah Pullen (P/DP) is batting .358 with four homers and 24 RBIs and has a 5-1 mound record. Another frosh, Lauren Pauley, has compiled a 6-6 pitching record while facing many of her team's tougher foes.
Other contributors have included junior catcher/outfielder Amanda Cooper (.346) and junior Chelsea Diegert, whom Taylor called "a true utility player."
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Meadow Bridge is competing with Greenbrier West, Greater Beckley Christian and Montcalm at Montcalm beginning tonight.
The Wildcats and the top-seeded Cavaliers will play at 4 p.m., followed by the GBC-Montcalm matchup.