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Youth helping lead softball regional finalists

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Perhaps they're too young to know better.

Hurricane and St. Albans in Class AAA and Sissonville in AA each broke through with regional semifinal victories last week and find themselves one win away from the state tournament. Elsewhere Buffalo, the two-time defending state champion in Class A, kept chugging right along.

No. 3 Hurricane hosts No. 8 St. Albans in the AAA Region 4 final Thursday, while unranked Sissonville visits defending state champion and No. 3 Wayne in AA Region 4 and No. 1 Buffalo hosts No. 8 Doddridge County in Class A Region 4. There is a break between the semis and finals because of statewide testing that begins today. (See Page 2B for regional finals pairings.)

The Redskins (29-6) are in rarified air, winning their first regional semifinal in school history behind a starting lineup that features four sophomores and two freshmen. Hurricane also set a school record for wins for the second straight year.

Some of that inexperience has surfaced as the Redskins have committed 18 errors in their last four games, but each time they have used their bats to make up for the gaffes, pounding out 43 hits, including five home runs, and scoring 33 runs.

Hurricane fell behind No. 2 Cabell Midland, which had beaten the Redskins the last two meetings, 3-0 in the first inning before battling back and then hanging on for the 6-5 win. Sophomore Emily Davis, the No. 7 hitter, belted a two-out, two-run single to give Hurricane the lead for good, 4-3, in the third and freshman Maddie Hebb followed with a two-run double for a 6-3 advantage as the last three batters in the lineup finished 4 for 9 with five RBIs.

 "We know we have to play strong,'' said Davis. "We know that offense will always come through. We hit strong from one to nine. We were the underdogs all year and it feels really good to advance.''

"We know we need to pick ourselves up offensively if we make errors,'' added Redskins sophomore Courtney Rogers, who leads the Kanawha Valley with 11 home runs. "We just try to keep our heads together and stay focused on the game. We have confidence in every single person.''

Hurricane has handled SA with ease during the regular season, winning 9-0 and 13-0.

"St. Albans has a team that can come here and win,'' said Redskins fifth-year coach Josh Caldwell. "We can't come out and say we've beaten them twice."

SA (28-4) starts two freshmen and one sophomore who have grown into their roles to complement the senior duo of pitcher Ali Haynes and catcher Mariah Caudill.

Haynes fired a five-hit shutout and belted a three-run homer in a 6-0 win at Point Pleasant in the region semis that extended the Redskins' winning streak to nine games. Haynes has two round-trippers with nine RBIs in the last four games, while Caudill is 8 for 11 with two doubles, a homer and six RBIs.

The Red Dragons had failed to advance past the semis since winning it all in 2010.

"I'm just thrilled with this team with only two seniors,'' said SA coach Greg Garber, who won his 500th game this season. "They've exceeded my expectations. We weren't doing the little things that it takes to win games. It seems this team is willing to do whatever they need to do to win.''

The Indians (17-12) are even younger, starting six freshmen. Sissonville pounded No. 2 Herbert Hoover 7-3 last week, beating the Huskies for the first time in three attempts this season. Hoover was No. 1 most of the season until the final week of the poll.

Sissonville also overcame adversity to advance this far for the first time since 2002 as coach Nikki Gross was suspended by her principal for playing a game the day before the regional semis after the players had testing.

"It seems like it's the freshmen that's pulling the team together,'' said Gross. "They're very confident. When we first started the season, I could see big things happening for us, then we started having some ups and downs. It seems like that has just pushed them to play harder each game. They were upset I wasn't at the game and it seemed like it made them mad, so they played harder.''

Sissonville has dropped both of its matchups with Wayne by scores of 9-0 and 5-1.

 Buffalo rolled to a 13-4 win at Wahama in the regional semis behind freshman catcher Amanda Christy, who went 3 for 3 with five RBIs. The Bison (30-4) have won 17 in a row and yielded their first runs of the postseason against the White Falcons. Buffalo hasn't faced Doddridge this year.

Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at tatkinson@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4811.


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