One win away from states
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Several teams in the Kanawha Valley will be facing opponents for the third time this season, but today's showdown will be the only one that any of them will remember.
The regional finals are an ending for some and a new beginning for others as the winners advance to the state tournament, which will take place next Wednesday and Thursday in Vienna.
Hurricane (29-6), which finished third in the final state sportswriters' Class AAA poll, hosts No. 8 St. Albans (28-4) in the Region 4 final. In AA, unranked Sissonville (17-12) visits No. 3 and defending state champion Wayne (24-6) in Region 4. Top-ranked Buffalo (30-4), the two-time defending state champion in Class A, hosts No. 8 Doddridge County (19-9) in Region 4. (See Page 2B for state regional pairings.)
"I think both teams know each other well,'' said fifth-year Hurricane coach Josh Caldwell. "We know they've got players capable of having big hitting and pitching performances. They have the experience. It's just one of those things, find a way to win. Just whatever it takes.''
Hurricane has won with offensive firepower, pounding out 43 hits, including five home runs, and scoring 33 runs during the postseason. Sophomore Courtney Rogers, also the Redskins pitching ace, has belted a round-tripper in three straight playoff games. That production has offset Hurricane's woes in the field as the Redskins have committed 18 errors in the last four games.
To be sure, Hurricane has had one of the toughest roads to the region finals for a squad that starts four sophomores and two freshmen, knocking off No. 4 Lincoln County in sectional play and No. 2 Cabell Midland in the regional semis. In the latter game, the Knights jumped out to a 3-0 lead and rallied in the seventh to pull within one run of Hurricane before leaving two runners on.
"We've played some teams that really hit the ball well and put some pressure on you,'' Caldwell said. "It's time to come out and make plays. I didn't think we could win and make errors. That says a lot about our team's resolve.''
SA will be champing at the bit since two of its four losses have come at Hurricane's hands.
The Red Dragons seem to be peaking at the right time behind a starting lineup that features two freshmen and one sophomore. SA, though, still has the senior leadership of pitcher Ali Haynes and catcher Mariah Caudill, who were both part of the state championship team in 2010 as freshmen.
"Top to bottom they have more talent than we do,'' said SA coach Greg Garber. "We haven't had an answer for them yet. We've just got to figure out how to get Hurricane out.''
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 Red Dragons' winning streak to nine last week.
Senior Bekah Baldwin set the tone against the Huskies as she has done all year with a two-run homer in the top of the first inning and the Indians never looked back in taking their fifth win in a row. Sissonville has grown up quite a bit since putting six freshmen and two sophomores in the starting lineup.
"That's what I keep telling my girls, it's hard for a team to beat another team three times in a row,'' said Sissonville coach Nikki Gross, whose team hasn't made it this far since winning the state title in 2002. "It's going to be a tough game.''
"All I know is they've got an all-state catcher, a good leadoff hitter, a good pitcher and they hit the ball well,'' said Bison coach Darrell Moore, who guided Buffalo to state titles in 2002 and 2004. "They have all the ingredients to make a good team. I'm expecting them to come in here full throttle on us.''
Buffalo rolled to a 13-4 win at Wahama in the regional semis for its 18th straight win, yielding its first runs of the postseason against the White Falcons. The Bison haven't lost to a Class A team since dropping an 11-9 decision at Wheeling Central on March 30.
Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4811.