Youth no hindrance for Hurricane softball
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There have been plenty of opportunities for Hurricane's youngsters to crack under the pressure.
But at every turn, the Redskins have weathered the storm and are now on the brink of history as they prepare for their first state softball tournament appearance in school history. Hurricane will take on Wheeling Park at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday in the opening round of the Class AAA double-elimination event in Vienna. (See pairings, Page 2B.)
The Redskins (30-6) set school records for wins the past two seasons and finished third in the final state sportswriters' poll, their highest ranking to end a year. They hadn't even made it to the regional until this season.
Hurricane has made the leap with a starting lineup that features four sophomores and two freshmen. Sophomores Madi Casto (second base), Cassi Sargent (shortstop), Courtney Rogers (pitcher) and Emily Davis (third base) play key roles while freshmen Maddie Hebb (first base) and Amber Null (right field) stepped right into starting positions. Seniors Linzie Reynolds (catcher and Nicole Pierson (center field) and junior left fielder Addie Fullen have provided the direction and leadership for this young bunch.
"It's just a great group of kids,'' said fifth-year Hurricane coach Josh Caldwell. "They do things on and off the field together. A lot of Saturday evenings they'll be at bonfires. They're just a fun group. They do everything you ask of them.
"One of our biggest strengths is we're solid all through the lineup. There's really no weakness. Our depth has helped us a lot of ways. It pushes kids. It's hard to get kids to work their best if they know there's nobody to take their job. We have confidence in a lot of them.''
The Redskins' road through the postseason hasn't been an easy one as it has been littered with ranked opponents at every turn. They've disposed of No. 4 Lincoln County, No. 2 Cabell Midland and No. 8 St. Albans on their march to states.
Hurricane needed all three games of the double-elimination sectional to get past perennial nemesis Lincoln County, which has eliminated the Redskins the past several years.
The Redskins needed all hands on deck in the deciding game against the Panthers. Caldwell didn't hesitate to replace Rogers after she faced only four batters, with Davis finishing up by yielding just three earned runs in 62/3 innings. Then Pierson left the game briefly after taking a ball off the face in center field, but senior Courtney Lindmark stepped in for two innings.
Hurricane fell behind Midland 3-0 in the top of the first in the regional semifinals before rallying for the lead, then sweated out the top of the seventh as the Knights left two runners on base as the Redskins prevailed 6-5.
Hurricane shut out SA 2-0 in the regional final for its first victory this season when scoring less than three runs.
"I feel like every game, every round it's less pressure,'' Caldwell said. "We've played looser as we've gone through. As you continue to win those big games you gain a lot of confidence.
"I think we've always been a confident group, but regardless the last couple of years we haven't been able to get past Lincoln County in the sectionals. We've just gained a different type of confidence.''
Hurricane's trademark has been its offensive firepower during the regular season, and it has bailed out the Redskins in the postseason. Hurricane has pounded out 48 hits, including six home runs, and scored 35 runs in its five tournament games.
Rogers has three round-trippers in the playoffs, including homers in three straight games leading up to the region final. Sophomore third baseman Emily Davis picked up the offense in the 2-0 win over SA in the region final, hammering a homer that turned Hurricane's 1-0 lead into a two-run cushion. Rogers also turned in one of her most dominant performances in the circle, firing a six-hit shutout against the Red Dragons.
That production has offset Hurricane's shaky fielding as the Redskins have committed 18 errors in the last five games, though they had none in the region final.
"We've [won in] a lot of different ways,'' said Caldwell. "We've won high-scoring games, low-scoring games and [Friday] night a tight one.''
Caldwell has pulled off quite a balancing act this season with the arrival of his first child.
"It's been busy,'' he said. "My wife is willing to watch the baby all evening and night and thankfully [the baby is] one that doesn't cry all the time.
"Sometimes it's tough, but it's not been too bad. She's only 7 weeks old, but she gets mad if we don't win. She'll be at the state tournament and be our good luck charm.''
Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4811.