HUNTINGTON — Ever since she was a kid, St. Albans pitcher Tayven Stephenson has been in the spotlight.
Such is life when you commit to the University of Kentucky as a 12-year-old.
It takes a special talent to consistently meet those expectations, but Stephenson exceeded them during her sophomore campaign with the Red Dragons.
Stephenson, a two-way talent as a sophomore, led St. Albans to an undefeated regular season and the Class AAA championship game.
For those reasons, Stephenson was named captain of the 2021 Class AAA All-State Softball team, as voted on by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association.
While Stephenson was a notch above the rest within the state, she credited her team — full of seniors and veterans — for her success in the circle.
"It’s really nice," Stephenson said. "We just all have great chemistry together, so we just trusted each other all the time — offense and defense."
Stephenson finished the season 19-2 with a 0.51 earned run average and 225 strikeouts in the circle while batting .400 with 10 home runs and 41 RBIs on the season.
St. Albans coach Christian Watts said the bigger the game, the better that Stephenson performed — even through adversity.
Some adversity came in the state tournament as Stephenson fought through blisters on her pitching hand — something that hindered her throughout postseason — to lead the Red Dragons to the title game where they fell to Cabell Midland.
Despite the loss, it showed Stephenson's toughness and resolve.
"I watched the movie, 'For The Love of the Game' and when (Kevin Costner) is in Yankee Stadium, he kind of zones out," Watts said. "That's how I feel Tayven is every time she's out there. It doesn't matter where. She's not going to let anything faze her and she's going to work herself out of whatever issues she might get in. She comes ready to play every game and for her age, she's extremely mature."
Stephenson was joined on the team by a pair of teammates: pitcher Kendall Stoffel and catcher Jillian Holley.
Like Stephenson, Stoffel was a dual threat, hitting .404 with three home runs and 22 RBIs while going 11-0 with 92 strikeouts and a 0.58 earned run average.
Holley, the emotional leader of the team, also was the team’s toughest out, hitting .469 with 11 home runs and 36 RBIs.
The Red Dragons were matched for the most first-team selections by state champion Cabell Midland, who also had three selections: pitcher Jess Terry, catcher Olivia Pelfrey and infielder Rielly Lucas.
Terry finished the year 13-3 in the circle while batting .462 with 24 RBIs. The junior was at her best at the state tournament when she allowed just two earned runs — those on a two-run home run by Holley — in 21 innings of the state tournament. During that three-game stretch, Terry struck out 27 batters.
"You just can't say enough about Jess," Cabell Midland coach Herman Beckett said. "She really started to emerge down the stretch for us and when her change-up was on, no one could hit it."
Pelfrey, a senior and Terry's battery mate, hit .421 on the year with five home runs and 36 RBIs. In big situations, Pelfrey was clutch, connecting for two home runs and six RBIs in the decisive game against Ripley in the regional before going 3-for-3 with an RBI in the 3-0 win over St. Albans that clinched the Class AAA title.
Lucas, one of Class AAA's top hitters, finished the season batting .535 on the year with 11 home runs and 36 RBIs. The Marshall signee drew a lot of attention, garnering 28 walks on the season, as well.
Washington and Lincoln County each had two representatives on the team, as well.
Washington placed pitcher Maddy Ruffner on the squad while teammate Brittany Cenate was named as an infielder. Ruffner, a sophomore, finished 15-3 in the circle with 213 strikeouts and allowed just 13 earned runs on the year. Cenate, a junior, batted .523 with 25 RBIs and 26 stolen bases for the Patriots, who will return the majority of their lineup for 2022.
Lincoln County, who fell to Cabell Midland in extra innings in the sectional, featured two of the state's top hitters in infielder Haleigh Adkins and utility player Josie Bird. Adkins, a sophomore, hit .500 on the year with five home runs and 32 RBIs while striking out only twice on the year. Bird, a freshman, led the state with 16 home runs and 48 RBIs while batting .458 for head coach Tommy Barrett's squad.
University's Autumn Stemple rounded out the pitching staff on the first team after a year in which the junior finished 15-6 with a 1.38 earned run average and 249 strikeouts. She also hit .473 with two home runs and 21 RBIs.
Other first-team infielders included Hurricane junior Alivia Meeks, who batted .565 with 13 home runs and 35 RBIs, and Parkersburg South senior Paige Adams, who hit .583 with 14 home runs and 46 RBIs.
The state's top batting average belonged to Parkersburg catcher Emily Allen, who joined Holley and Pelfrey as first-team catchers. Allen hit .680 on the year with 10 home runs.
Outfielders voted as first-team selections included Spring Valley's Jenna Christopher (.459 avg., 24 SBs, 15 multi-hit games) and Greenbrier East senior Taylor Graham (.431 avg., 1 HR, 22 RBI).
Joining Bird and Terry as first-team utility players were Buckhannon-Upshur junior Shelby McDaniels (.558 avg., 4 HR, 28 RBI, 20 2Bs) and John Marshall sophomore Kadence Pettit, who helped lead the Monarchs to the state tournament. Pettit finished with a .545 average with 10 home runs and 32 RBIs.
Ripley senior pitcher Chloe Shinn was named as the captain of the second team after leading the Vikings to the Class AAA regional final. Teammate Grace Walsh also was a second team selection at catcher.
Joining Shinn as second-team pitchers were South Charleston sophomore Hope Sizemore, George Washington junior Ana Jimenez and Morgantown senior Grace Haines.
The second-team infield consisted of Riverside junior Emma Pauley, Capital senior Alaina Wilson, Ripley sophomore Cassidy Cummings, Parkersburg South junior Kassidy Trimble and Buckhannon-Upshur junior Robin Ball.
Outfielders on the second team included Huntington junior Caelin Marcum, South Charleston junior Hallie Dinklocker and St. Albans senior Bailey Gilbert.
Utility selections for the second team were Cabell Midland junior Jenna Dorsey, St. Albans senior Gracie Payne, Morgantown junior Breonna Marietta, South Charleston senior Genevieve Potter and John Marshall senior Tessa Wise.
Oak Hill was represented on the honorable mention unit by Kylie Pelkey and Haylee Byers.
P — Tayven Stephenson, St. Albans, so. (captain)
P — Maddy Ruffner, Washington, so.
P — Kendal Stoffel, St. Albans, sr.
P — Autumn Stemple, University, jr.
IF — Rielly Lucas, Cabell Midland, sr.
IF — Alivia Meeks, Hurricane, jr.
IF — Paige Adams, Parkersburg South, sr.
IF — Haleigh Adkins, Lincoln County, so.
IF — Brittany Cenate, Washington, jr.
OF — Taylor Graham, Greenbrier East, sr.
OF — Jenna Christopher, Spring Valley, jr.
C — Emily Allen, Parkersburg, sr.
C — Jillian Holley, St. Albans, sr.
C — Olivia Pelfrey, Cabell Midland, sr.
UTIL — Kadence Pettit, John Marshall, so.
UTIL — Josie Bird, Lincoln County, fr.
UTIL — Shelby McDaniels, Buckhannon-Upshur, jr.
UTIL — Jessica Terry, Cabell Midland, jr.
P — Chloe Shinn, Ripley, sr. (captain)
P — Hope Sizemore, South Charleston, so.
P — Ana Jimenez, George Washington, jr.
P — Grace Haines, Morgantown, sr.
IF — Emma Pauley, Riverside, jr.
IF — Alaina Wilson, Capital, sr.
IF — Kassidy Trimble, Parkersburg South, jr.
IF — Robin Ball, Buckhannon-Upshur, jr.
IF — Cassidy Cummings, Ripley, so.
OF — Caelin Marcum, Huntington, jr.
OF — Hallie Dinklocker, South Charleston, jr.
OF — Bailey Gilbert, St. Albans, sr.
C — Grace Walsh, Ripley, sr.
UTIL — Breonna Marietta, Morgantown, jr.
UTIL — Jenna Dorsey, Cabell Midland, jr.
UTIL — Genevieve Potter, South Charleston, sr.
UTIL — Gracie Payne, St. Albans, sr.
UTIL — Tessa Wise, John Marshall, sr.
Kylie Pelkey, Oak Hill; Natalie Fout, Lincoln County; Mahalie Moser, Morgantown; Lindsey Vorndran, University; Josi Ervin, Greenbrier East; Amillia Howard, Huntington; Haylee Byers, Oak Hill; Emma Phares, Morgantown; Kisten Roberts, Parkersburg; Camdyn Noland, Washington; Lindsey Black, Greenbrier East; Jayla Bias-Smith, Huntington; Maleaha Misch, Brooke; Avery Conner, Hedgesville; Larie Lewis, Jefferson; Kyla Tharp, Wheeling Park; Dori Kins, John Marshall; Lex Foresha, Brooke; Angela Lippoli, Brooke; Annabelle Honaker, Greenbrier East; Maggie Odom, Hampshire; Kiana Bagnell, Musselman; Maci Cook, Bridgeport; Rachel Mason, Bridgeport.