Local high school softball teams enter the first full week of May with state tournament aspirations, as section tournament play commences.
Fayetteville, Meadow Bridge, Midland Trail and Valley will participate in Class A tourneys, while Oak Hill is 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 pacing the offensive 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-seed Sherman at 7 p.m. that night.
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. Cooper has 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 a 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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In its section tournament, hosted by Montcalm, Meadow Bridge will play top seed Greenbrier West Tuesday, May 5 at 4 p.m., with Greater Beckley and Montcalm playing in the other bracket. Games will continue on May 6, May 7 and May 8 as needed.
— E-mail: skeenan@register-herald. com