MAN — The Man High School softball team has a goal of making it back to the Class A state tournament in Vienna.
Last year, Man went to state and closed out the season 19-7 after losses to Moorefield (3-2) and Wheeling Central (5-2).
Man is led by 17th-year coach Randy Epperly, who has five state tournament appearances and two state championships under his belt. The Lady Billies won back-to-back Class A state titles in 2008 and 2009 in the Marlena Frye era and were state runner-ups in 2010.
The Lady Billies have already played three games this spring and are off to a 2-1 start. Man won 12-3 at Williamstown on March 21 and then lost 10-4 the next day to Williamstown. The Lady Billies then won 9-0 at Paden City on March 22.
In order to make it back to Vienna, the Lady Billies will have to do it with a new battery as all-state pitcher Taylor Tomblin and all-state catcher Summer Sword have graduated. Sword has since taken her game to the collegiate level at West Virginia State.
Man also lost starters Tabby Ferguson, Emily Osborne and Micayla Gibson to graduation.
This year’s squad is young with three freshmen starters but Man also has some senior leadership as well.
“We have a good chance to go back to the state tournament, but we must play together as a team. I think this year’s team hits the ball better. We just lack depth in pitching,” Epperly said.
The good news for Man is that the Lady Billies have plenty of talent.
Senior shortstop and team captain Cari Blair is back this season. Blair is a good defensive player and a good hitter and will bat in Man’s cleanup spot.
Also returning for their senior seasons are Madison Keffer, Casey Albright, Elizabeth Dickerson and Kelli Grimmett.
This year’s battery will consist of sisters Madison Keffer on the mound and younger sibling Sidney Keffer, a freshman, behind the plate.
“Sidney hit the ball well up at Williamstown for us,” Epperly said.
Getting the nod at first base is freshman Hunter Harvey, who hit and fields the ball well, Coach Epperly said.
Sophomore Emily Toler is the likely second baseman.
“Her mother was an outstanding hitter for Man High School,” Epperly said of Toler.
Blair, a three-year starter, will hold down the shortstop position for the fourth straight season.
“Blair is one of our top hitters and has some power,” Coach Epperly said.
Over at the hot corner at third base is Albright, a senior.
“She has matured a lot both offensive and defensively,” Epperly said.
In the outfield, Grimmett returns in left for the Lady Billies.
“She has speed and has worked very hard,” Epperly said of Grimmett.
Freshman Grace Cline is the likely starter in center for Man.
“She is a very good ballplayer and really enjoys the game,” Epperly said.
The senior Dickerson, the younger sister of former Man player Jaclyn Dickerson, who played on Man’s two state championship teams, holds down the starting right field spot for the Lady Billies.
“She is very conistent and plays hard,” Epperly said.
Also vying for playing time for Man this season is sophomore Hannah Harvey and freshmen Kaden Chafin, Shawnta Miller, Katlyn Mays and Haylee Daniels. Daniels is the No. 2 pitcher behind Madison Keffer.
“Like I said earlier we just don’t have the depth at pitching,” Epperly said. “We have always had two pitchers but never three or four. That limits you in practice and you have to hit off the pitching machine and that sometimes can hurt you. There is nothing like live pitching.”
Epperly said Man’s hitting should be better this season.
“I think this is a much better hitting team this year. We had 35 hits in three games up at Williamstown over the weekend. I hope we continue to hit like that,” he said.
Man has beefed up its schedule for the 2014 season, by adding a home-and-home series with Class AA county rival Chapmanville Regional. Man also has a home-and-home series with its other county rival — 3A Logan.
In addition, the Lady Billies will have two-game series against 2A teams Scott, Wyoming East and Westside and Single-A squad Sherman, the team Man beat 6-5 in last year’s Class A regional championship game.
The Lady Billies also play 2A Nicholas County as well as Buffalo, Doddridge County and 2A Poca.
Man will also play in the Best of the Best tourney at Buffalo, April 17-19 and the Chapmanville tourney April 4-5.
The Lady Billies are scheduled to play their first seven games on the road. The home opener is slated for April 1 against Westside.
Epperly is assisted again by Billy Jack Dickerson and Charlie Adkins.
2014 Man High School
Softball Schedule (2-1):
March 21: at Williamstown, W 12-3
March 22: at Williamstown, L 4-10
March 22: at Paden City, W 9-0
March 25: at Sherman, 5:30 p.m.
March 26: at Wyoming East, 5:30 p.m.
March 29: at Scott, 2 p.m.
March 31: at Chapmanville, 5:30 p.m.
April 1: Westside, 5:30 p.m.
April 2: Tug Valley, 5:30 p.m.
April 3: vs. Scott (at Chapmanville tourney), 5 p.m.
April 4: vs. Richwood (at Chapmanville tourney), 7 p.m.
April 5: vs. Poca (at Chapmanville tourney), 1 p.m.
April 7: Logan, 5:30 p.m.
April 9: Charleston Catholic, 5:30 p.m.
April 10: Sherman, 5:30 p.m.
April 12: at Van, 4 p.m.
April 15: at Westside, 5:30 p.m.
April 16: Wyoming East, 5:30 p.m.
April 17-19: at Best of the Best Tournament at Buffalo, TBA
April 21: Chapmanville, 5:30 p.m.
April 22: Fayetteville (DH), 6 p.m.
April 23: Scott, 5:30 p.m.
April 24: at Tug Valley, 5:30 p.m.
April 25: Van, 5:30 p.m.
April 26: Wyoming East, 1 p.m.
April 28: at Logan, 5:30 p.m.
April 30: at Charleston Catholic, 5:30 p.m.