MAN — The road to Vienna begins on Monday for the Man High School softball team.
The Lady Billies (13-11) hope to make it back to the state tournament for the second year in a row. Man went to Vienna last year and dropped a pair of games to Moorefield (3-2) and Wheeling Central (5-2).
The first step to possibily making it back to state is this week as Man is scheduled to host Tug Valley in a best-of-three game Class A sectional tournament.
Game 1 is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Monday at the Man softball field. Game 2 is set for Tuesday at 6 p.m.
Tug Valley doesn’t expect to give the heavily favored Lady Billies much of a challenge. Man beat the Lady Panthers 10-0 and 19-0 in the two head-to-head meetings this season.
Tug Valley is just 1-12 on the season heading into the sectionals and have struggled mightily.
The Lady Panthers have struggled on the mound and at the plate and that’s a bad combination in high school softball. Of Tug’s 13 games, the Lady Panthers have given up 10 or more runs in all contests. Tug Valley has scored two or less runs in eight games. The only win was an 18-14 victory on April 9 at home over Tolsia, another struggling program.
Man, led by 19-year head coach Randy Epperly, must take care of business this week and advance to the regionals and then see what happens there.
The Lady Billies, led by ace pitcher Madison Keffer, have been up and down this spring and Man’s win total is down from last year’s 19-7 showing. Keffer has stepped in on the mound for departed all-state hurler Taylor Tomblin. Man also lost all-state catcher Summer Sword from last year’s state tourney team.
“We have struggled at times this year with timely hits,” Epperly said. “We get people on base and just can’t get them home. Senior Madison Keffer pitched well but if we could have got that hit here and a hit there we would have won 18 or 19 games this year.”
Also leading the Lady Billies is senior shortstop Cari Blair, freshman catcher Sidney Keffer, Madison’s younger sister, and senior Casey Albright.
“The middle of the lineup has carried us this year, our three through six hitters,” Epperly said.
Man’s 1-2 and 8-9 batters this season, however, are just 18-for-98 at the plate for a .184 average.
“That’s terrible,” Epperly said.
The Lady Billies have also had some issues defensively, Epperly said.
“Our defense has played well at times and has melted down as well,” he said. “That has been one of our strengths in the past.”
Man has won three out of its last four games heading into the sectionals. The Lady Billies beat Class AA Wyoming East, 4-2, at home last Saturday and had won 19-0 at Tug Valley on April 24. Man lost 5-1 to 2A Scott on April 23 at home and beat Fayetteville, 6-5 in eight innings back on April 22.
Man’s game on Wednesday at Charleston Catholic was rained out.
“We had played nine straight days except for Sunday so we decided to give the girls several days off and the prom this weekend and we will get ready for Tug Valley on Monday at home,” Epperly said.
If Man is able to take care of business against Tug Valley it would set up a possible regional semifinal showdown with Sherman at home. The Tide beat Man 9-8 and 8-6 in a pair of eight-inning games this season.
Sherman is 15-10, having lost 6-3 at Logan on Tuesday and then winning 9-0 over Boone County Class AA rival Scott on Wednesday.
Sherman was led in the Scott game by Kylie Wells, who fired a five-inning no-hitter with six strikeouts. She also doubled in a run. Jordan Lewis went 3-for-3 with a double, triple and two RBI for Sherman. Whitney Laws doubled in two runs.
The Lady Billies beat the Tide 6-5 in last year’s Single-A regional semifinals before winning 16-0 over Fayetteville in the region finals to reach the state tournament.
Man is the 16-time defending Class A sectional champs. The Lady Billies have never lost a sectional since 1998 and have played in eight regional championship games and five state tournaments, winning state crowns in 2008 and 2009. A bid for a third straight state title in 2010 was foiled in an 8-7 loss in eight innings to South Harrison in the state championship game.
The Lady Billies are confident they can make it back to Vienna.
“My girls feel condfident they can win the sectional and regional and go back to Vienna,” Epperly said. “I start three freshmen in Hunter Harvey, Sidney Keffer and Grace Cline and I have five key seniors in Cari Blair, who has led the team in hiting, Casey Albright who has hit the ball well for us and Madison Keffer who also has hit and pitched well for us. Kelli Grimmett and Elizabeth Dickerson also have played well and it’s really going to be hard to replace those girls next year.”
Epperly said Man’s softball program always gets a boost from its MSA and middle school feeder programs.
“That’s why we must have an MSA and middle school feeder programs to have success once they get to the high school level,” he said.
Epperly said his team must go step by step.
“We will take it one game at a time and get ready for Tug Valley and if we win then get ready for a very good Sherman team,” he said. “We played two tough games with them and both games went into extra innings. They beat us by one run so I look for another battle but we have to get by Tug Valley first. We lost 8-6 on the road at Sherman and then fell short 7-6 in extra innings at home. It would be a big test for us.”
Charlie Adkins and Billy Jack Dickerson are Man’s assistant coaches.
2014 Man High School
Softball Schedule (13-11):
March 21: at Williamstown, W 12-3
March 22: at Williamstown, L 4-10
March 22: at Paden City, W 9-0
March 31: at Chapmanville, L 6-7
April 1: Westside, W 6-5 (8)
April 2: Tug Valley, W 10-0
April 4: vs. Richwood (at Chapmanville tourney), W 10-0
April 5: vs. Poca (at Chapmanville tourney), L 0-2
April 5: at Riverside, W 5-4
April 7: Logan, L 0-2
April 9: Charleston Catholic, W 16-0
April 10: Sherman, L 6-8 (8)
April 11: at Scott, L 0-8
April 12: at Van, W 14-2
April 14: at Sherman, L 8-9
April 16: Wyoming East, L 8-9 (8)
April 17: vs. Nicholas County at Best of the Best Tournament at Buffalo, W 3-1
April 17: at Buffalo at Best of the Best Tournament at Buffalo, L 2-8
April 18: vs. Doddridge County at Best of the Best Tournament at Buffalo, W 10-0
April 21: Chapmanville, L 2-6
April 22: Fayetteville, W 6-5 (8)
April 23: Scott, L 1-5
April 24: at Tug Valley, W 19-0
April 26: Wyoming East, W 4-2
April 30: at Charleston Catholic, ppd.