In order to advance to next week’s state tournament the Man High School softball team will have to spring an upset.
Standing in the way is No. 1-ranked Buffalo, the defending Class A state champions.
No. 4-ranked Man (14-5) is scheduled to play the Bison (28-7) on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. in the Class A Region 4 championship game at Buffalo.
The winner advances to the state tournament, which will take place May 23-24 in Vienna.
With the region being reduced to just two sections due to continued school consolidation, both teams received byes in the regional semifinal round.
Man has had a long layoff and hasn’t played a game since May 3 when the Lady Billies swept a doubleheader from Charleston Catholic, 19-1 and 7-0 to win the Class A sectional championship. Man had opened the sectionals on May 2 with an 18-0 blowout win over Van.
The Lady Billies are on a roll going into tonight’s game, having won 11 out of their last 12 games. The only loss during the span was a 5-1 setback at Logan on April 25. Logan is playing in tonight’s Class AAA Region 3 championship game at Greenbrier East.
Man started off the season with a 4-4 mark, losing to Class AA teams Scott (3-2), Westside (2-1), Herbert Hoover (5-1) and Poca (2-1). Hoover is hosting Wayne tonight in the Class AA Region 4 championship game for the right to play in Vienna.
Since the .500 start, Man has gone 10-1.
The Lady Billies, which have no seniors, are led by junior pitcher Taylor Tomblin, who was 11-5 within the circle this season with a 1.88 ERA and 81 strikeouts. At the plate, she hit .354.
Junior catcher Summer Sword leads the Lady Billies with a .434 batting average.
Sophomore shortstop Cari Blair is hitting at a .388 clip, while junior Micayla Gibson sports a .350 average. Sophomore Madison Keffer comes in with a .344 batting average on the season.
No home runs have been hit by any Man players this season.
Rounding out the roster are: sophomores Casey Albright, Tabitha Ferguson, Andrea Short, Elizabeth Dickerson and Kelly Grimmett; juniors Amia Adkins, Courtney Wright and Emilee Osborne; and freshmen Mika McCoy, Mallory Miller and Jocelyn Stevenson.
Buffalo is led by sophomore pitcher/shortstop Chelsey Parkins and freshman Ali Burdette, who also plays both positions.
The Bison have a young team in that four other 10th-graders are starters in Katie Allen (third base); Noell Dingess (second base); Katie Higginbotham (left field); and Paige Roush (right field).
Parkins earned first-team all-state honors last season as a freshman after posting a 19-1 record.
Rounding out the starting lineup for Buffalo are seniors Casey Cunningham, Hannah Boyer (center field) and Leslie Harris (first base).
In addition to last year’s state crown, Buffalo has also won championships in 2002 and 2004.
Man won back-to-back state titles in 2008 and 2009 in the Marlena Frye era and were state runner-ups in 2010. The Lady Billies also won a state title back in 1983 when the WVSSAC sanctioned a single-class state tournament.
Man is coached by veteran mentor Randy Epperly. Buffalo is led by its head coach Darrell Moore.
Buffalo’s losses this season were to Herbert Hoover (7-3), Chapmanville (8-2), St. Marys (7-6), Moorefield (7-6) and 3A teams Morgantown (7-6), Nitro (8-7) and Parkersburg South (3-0).
Buffalo won over Hannan (15-0) and Wahama (4-0, 5-2) to take its section.
Man and Buffalo have a long history of playing each other in the regional tournament and in fact have met the last five years. The Lady Billies have reached the region final every year since 2005.
The two teams played each other last season in the region final as the Bison won 2-0 at Man.
In 2010, Man went to Buffalo and beat the Bison 9-2 in the region title game. The Lady Billies, though, went 3-2 in the state tourney, falling 8-7 in eight innings to South Harrison in the Class A championship game.
Back in 2009, Man won 1-0 at home over Buffalo in the Region 4 final and went on to go 3-0 in the state tournament to bring home the crown. The Lady Billies toppled Cameron 17-9 in the state finals.
In the 2008 season, the two teams met as well in the regional championship game as Man won 5-1 at Buffalo. In the state tournament, Man was 3-0, taking a 7-3 win over Wheeling Central in the title game.
In 2007, Frye’s freshman season, the Lady Billies fell 6-4 in 10 innings at Buffalo in the regional title game.
In 2006, the Lady Billies were left one game short of the state tournament as Man lost 5-2 in eight innings to Harts in the Class A regional finals. Pitching for Harts High School during the season was a young freshman pitcher by the name of Andi Williamson. The next year, Harts High School closed its doors and Williamson came to the new Chapmanville Regional High School, leading the Lady Tigers to 2A state titles in 2007 and 2009. Williamson is now a junior pitcher with the Marshall University women’s softball team.
In the 2005 season, Man lost 4-0 to Hamlin in the Class A regional title game, which was also played at Buffalo.