Lady Billies have eyes on Vienna
by Paul Adkins
MAN — The Man High School softball team has been here before.
Playing in a big game has been nothing new over the years for the Lady Billies.
With three state championships under their belts — including back-to-back state titles in 2008 and 2009 and a crown in 1983 — the Man softball program has had a rich history.
The Lady Billies will try to add to that lore with another berth in the state tournament.
Man (19-5), ranked No. 7 in the state in Class A, can make it to Vienna again with a victory over underdog Fayetteville (14-15) on Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Man High School Softball Field.
The Lady Billies are coming off last week’s thrilling 6-5 come-from-behind win at No. 6-ranked Sherman in the Class A regional semifinals, beating a team which had defeated them three times this season.
Fayetteville comes into the game riding a five-game winning streak. The Pirates breezed in their sectional tourney with wins over Midland Trail (6-2) and Richwood (9-1 and 10-4).
The Pirates have played a difficult schedule, losing a pair of games to Class A state power Buffalo (11-1 and 9-1) and also falling to Class AAA Huntington (9-0). Fayetteville has also played 3A Beckley and 2A teams Wyoming East, Westside and Nicholas County. The Pirates split with Beckley.
All four regional winners advance to play in the Class A state tourney, set for May 22-23 at Vienna.
Man is looking for its first state tourney berth since 2010 when the Lady Billies lost 8-7 in eight innings to South Harrison in the championship game. Man was very close to winning a historic three straight state championships — something no Logan County varsity sports team has ever done.
Man’s senior players — Taylor Tomblin, Tabby Ferguson, Micayla Gibson, Rachael Griffith, Emilee Osborne and Summer Sword — were all freshmen members of the 2010 team and would like to make one last trip to the state tourney.
But it order to get to Vienna the Lady Billies must get past Fayetteville — a team which they know virtually nothing about.
Anything can happen in the regional finals and that’s what worries Man veteran coach Randy Epperly.
“We know very little about them,” Epperly said. “All we can do is look on the website, look at their scores and read about them. They look like they’ve been very competitive against good teams. We’re not taking them lightly that’s for sure.”
Like Fayetteville, Man has played a very difficult schedule.
That’s usually the norm for the Lady Billies, which have not backed away over the years from playing Class AA or Class AAA schools.
Man split with 3A county rival Logan, beating the Lady Cats 2-1 at home in eight innings. The Lady Billies also downed Class A power Sherman twice, including the regional win last week. Man ended up sweeping 2A Westside and also defeated 2A Wyoming East.
Almost forgotten this season was Man’s outstanding performance back in early April at the Lady Tigers Invitational at Chapmanville.
The Lady Billies routed Class AA Poca 9-1, downed Pikeview 6-2 and held their own against a couple of tough teams in games which were suspended by rain. On April 4, the Lady Billies trailed then Class AA No. 2-ranked Ritchie County 6-4 and were rallying in the fourth inning before it rained and Ritchie called it quits and packed up for home. The rain stopped and Man was matched up later in the evening against then Class AAA No. 2-ranked Lincoln County. Again, the Lady Billies competed very well and were trailing the Lady Panthers just 2-1 in the fifth inning before the game was called.
It’s been another outstanding season for the Lady Billies, which are riding a 10-game winning streak heading into tonight’s clash.
“Here lately, we’ve played very well since I’ve come back from my surgery,” Epperly said. “We’ve won 10 games in a row. We’ve played pretty well. We played very well over at Sherman and pulled that out over there. That was a tough environment. Sherman has a pretty good team. We thought going over that it would be a pretty close game. The difference this time was that the girls showed a little bit more determination especially when we got down early. They showed spirit that they really hadn’t shown in a while. I think they were more determined to win the game more than Sherman was.”
Man’s battery of pitcher Tomblin and catcher Sword have been the team leaders this season. Many others have played key roles, including four-year starter in center Osborne, shortstop Cari Blair, DH Ferguson, outfielders Kelly Grimmett and Elizabeth Dickerson, third baseman Casey Albright, second baseman Gibson and first baseman Madison Keffer.
“We’ve haven’t had anyone who has absolutely hit the ball extremely well,” Epperly said. “We’ve had different people come up with key hits when we needed them. Just like the game against Sherman Tabitha Ferguson and Casey Albright came up with the key hits. In some of the other games it might have been Summer Sword, Taylor Tomblin or Madison Keffer. It’s been a team effort. We don’t have anyone hitting with a great average, we’ve just had people come through in these key games.”
Tomblin has been Man’s pitching ace for the last three years, taking over the mantle from Marlena Frye.
With a 14-inning-per-day pitching limit, Taylor was pressing into pitching duties as a freshman back in 2010 at the state tournament as Man fought its way out of the loser’s bracket.
That year, Man opened the state tourney with a 2-1 upset loss to St. Marys in the first game. The Lady Billies then won 10-0 over Fayetteville, 5-1 over St. Marys and blanked South Harrison 6-0 in the championship round to force a winner-take-all final in which Man lost to South Harrison in the title game — its third game of the day.
Man ended the 2010 season 26-7 after going 23-0 in 2009 and winning the state championship with a 17-9 victory over Cameron. Man was 24-3 in 2008 and also won the state title by downing Wheeling Central 7-3 in the finals.
The last two years the Lady Billies were beaten in the Class A regional title game by Buffalo. The Bison beat Man 2-0 in the 2011 regional final and repeated the feat last year over Man to reach the state tournament. The Lady Billies advanced to the regional championship game last year despite lacking a single senior player on the roster.
The Lady Billies don’t have to worry about Buffalo anymore in the regionals as Man was shipped out to Region 3 while the Bison have remained in Region 4. If Man is to play Buffalo this year it would be in the state tournament.
Epperly said Man’s seniors are motivated to make it back to Vienna.
“I think it is a factor because the seniors have talked to some of the other girls and told them what kind of experience that it is,” he said. “Most high school athletes don’t get to experience something like that. We’ve been fortunate here at Man the last few years with our program. This is four times in six years that we would get a chance to go up there if we are fortunate in the regional title game. That’s our goal every year — to make it to the state tournament and do well. We made it to the regional final the last two years but came up a little bit short. It should be a motivating factor for us on Thursday to get past Fayetteville.”
Epperly said Fayetteville is no push-over.
“It will be tough,” he said. “They probably see themselves as an underdog and they will come down here and want to prove something. They split with Westside and Westside has a good ball team. We played them, too, and they are pretty good. You never can tell. We’ve jelled here in the last two or three weeks of the season and I think that we are better than we were at the beginning of the year. They might be in the same situation as us.”
Epperly said Man’s tough schedule helped keep his team sharp.
“We’ve always played a tough schedule,” he said. “Those kinds of games prepare you for games like this. It’s paid off if you look at what we’ve done the last few years. We’ve won 16 straight sectional titles at Man High School. We haven’t lost in a sectional since 1997. When we were Double-A we lost some regional finals but we’ve always won our section. I know our sections have not always been the strongest but that’s quite an accomplishment. We’ve always played teams like Logan and Scott and have played in the Best of the Best to try to get better as we go along. Sometimes, of course, you don’t play well and take your lumps but that’s the nature of the beast.”
Making it to the regional title game is nothing new to the Lady Billies.
In fact, Man has played in a regional final — either in Class AA or Double-A — for 14 straight years.
Man made some noise back in 2000 when it was still a Class AA team as the Lady Billies traveled to cross-county rival Chapmanville and upset the No. 1-ranked and defending state champion Lady Tigers 1-0 at the old Chapmanville softball diamond to make it to the state tourney. The Lady Billies, led that season by pitcher Shanda Ross, then went 1-2 in the state tourney at Summersville.
The next year in 2001, Man reached the 2A regional title game again but lost to Scott 2-1.
In 2002, 2003 and 2004, Man made three more Double-A regional final appearances but lost each time to Shady Spring.
Then in 2005, Man was moved down in classification to Class A and reached the regional final again before falling 4-0 to Hamlin and seeing its season come to an end at 18-8.
The next year in 2006, the Lady Billies were in the Class A regional title game again and lost 5-2 in eight innings to Harts, which was led by then freshman pitcher Andi Williamson, who is now the senior pitching ace at NCAA Tournament bound and Conference USA champion Marshall University. Man closed out 20-8 that year.
In 2007, the Lady Billies saw their season come to a close at 19-7 after bowing 6-4 in 10 innings to homestanding Buffalo in the Single-A region championship game.
In Man’s state championship season of 2008, the Lady Billies knocked off the Buffalo Bison 5-1 in the regional final.
The next year, en route to a second straight state championship and an undefeated season, Man was a 1-0 winner over Buffalo in the regional final.
From 2008-10 in the Marlena Frye Era, Man rode a 46-game winning streak, eventually seeing it snapped 5-1 by Scott in the 2010 Chapmanville tournament.
Man High School
2013 Softball Schedule (19-5)
March 22: Mingo Central, W 11-1
March 28: at Sherman, L 0-1
March 29: Wyoming East, W 6-5
April 2: Westside, W 2-0
April 4: vs. Ritchie County at Chapmanville Lady Tigers Invitational, 4-6 (4), susp. rain
April 4: vs. Lincoln County at Chapmanville Lady Tigers Invitational, 1-2 (5), susp. rain
April 5: vs. Poca at Chapmanville Lady Tigers Invitational, W 9-1
April 6: vs. Pikeview at Chapmanville Lady Tigers Invitational, W 6-2
April 8: at Charleston Catholic, W 11-1
April 9: Tug Valley, W 11-0
April 10: at Logan, L 3-5
April 11: vs. Sherman at Best of the Best tourney at Buffalo, L 6-7
April 11: vs. Richwood at Best of the Best tourney at Buffalo, W 10-0
April 13: vs. St. Marys at Best of the Best tourney at Buffalo, L 1-3
April 13: vs. Sherman at Best of the Best tourney at Buffalo, L 1-11
April 15: Mount View, W 12-2
April 16: Sherman, W 3-2
April 18: at Westside, W 5-0
April 20: Montcalm, W 10-0
April 22: at Mingo Central, W 11-1
April 23: Van, W 10-0
April 25: at Tug Valley, W 17-0
April 26: Logan, W 2-1 (8)
April 30: Tug Valley (sectionals), W 17-0
May 9: at Sherman (regionals), W 6-5
May 16: Fayetteville (regional final), 6 p.m.
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