CHAPMANVILLE — Ronnie Ooten has had a lot of success over the years in his 32 years as head coach of the Chapmanville softball program.
Ooten has led the Lady Tigers to five Class AA state championships since 1999 with the latest crowns coming in back-to-back seasons in 2009 and 2010.
After a 1-2 mark and third-place finish at the state tournament in 2011, Chapmanville failed to make it to Vienna last season as Chapmanville lost 8-3 in the Class AA regional semifinals to eventual state champion Wayne — a team it had defeated for years in the regionals.
Season number 33 expects to be quite a challenge for Coach Ooten as Chapmanville Regional could be having an uphill struggle.
But will the Lady Tigers rebuild or reload?
That is the question.
It won’t be easy.
Four of the Lady Tigers’ top players from last year’s 24-6 season have graduated, including: pitcher/infielders and twin sisters Allison and Jenna Evans; catcher Alyssa Bailey; and first baseman Heather Nagy.
Allison Evans was Chapmanville’s pitching ace last year as she was 14-2 on the hill and hit .424. Jenna Evans was 7-2 within the circle with one save and hit .395.
Nagy will also be hard to replace. The first baseman had a breakout season last year as she hit .357. Bailey, a steady three-year starter at catcher, batted .309 last year and was a sound defensive player with a strong arm.
To make matters worse, the Lady Tigers lost a fifth starter — junior third baseman Savanna Vance — as she suffered a torn ACL late last fall as a member of the CRHS cheerleading squad. Vance, who hit .393 last season and was expected to be a major part to the ‘13 Lady Tigers’ softball team, will most likely be out for the entire season.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however, for Chapmanville.
The good news is that senior Talya Berry is back. Berry, last year’s No. 3 starting pitcher, will slide into the No. 1 role this season. Berry was 2-2 on the hill last season and also carries a heavy stick. Berry, Chapmanville’s cleanup hitter, had a .350 average last year with a home run. Back in 2010, she became the answer to a trivia question as she was the first Lady Tiger player to hit a homer at Chapmanville’s new softball complex.
“It’s going to be according to how Talya pitches,” Ooten said, when asked about this team’s 2013 prognosis. “We’ve scrimmaged a couple of teams and she’s looked pretty good. Then at times, she looked wild. I think that she’s a little more relaxed this year as she has ever been. I think we’ll be alright, but we have to replace the twins, Heather Nagy and Beetle (Bailey) behind the plate and that’s real hard to do.”
Also back is senior centerfielder/catcher Hanna Wooten, who hit .260 last year for the Lady Tigers.
Starting left fielder and senior Brandi Broom also returns. Broom hit .372 last season and finished with 35 base hits — second best on the team.
Two other starters are also back — junior second baseman Lauryn Easterling (.167) and sophomore outfielder Caitlin Elkins (.200).
Broom and Emma Paris, two untested seniors who haven’t pitched much, will give the Lady Tigers a No. 2 and No. 3 hurler.
“They are going to have to pitch some along with Cydnee Lambert, a ninth-grader, who will get some games in on the JV level to get some experience,” Ooten said.
Behind the plate, Chapmanville will most likely split duties with Wooten and freshman basketball player Savannah Wiley. Wooten has split time in center and at catcher in her Lady Tigers’ career.
“I’m going to move people around and see what happens,” Ooten said. “We’ve got some good athletes in spots. We’ve got Caitlin Elkins who is a super outfielder and who is dying to play in the infield. But you have to put them where they can help you.”
At first base, Paris has the inside track to replacing the outgoing Nagy.
“She’s a senior and she deserves a shot at it,” Coach Ooten said. “She’s doing OK.”
At second, Easterling returns to her starting post. Hope Kirk, a sophomore, may also see some time there. Ooten said Easterling could also play first base if needed or when Paris pitches.
At shortstop, the Lady Tigers have a new starter in freshman basketball player Shian Meeks. Both of the Evans sisters played at short last season. Elkins could also be moved in from the outfield to play there as well.
At third base, Chapmanville loses Vance to injury. That was a big loss.
“She blew her knee. That was a tough loss. We needed her,” Ooten said. “She was a real good player. She is a team leader and losing her really put a dent in us.”
To replace her, Ooten is looking to sophomore Samarah Hurst.
“She’s probably going to get the nod,” Ooten said of Hurst. “She’s worked hard and she earned it. Savannah Wiley will also step in there and play some and so will Addy Lucas another basketball player.”
In left field, Broom returns to her starting post. She has been sound for the Lady Tigers defensively the last couple of years and Ooten said he’s thankful to have her back in the lineup.
Lucas may also see some time in left along with freshman Cyndee Lambert who is pressing for playing time.
Elkins, last year’s starter in right, also returns.
“She’s a dandy out there but she really wants to play in the infield,” Ooten said. “She’s one heck of an outfielder.”
In center, Wooten may play there when not catching. Lucas and Lambert will also see time.
“We have a lot of kids that can play a lot of different positions. They just need to get a little more confidence in themselves,” Ooten said.
So, again, will the Lady Tigers reload or rebuild?
“I don’t know,” Ooten said with a chuckle. “I just worry about our pitching. If we can build us some pitchers I think that we’ll be alright. I’m happy with our scrimmages. Our hitting was real solid.”
Chapmanville rolled to a fourth straight sectional championship last season with shutout wins over Mingo Central (21-0) and Scott (1-0 and 2-0).
The Lady Tigers will be put to the test with another tough schedule this spring. A home-and-home series with defending Class AA state champion Wayne is one of the highlights to the season. With most of their starters back from last year’s team, the Pioneers are expected to be the regional favorite again this season.
CRHS also has a home-and-home with sectional rival Scott, which always seems to field a top-notch team.
Ooten said he expects both Scott and Wayne to be very tough this season.
“Scott is the team to beat in our section,” Ooten said. “They have a real good bunch of kids back. Wayne is also going to be super tough. Any time you win a state title you are going to be tough coming back. Everyone we play in the Cardinal Conference is going to be tough.”
Chapmanville also has a home-and-home series with Class AAA county rival Logan. Logan is coming off four straight trips to the state tourney and a 112-23 record the last four years.
CRHS is also scheduled to host its annual Lady Tigers Invitational April 5-6 at Chapmanville’s Ronnie Ooten Field. County teams Logan and Man are also set to play in the multi-team tournament.
The Lady Tigers play Class AAA team Lincoln County three times and also have a home-and-home with 3A squad and former Cardinal Conference foe Point Pleasant.
Chapmanville was slated to open the season on Thursday, March 14 at Tolsia but the game has been moved to next week.
The Lady Tigers’ new season opener is at Mingo Central on Friday. Chapmanville then goes to Poca on March 19 before opening up at home on March 21 against Sissonville.
Ooten is again assisted by his wife Barb Ooten, Dave Elkins and his daughter Rhonda Farley.
This is Coach Ooten’s 33rd season as head coach of the Lady Tigers. He started coaching the Chapmanville softball program back in 1981 in its inception and has been the only head coach the Lady Tigers have ever had.
With an estimation of well over 600 career wins, including the five state championships, Ooten is believed to be the winningest coach in West Virginia high school softball history.
During Ooten’s tenure at Chapmanville, the Lady Tigers have averaged roughly 20 or more wins a season.
During Andi Williamson’s senior year in 2009, CRHS was a staggering 31-3 when it won the Class AA state title. Williamson is a senior pitcher at Marshall.
Ooten is a retired educator in Logan County and said he never dreamed he would have staying in coaching during a span of four decades.
“People have asked me how long are you going to coach? I’ve coached for a 100 years and I’m going to keep coaching until it isn’t fun,” Ooten quipped. “I still have fun and enjoy myself out there on the field. When it isn’t fun someone else can do it.”
Chapmanville Regional High School
2013 Softball Schedule:
March 14: at Tolsia, ppd.
March 15: at Mingo Central, 5:30 p.m.
March 19: at Poca, 6 p.m.
March 21: Sissonville, 5:30 p.m.
March 22: at Sherman, 5:30 p.m.
March 23: Point Pleasant, 1 p.m.
March 26: Logan, 5:30 p.m.
March 27: Wayne, 5:30 p.m.
March 28: at Scott, 5:30 p.m.
March 29: at Herbert Hoover, 5:30 p.m.
March 30: at Lincoln County, 1 p.m.
April 2: Mingo Central, 6 p.m.
April 3: Ritchie County (Lady Tigers Invitational), 7 p.m.
April 5: Nicholas County (Lady Tigers Invitational), 9 p.m.
April 6: James Monroe (Lady Tigers Invitational), 11 a.m.
April 6: Lincoln County (Lady Tigers Invitational), 7 p.m.
April 8: Lincoln County, 5:30 p.m.
April 11: at Point Pleasant, 5:30 p.m.
April 12-13: at Best of the Best tourney at Buffalo, TBA
April 15: Wayne, 5:30 p.m.
April 17: Tolsia, 5:30 p.m.
April 18: Scott, 5:30 p.m.
April 19: at Sissonville, 5:30 p.m.
April 22: Sherman, 5:30 p.m.
April 23: at Logan, 5:30 p.m.
April 24: Herbert Hoover, 5:30 p.m.
April 25: Poca, 5:30 p.m.