RIPLEY -The softball teams representing Ripley and Shady Spring were supposed to meet last month at Beckley, but it rained that day and the game never took place.
Now, the Vikings and Tigers will meet at 5 p.m. Thursday in Ripley with the stakes much higher this time around. On the line is the Class AAA Region 3 championship and a berth in next week's state tournament in Vienna.
Shady Spring, which sports an impressive 20-2 record, was in Vienna last year, but it was participating in Class AA. This year, in its first year in the big school division, the Tigers have been impressive.
So has Ripley. The Vikings not only began the year with just two seniors on the roster, they also suffered two devastating injuries during the season. But coach Ken Swisher, who led Ripley to the Class AAA state title in 2009, said before the season this team reminds him of that one and it has done nothing to change his mind.
"We feel good,'' said Swisher of the 23-10 Vikings. "We're making a run. We've played a strong conference schedule.''
Key to the Vikings is junior pitcher Chelsey Hager.
"She can do it all,'' Swisher said. "Pitch. Field. Catch. She has taken on the leadership role.''
Speaking of catching, sophomore Ashley Mellinger has accepted that important position and turned it into a team team strength. Not only is she hitting .323, but she has displayed an outstanding arm that prevents foes from stealing bases.
The infield, while young, is impressive. Freshman first baseman Myranda Murphy can scoop up anything that comes her way. She also possesses an outstanding arm. She's joined on the right side of the infield by sophomore Sapphre Parsons, who three weeks ago was pressed into service when Ripley lost starting second baseman Mary Brannon, who was hitting .529 at the time. Parsons is improving with every game and has turned a question mark into a strength,
Another freshman, Kelsey Moore, mans the shortstop post. She's hitting .290, has worked hard, and is a solid defender. Third baseman Hannnah Ford, a sophomore, is hitting .265 and has displayed a great deal of quickness.
Yet another ninth grader, Madysyn Hinzman, is the left fielder. She made some big plays in Ripley's sectional triumph over Riverside and had a huge hit when the Vikings met Hurricane in an MSAC Tournament contest. Swisher couldn't be more happy with her play.
Senior Ali Cunningham is the center fielder. The team's leadoff hitter, she is hitting .310. An honor student who is second in her class, she will run cross country at West Virginia Wesleyan next fall. She has speed, a great glove and is a team leader.
Dusti Fisher, a junior, starts in right field. Last year, Fisher was hitting .385 when an injury sidelined her. This year, she's at a .343 pace and also is playing strong defense.
Swisher knew his young team had potential. While no coach ever is totally satisfied, "I'm thrilled with where we are at,'' he said.
The only thing more thrilling for Ripley will be a return trip to Vienna next week.