Softball players gather

VIENNA -The rain was coming down.

Members of the other 11 teams were huddled in the Jackson Park equipment building.

Not Buffalo’s players. The members of the three-time defending Class A champions were out in the parking lot dancing to the music coming over the sound system.

Of the dozen teams that will contest the state softball championships here over the next two days, none comes to town with a reputation like the Bison.

Neither of the other two state champions from last year – Hurricane in Class AAA and Wayne in Class AA – qualified for the Final Four in their respective divisions.

That means only Buffalo is back with a chance not only to repeat but if the 26-7 Bison win again, their seniors will graduate knowing they were state champions all four years of high school.

But Buffalo will be tested. It must play 23-6 Moorefield in the opening round.

Yes, the same Moorefield team Buffalo has beaten in the last two state title games.

Then there’s Magnolia, which has qualified with a 17-11 mark under rookie head coach Mark Mangino. The Blue Eagles have an ace pitcher in Mallory Chapman and a solid No. 2 hurler in Erin Clegg.

The other Class A entrant is a newcomer to the state tournament. Sherman brings a 20-13 mark to Vienna as well as some momentum following an 18-0 pounding of Fayetteville in the regional finals.

Class AAA not only returns last year’s state runnerup in Wheeling Park, but also two teams that represent schools with recent state titles -Ripley, which won in 2009, and Lincoln County, whose seniors won as freshmen in 2011. Throw in a Musselman team that is on a 15-game winning streak and this appears to be a wide-open affair.

The opening game between Ripley and Wheeling Park has the makings of a classic pitching duel between Ripley’s Chelsey Hager and the Patriots’ Carly Greer. Fans may experience goosebumps from all the goose eggs on the scoreboard.

Then comes Musselman putting its winning streak on the line against Lincoln, which knocked off Hurricane in the regional.

Class AA features the closest thing to a home team in Ritchie County, which is making its fifth straight state tournament appearance.

The Rebels are led by returning first team all-state captain Kenna DeLancey, who bats .650 and has an ERA of 0.22.

Ritchie will meet Westside, which is making its first state tournament appearance. Look for Westside to counter DeLancey with junior Cassie Blankenship and her 15-2 record.

Speaking of pitching, Herbert Hoover rode the arm of Allison Rager to a 1-0 regional win over defending state champion Wayne. The Huskies will open versus Petersburg, making its second straight apperance in Vienna. Marley Thompson, a returning first-team all-stater threw a one-hit shutout in the regional finals.