CHAPMANVILLE, W.Va. — The wait will soon be over.
In only a month’s time, the Chapmanville Regional High School softball team will begin defense of its state championship.
Last year, the Lady Tigers won the state title the hard way, rallying back from the loser’s bracket to win three games on the final day of the state tournament, including a victory over Petersburg (4-0) and a pair of wins over James Monroe (12-4, 10-0) at Jackson Memorial Park in Vienna.
Chapmanville, 33-6 last year, is scheduled to have its season opener on March 21 at Nitro, a new opponent and new member of the Cardinal Conference.
It was a bitter-sweet off-season for the Lady Tigers.
Longtime head coach Ronnie Ooten was named as both the State Coach of the Year and also the National Federation of State High School Association (NFHS) National Coach of the Year for girls’ softball.
Ooten has coached the state powerhouse Chapmanville Lady Tigers’ softball team for 36 years and has led the team to six state championships with the other crowns coming in 1999, 2004, 2007, 2009 and 2010.
Ooten, who began coaching the Lady Tigers in 1981, has an all-time coaching record of 680-165 — an astounding 80.4 winning percentage — and only one losing season (a 15-17 mark in 2013).
There was some bad news, however.
The Lady Tigers will have to find a new second baseman.
Ali Harless, who was the winning pitcher in the second state championship game last year and had a 4-0 record and close to .300 batting average, moved to North Carolina with her family. Her dad is D.A. Harless, who was Ooten’s top assistant coach the last two years.
Harless fired four scoreless innings and allowed just one hit while striking out three in the finals vs. James Monroe.
She was pressed into the pitching role on the final day of the state tournament because ace hurler Kenzie McCann had fired 13 innings earlier in the day and only had one more inning left by rule. McCann then came in to put down the Mavericks in order in the last inning to close out the state championship game by a 10-0 score.
Harless had been Chapmanville’s starting second baseman for most of the 2016 season.
McCann is back to lead Chapmanville this year.
A First-Team All-State pick last season, McCann hit .453 with 45 steals and 24 runs-batted-in, and went 29-6 on the bump with a 1.08 earned run average and 248 strikeouts.
Chapmanville also lost two key starters — catcher Savannah Wiley and shortstop Shian Meeks — to graduation. Both were First-Team All-State selections last year. Meeks blasted 12 home runs, had 17 doubles, four three-baggers and knocked in 60 in hitting .436 and also swiped 16 bases. Wiley also flexed her power for the Lady Tigers and finished with a .391 average, 16 doubles, seven home runs, 44 runs-batted-in and posted a .648 on-base percentage.
Meeks is now a member of the West Virginia State University women’s softball team.
Several other key Lady Tigers will be back, however, this spring.
First baseman Hollie Carter led the team with a .472 batting average during the 2016 campaign. She had 23 RBI and a .641 slugging percentage.
Third baseman Grace Belcher had a .346 average with eight home runs, 27 RBI and a .716 slugging percentage during the regular season.
Outfielder Kara Browning hit .363 with three homers and 24 RBI. DP Jada Freeman (.293, 1 HR, 16 RBI), outfielders Karah Little (.301, 23 RBI) and Mallory Kennedy also return as well as Kerston Kennedy and several others.
As always, Chapmanville will have a very difficult schedule in 2017.
Cardinal Conference heavyweights such as Sissonville, Logan, Herbert Hoover, Wayne and Poca are on the schedule with home-and-home series.
Chapmanville will also have a non-conference home-and-home series with county rival Man, which reached the Class A state championship game last year and closed out with a 26-7 record. The always-tough Lady Billies are back in the Class AA ranks this spring.
In addition, the Lady Tigers will be tested with a matchup against Class AAA team Spring Valley in a home-and-home with the Timberwolves. CRHS also has a single game against 3A Hurricane and a single game against Lincoln County.
Once again, CRHS will host the three-day, multi-team Lady Tigers Invitational March 30-April 1.
There have been other changes as well during the off-season.
The Logan County School Board named the CRHS softball complex Ronnie Ooten Field in honor of the coach even though most people have been calling it that for years since it opened a few years ago.
It’s now official.
The sectional format and teams have also been changed.
The last few years, Chapmanville has played a best-of-three game series against Scott in its two-team Class AA sectional.
This spring, Chapmanville and Scott will have some company as the rivals will join, Logan, Man, Lincoln County and Mingo Central in a new six-team sectional.
The sectional tourney will be seeded and will still be double-elimination.
With so many teams and so many games, the sectional tournament will last two weeks, beginning on May 2.
Chapmanville will play host to the sectional with two games per day being held there until completion.
It will be a tough, competitive sectional as every team, with the exception of Mingo Central, has a solid tradition in girls’ softball.
Any of those five teams have what it takes to win the section title.
The sectional winner will then face the sectional champion from the other side in the regional final for the right to play in the state tournament.
The other sectional features Cardinal Conference teams such as Sissonville, Winfield, Poca and Herbert Hoover.
CRHS beat Sissonville 6-3 on the road in last year’s regional title game.
2017 Chapmanville Regional High School
March 21: *at Nitro, 5:30 p.m.
March 22: *Scott, 5:30 p.m.
March 23: *at Herbert Hoover, 5:30 p.m.
March 24: *at Mingo Central, 5:30 p.m.
March 25: Spring Valley, 2 p.m.
March 27: *at Sissonville, 5:30 p.m.
March 28: *Poca, 6 p.m.
March 29: at Westside, 5:30 p.m.
March 30: *Wayne (Lady Tigers Invitational), 5:30 p.m.
March 31: Buffalo (Lady Tigers Invitational), 5 p.m.
April 1: Nicholas County (Lady Tigers Invitational), 12 p.m.
April 1: James Monroe (Lady Tigers Invitational), 6 p.m.
April 3: *Nitro, 5:30 p.m.
April 4: Man, 6 p.m.
April 5: *Wayne, 5:30 p.m.
April 6: *at Logan, 5:30 p.m.
April 7: *Winfield, 5:30 p.m.
April 8: at Spring Valley, 2 p.m.
April 10: *at Scott, 5:30 p.m.
April 11: *at Poca, 6 p.m.
April 12: at Hurricane, 5:30 p.m.
April 13: *Sissonville, 5:30 p.m.
April 14: at Lincoln County, 5:30 p.m.
April 17: at Man, 6 p.m.
April 18: *at Wayne, 5:30 p.m.
April 19: *Mingo Central, 5:30 p.m.
April 20: Wyoming East, 5:30 p.m.
April 21: *Herbert Hoover, 5:30 p.m.
April 24: at Sherman, 5:30 p.m.
April 25: *Logan, 5:30 p.m.
April 27: Westside, 5:30 p.m.
May 2-16: Class AA sectionals, TBA
*Cardinal Conference game
2016 Chapmanville Regional High School
Softball Season (33-6, 12-2):
March 18: Mingo Central, W 10-0
March 21: Tolsia, W 26-0
March 22: Poca, W 5-1
March 23: Herbert Hoover, W 9-8
March 24: at Logan, W 13-5
March 26: Scott, W 8-0
March 28: at Sissonville, L 0-3
March 29: Sherman, W 10-0
March 31: Lincoln County (Lady Tigers Invitational), W 6-1
April 1: Hurricane (Lady Tigers Invitational), L 4-8
April 2: Point Pleasant (Lady Tigers Invitational), L 4-6 (10 innings)
April 4: at Lincoln County, W 8-4
April 5: at Wayne, W 16-7
April 6: at Man, W 9-0
April 11: at Scott, W 8-0
April 12: at Poca, W 8-3
April 13: Sissonville, L 3-4
April 14: vs. Weirton Madonna (at Best of the Best Buffalo), W 7-4
April 14: vs. Ritchie County (at Best of the Best Buffalo), W 11-1
April 16: vs. Ritchie County (at Best of the Best Buffalo), W 8-0
April 16: vs. Wirt County (at Best of the Best Buffalo), W 13-1
April 16: vs. Weirton Madonna (at Best of the Best Buffalo), W 9-1
April 18: Wayne, W 6-0
April 19: Man, W 2-0
April 20: at Mingo Central, W 16-0
April 21: at Herbert Hoover, W 8-0
April 25: at Riverside, W 12-2
April 26: Logan, W 8-0
April 28: at Tolsia, W 18-0
May 3: vs. Scott (Class AA sectionals at Chapmanville), W 15-0
May 4: vs. Scott (Class AA sectionals at Chapmanville), W 19-0
May 10: South Charleston, L 0-8
May 12: vs. Wayne (Class AA regional semifinals at Chapmanville), W 9-1
May 19: at Sissonville (Class AA regional final), W 6-3
May 25: vs. Oak Glen (Class AA state tourney), W 5-1
May 25: vs. James Monroe (Class AA state tourney), L 0-1
May 26: vs. Petersburg (Class AA state tourney), W 4-0
May 26: vs. James Monroe (Class AA state finals), W 12-4
May 26: vs. James Monroe (Class AA state finals), W 10-0
Paul Adkins is the Sports Editor of the Logan Banner. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @PAdkinsBanner