MAN, W.Va. — The road to Vienna will be much tougher for the Man High School softball team this spring.
The Lady Billies, 26-7 last year and a 2-2 showing in the Class A state tournament, including a 7-2 loss to Wheeling Central in the state championship game, will rejoin the Double-A ranks this spring for the first time in more than 10 years.
Man will have a tough schedule and will take part in a new six-team, ultra difficult Class AA sectional, which includes defending state champion Chapmanville Regional, along with former 3A schools Logan and Lincoln County. Scott and Mingo Central are the other two teams.
Man is led by head coach Randy Epperly, who begins his 20th season at the helm.
The Lady Billies started off the 2017 on a good note on Monday night, beating county rival Logan, 7-2, on the road.
“Yes it going to be tough, like a mini state tourney in the new sectional,” Epperly said. “Only one of 12 teams can go to the states this year and if you get out of sectional you still got Nitro and Sissionville in the regional even before you go up there to states.”
The Lady Billies, however, will not back down from anybody.
“We played a lot of Class AA and Class AAA teams last year. We dropped some Class A schools this year,” Epperly said.
Man has a loaded roster back this spring, including its one-two dymanic punch of pitchers Emilee Walker and Haylee Daniels.
Walker, a junior, was a Class A First-Team All-State pick last year. She was 12-5 within the circle last season with a 2.31 ERA. She had a 97-inning worksheet with 114 strikeouts and 45 walks.
Daniels, a senior, was a Second-Team All-State selection last year and had an 11-2 record and 1.05 ERA. She fired 60 innings, striking out 68 and walking only 13, while allowing just 39 base hits and only nine earned runs.
Man also returns senior catcher Sydney Keffer, a Second-Team All-State pick from a year ago.
The Lady Billies lost First-Team All-State first baseman/pitcher Cydnee Lambert to graduation. Also lost to graduation are Savannah McCormack and Emilee Toler.
Man also returns senior starting center fielder Grace Cline and first baseman Hunter Harvey, who is back out for the team.
“Our five seniors are going to have to lead the way in Keffer, Haylee Daniels, Grace Cline, Hunter Harvey and Shauntae Miller,” Epperly said. “You have to start with our two returning All-Staters our pitcher and catcher in Walker and Keffer. In the first six to eight games to see your personnel. By the end of the year we will be better and the weather is bad start off the season. We are about 10 deep right now. We started out rough last year but got better.”
Harvey is Man’s likely starter at first base with Daniels and junior Taylor Owens set to platoon at second base.
Sophomore Chelsie Vance will hold down shortstop but she is currently nursing a leg injury so freshman Reagan McCoy, who was tabbed to start at third, will likely slide into Vance’s spot for the time being.
Man’s outfield is very solid with junior Madison Paynter in left, the senior Cline in center and Miller in right, Also, twin sisters Maddie and Allie Meade will see lot of playing time especially on offense, Epperly said.
Keffer is Man’s likely leadoff batter with Vance to hit second.
“You put your best hitter first and then Chelsie Vance, who is our best bunter is next,” Epperly said.
Walker, a good contact hitter, is third with the cleanup spot going to Cline, who can hit for power.
Harvey, a lefty, hits fifth with Paynter sixth. McCoy is likely to hit seventh with Miller and Daniels following.
Also battling for playing time are Olivia Short, Lucy Adkins, Isabella Conn, Krisa Conn, McKenzie Adkins and Skylar Copley.
Epperley is assisted by Charlie Adkins and Teresa Justice, who takes Billy Jack Dickerson’s spot. Dickerson is now the Athletics Director at Man High School.
As for the schedule, the Lady Billies are slated to play all sectional teams this season in home-and-home series.
Man will also take on Class AA power Wayne in Chapmanville’s Lady Tigers Invitational on March 30.
Man had a successful run as a Single-A school over the last 10-plus years. The Lady Billies won back-to-back Class A state championships in 2008 and 2009, were the 2010 state runner-up and have been back to Vienna in three out of the last four seasons.
The Lady Billies made some noise in last year’s state tournament.
Man beat Moorefield, 6-4, in a thrilling state tournament opener.
The Lady Billies were twice down to their final strike but were able to rally.
Down 4-2, with the bases loaded and facing a 1-2 count with two outs in the top of the seventh inning, then Man freshman shortstop Vance ripped a bases-clearing, three-run double to center field, putting the Lady Billies on top 5-4 over Moorefield.
Keffer then followed with an RBI single to score Vance, giving the Lady Billies a 6-4 lead.
Man then got Moorefield out in the last half of the frame to advance.
The Lady Billies then led Wheeling Central 2-0 in Game 2 but the Maroon Knights were able to rally to get the win and go on to cap off a 33-0 undefeated season with the state championship. Wheeling Central, down 2-1, plated two runs in the last half of the seventh.
Man then won 8-0 over Williamstown in Game 3 before falling to Wheeling Central in the finals.
2017 Man High School
Softball Schedule (1-0)
March 20: at Logan, W 7-2
March 23: at Mingo Central, 5:30 p.m.
March 24: Westside, 6 p.m.
March 25: at Pikeview, 2 p.m.
March 28: at River View, 5:30 p.m.
March 30: vs. Tolsia (at Chapmanville Lady Tigers Invitational), 5:30 p.m.
March 30: vs. Wayne (at Chapmanville Lady Tigers Invitational), 7:30 p.m.
March 31: vs. Ritchie County (at Chapmanville Lady Tigers Invitational), 9:30 p.m.
April 1: vs. Fayetteville (at Chapmanville Lady Tigers Invitational), 2 p.m.
April 3: Scott, 5:30 p.m.
April 4: at Chapmanville, 6 p.m.
April 5: at Lincoln County, 5:30 p.m.
April 8: Fayetteville, 1 p.m.
April 10: Logan, 6 p.m.
April 11: at Westside, 5:30 p.m.
April 12: at Wyoming East, 5:30 p.m.
April 17: Chapmanville, 6 p.m.
April 18: Mingo Central, 5:30 p.m.
April 19: at Scott, 6 p.m.
April 24: Lincoln County, 6 p.m.
April 25: Sherman (DH), 5:30 p.m.
April 27: Riverside, 6 p.m.
April 29: Wyoming East, 1 p.m.
May 2-16: Class AA sectionals at Chapmanville, TBA
Paul Adkins is the Sports Editor of the Logan Banner. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @PAdkinsBanner.