CHAPMANVILLE, W.Va. — Ronnie Ooten has been a stalwart when it comes to high school softball in the state of West Virginia.
Ooten has coached the Chapmanville Lady Tigers’ softball team for 36 years and has led the team to six state championships with the latest being this past spring as CRHS went 33-6 and won the Class AA state title in Vienna.
Ooten, who began coaching the Lady Tigers in 1981 at the program’s inception, was named recently as the West Virginia State Softball Coach of the Year. He’s also in the running for regional and national coach of the year honors.
Over 36 years, Ooten 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.
“It’s a big honor but the kids deserve this much more than Ronnie Ooten,” Ooten said. “I appreciate what the kids did last year and in past years. In 36 years that’s a lot of wins.”
Last year’s state championship was the sixth for Ooten’s Lady Tigers and first for CRHS since winning back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010.
Chapmanville went 4-1 in this year’s state tourney, downing Oak Glen 5-1 in the opening game. The Lady Tigers then lost 1-0 to James Monroe, putting Chapmanville down into the loser’s bracket in the double-elimination tourney.
CRHS then rallied on the final day of the state tourney by winning three games — dusting off Petersburg (4-0) and coming back to defeat James Monroe twice by 12-4 and 10-0 scores to win the state championship.
The Lady Tigers were led by its trio of First Team All-State players — pitcher Kenzie McCann, senior shortstop Shian Meeks and senior catcher Savannah Wiley.
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.
Meeks blasted 12 round-trippers, had 17 doubles, four three-baggers and knocked in 60 in hitting .436 and also swiping 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.
Chapmanville would seem to have the firepower to be able to contend for another state title in 2017 but Ooten said replacing Wiley and Meeks will be tough. Both will be sorely missed but the bulk of the Lady Tigers’ talented young team will be back — a team which hit a school record 29 home runs and had four batters hitting better than .400.
“When you have that kind of offense behind you that really helps your pitching,” Ooten said. “But we’re losing two studs in Shian Meeks and Savannah Wiley. It’s hard to replace kids that hit that well and it’s hard to lose your catcher and your shortstop. Those are pretty key positions. We’ll get back in line but it’s going to take some work.”
The Lady Tigers will have to find a new second baseman as well.
Alli Harless, who was the winning pitcher in the second state championship game last year and had a 4-0 record and .300 batting average, has 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.
Ace pitcher McCann, who had fired 13 innings earlier in the day and only had one more inning left by rule, then came in to put down the Mavericks in order to close out the state championship.
Ooten said losing Harless was a big blow to his program.
“We lost her. They moved to North Carolina,” Ooten said. “DA couldn’t find any work around here and they moved. That’s going to hurt us too. We’re going to have to find a second baseman. She had pitched very very little for us last year and then pitched so well for us in the state tournament. She came back last week to visit. They were run out of there with the hurricane (Matthew) coming in and they came to the homecoming game last week. It’s a big loss losing her and it was one we weren’t expecting to lose. DA also was fantastic and did a great job with the kids. It’s hard to replace people like that.”
Ooten has also led Chapmanville to state softball titles in 1999, 2004, 2007, 2009 and 2010.
Since Chapmanville’s state tournament run began in ‘99 the Lady Tigers are 20-4 in state tournament games.
Following Chapmanville’s 1-2 showing at the 2011 state tourney, the Lady Tigers lost in 2012 to 2013 to Wayne in the regional semifinals. CRHS was also shut out of the state tournament in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
The 2015 Lady Tigers lost 11-0 to Sissonville in the regional title game. Then last year, the Lady Tigers got revenge on the Indians with a 6-3 road win in the regional finals.
Several other key Lady Tigers will be back as well this spring.
First baseman Hollie Carter led the team with a .472 batting average during the regular season. She had 23 RBI and a .641 slugging percentage.
Third baseman Grace Belcher, a first-year CRHS player, 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 several others who saw playing time.
Ooten said next season’s sectional format has not yet been chosen.
Chapmanville’s new sectional opponents are county rivals Logan and Man as well as Scott, Mingo Central and Lincoln County, so the road to Vienna will be that much tougher.
“I’m not sure what they are going to do. We need to have some meetings,” Ooten said of this year’s sectionals. “I hope we can play it at one good site. We have two weeks to play it.”
CRHS played in a two-team section against Scott the last few years. Mingo Central also played briefly in Chapmanville’s softball sectional.
In the 2000s, Chapmanville played in a three-team sectional with Logan and Scott before Logan went back up to Triple-A status in 2009.
Logan and Lincoln County have both dropped to 2A this year.