MAN — The Man High School softball team, winners of the Class A state championships in 2008 and 2009 and runner-ups in 2010, just missed playing in the state tourney in 2011 and 2012.
The Lady Billies have their eyes on Vienna again and the state tournament this spring as several talented players are back from last year’s squad.
Man has also been placed in a new section and region and could have a more favorable draw in its quest to make it back to state.
The Lady Billies’ 2013 season is scheduled to get under way on Friday at home as the 2A Mingo Central Miners come to town.
Man coach Randy Epperly said he’s excited about the potential of this year’s squad. The veteran Lady Billies’ coach returns every player from last year’s team that didn’t have a single senior on the roster.
Despite the lack of any 12th-grade players a year ago, Man reached the Class A regional championship game but lost to Buffalo, leaving itself one game short of the state tournament.
This year’s Lady Billies have a blend of six seniors, six juniors, one sophomore and two freshmen on the roster. The next two years, however, Man will lose six players each to graduation.
Man will again rely on the strong arm of senior ace pitcher Taylor Tomblin, who pitched as a freshman in the 2010 state tournament whe the Lady Billies lost to South Harrison in the finals.
The Lady Billies will also count on the bat of senior catcher Summer Sword, who has already signed on to play collegiate softball at West Virginia State.
Epperly said Tomblin and Sword must lead the team this spring.
“Yes, that’s a must,” he said. “Those two girls will have to lead the way and that is a pretty good battery with Taylor on the mound and Summer behind the plate.”
Man hopes to benefit from the new realignment which kicks in this season. The Lady Billies will play a two-team sectional with Tug Valley.
“We are in a different region with Fayetteville, Montcalm and Greater Beckley Christian,” Epperly said. “I have scheduled Fayetteville and Montcalm this year. I also wanted to play Greater Beckley Christian and Valley (Fayette) but they didn’t call us back as well as Scott.”
Epperly said his team must be able to be more productive on the offensive end.
“We just didn’t hit the ball last year,” he said. “But so far in practice they have been swinging the bat pretty good. We left too many runners on base last year and that’s what really hurt us. I have to find a number two hitter in the lineup, that is the key.”
Infielder Cari Blair expects to be Man’s leadoff batter once again.
“I have a solid hitter leading off in Cari Blair, but I have to have somebody to step up and hit in the two slot,” Epperly said. “Summer Sword is my number three hitter. If I don’t have a two I will move Summer in the two slot and put Taylor Tomblin third and Tabby Ferguson fourth. Hopefully Emilee Osborne or Kelly Grimmett will step up for us and hit second in the lineup. That probably is my biggest concern right now.”
Around the diamond, junior Madison Keffer is the likely first baseman for Man. She will also be Man’s number two pitcher behind Tomblin.
“She is coming off an ACL injury that kept her from playing basketball,” Epperly said of Keffer. “She must take it a little easy and not over do it especially in running the bases.”
Second base goes to senior Micayla Gibson. Freshman Emily Toler is Man’s other second baseman and will serve a utility role for the Lady Billies.
“She is good defensively and hits the ball well at times,” Epperly said of Gibson.
Blair, a junior, is expected to anchor the shortstop position for the third year in a row.
“She has a very good bat,” Epperly said of Blair.
At third base, the Lady Billies have Kasey Albright, who has a year’s worth of experience under her belt. Toler can also play third.
“Toler can play anywhere in the infield but still needs to improve on her hitting,” Epperly said.
Man has a strong battery with Tomblin on the mound and Sword behind the plate.
“Both are very competitive offensively and bring big sticks to the plate,” Epperly said.
The Lady Billies’ outfield has a lot of speed with Kelly Grimmett in left, senior Emilee Osborne in center and Elizabeth Dickerson in right. Senior Rachel Griffith, Jaci Stevenson, Daryn Thompson and Hannah Harvey will also play some outfield.
“They have good speed but we are still are working on their skills to throw the ball to the right spots in different situations,” Epperly said of his outfielders.
Senior Tabby Ferguson, who has already signed to play college ball at West Virginia Tech, will be Man’s DH.
Epperly said Ferguson is a power hitter and will probably hit in the five or six slot depending on who is hitting second.
“I will move players around for the first six games and then see what adjustments we need to make us better,” he said. “I feel good about our one through six hitters in the batting order. Like I said earlier, we just left too many base runners stranded last year and that’s what hurt us. We must be more consistent this year. Because our leadoff hitter gets on if our number two hitter can move her over with the bunt then we have Summer, Taylor and Tabby who can drive them in. That’s something that just killed us last year. But I think all and all we will be OK.”
The Lady Billies always play a challenging schedule, especially for a Class A team, and will be put to the test again this spring.
Man plays a home-and-home series with Class AAA county rival Logan, which has won more than 100 games in the last four seasons and have advanced to the state tourney each time. The Lady Billies are also set to play Class AA teams Ritchie County, Poca and Pikeview in the Chapmanville Lady Tigers Invitational in early April. Man also plays in the Best of the Best tourney at Buffalo, one of the top regular season softball tournaments in the state.
“We play a tough schedule against Logan and in the Chapmanville tournament,” Epperly said. “Plus we will once again play in the Best of Best tourney. We are the only team to win that three years in a row. It’s the last chance for our seniors to go back to the states and that’s our goal but we must have good team chemistry and play team ball to make it back to Vienna. So far everyone is on the same page and are working hard. We hope to get better and peak at tournament time. We can’t afford to have any injuries.”
Epperly is assisted by Billy Jack Dickerson and Charlie Adkins.
Man High School
2013 Softball Schedule
March 22: Mingo Central, 5:30 p.m.
March 23: at Van, 1 p.m.
March 26: at Mount View, 5:30 p.m.
March 28: at Sherman, 5:30 p.m.
March 29: Wyoming East, 5:30 p.m.
April 1: at Fayetteville, 2 p.m.
April 2: Westside, 5:30 p.m.
April 4-6: at Chapmanville Lady Tigers Invitational, TBA
April 8: at Charleston Catholic, 6 p.m.
April 9: Tug Valley, 5:30 p.m.
April 10: at Logan, 5:30 p.m.
April 11-13: at Best of the Best tourney at Buffalo, TBA
April 12: Cross Lanes Christian, 5:30 p.m.
April 15: Mount View, 5:30 p.m.
April 16: Sherman, 5:30 p.m.
April 18: at Westside, 5:30 p.m.
April 19: at Wyoming East, 5:30 p.m.
April 20: Montcalm, 2 p.m.
April 22: at Mingo Central, 5:30 p.m.
April 23: Van, 5:30 p.m.
April 24: Logan, 5:30 p.m.
April 25: at Tug Valley, 5:30 p.m.
April 26: Charleston Catholic, 5:30 p.m.