As far as historical success, Shady Spring softball leads the pack. With six state championships, there isn't a program with a richer history.
But the Lady Tigers have hit a drought, one they hoped might end this year. The program hasn't made a state tournament since 2012 and the stars were aligning for this year to be different.
Wyoming East, which won the Region 3 championship from 2016-18, graduated four-time first-team all-stater Holly Brehm. Independence, which won the region and a state tournament game last season, also saw an exodus, graduating five seniors highlighted by all-staters Ashleigh Sexton and Nicole Kester and starting pitcher Savannah Bragg. Adding to it all, Liberty, another regional contender, also graduated five seniors.
The Lady Tigers? They were set to trot out senior first-team all-stater Bradlea Hayhurst as well as sophomore second-team all-stater Olivia Barnett. Add in juniors Brooke Presley and Alyssa Lilly, both of whom batted over .400 last season, and the recipe was there for snapping the drought.
However, amid the COVID-19 epidemic those hopes have been halted indefinitely.
"We should've been in place to have a very successful year, " Shady Spring head coach Donald Barnett said. "We were going to be as successful as we've been in a while, we thought. All four pitchers that pitched for us at some point were back and we hit the ball very well last year. We thought we were in a very good spot to compete.
"We're deep in experience. Every girl that would start for us this year started at least six or seven games last season. We have a big freshman class, too, that's played a lot of travel ball together and it's the first time we've had a group like that coming up so they had a little more knowledge."
After Gov. Jim Justice announced earlier this week that schools will remain closed until at least April 20, the question of whether or not high school athletics will resume was raised again. But in an interview with the Charleston Gazette-Mail on Thursday, West Virginia Secondary School Activities Executive Director Bernie Dolan remained optimistic. He did stress that if the date was pushed back again, it would be unlikely anything is played this spring.
For Barnett and Co., that's a glimmer of hope they're holding onto.
"I'm extremely hopeful," Barnett said. "I heard what Mr. Dolan said and it was encouraging. More than anything you just hate to see any kid lose a season, especially like this. We have a bunch of deserving girls and they all deserve to go out and play."
Despite school facilities being off limits and many area facilities closing, Barnett said he has heard from some of his players who are preparing as if the season will still be played.
"On their own, I'm sure we have about 50 percent working to maintain some sort of fitness, like long toss," Barnett aid. "With the state of affairs, we would be really concerned for groups of them to get together though. You wouldn't want them to be doing anything they're uncomfortable with, or anything that would spread the virus."
Barnett, like most coaches and athletes, is hoping the season plays out, especially considering the circumstances and recent heartbreaks the program has endured
"For the past six years, we've made it to the regional championship game," Barnett said. "Each time we've just run into a game where there's a pitcher that's kept them in a tight game. We felt like this year we'd be deep enough where we'd compete with anybody on our schedule. We really were looking ahead to meet some of the goals we set. We're just hoping we get a chance to meet them."
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