COLUMNS

ON THE MARK: State softball tournament notebook; new home for event is a hit: Column

Mark Martin
Mark Martin

With the West Virginia High School State Baseball Tournament wrapping up the official 2020-21 sports calendar for prep sports in the Mountain State, it ended what has been a very trying year for players, coaches, administrators, officials and fans.

COVID-19 reared its ugly head more than once, but congrats to all of those involved (media included) for staying positive and knowing that brighter days would be on the horizon.

The state baseball tournament is always the last to be played each school year when it comes to championship events directed by the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission. Usually, the tourney would finish up around the end of May or early June. This year the month of June was down to just a few days when it was staged.

Don’t look now, but the Fourth of July is almost here.

Nevertheless, the sports year had many highlights for individuals, teams and communities to be proud of despite the numerous roadblocks.

Here’s hoping the 2021-22 school year in general is much smoother for all involved, and certainly for those competing in athletics.

STATE SOFTBALL TOURNAMENT: If you followed the West Virginia High School Girls State Softball Tournament, which concluded last Wednesday inside South Charleston’s Little Creek Park, then you saw where two of the three state champions crowned were teams who faced off with Ravenswood and Ripley in the postseason.

Wahama made its way to the state tournament for the first time in school history and came away with the Class A state championship.

The Lady White Falcons capped off a perfect 27-0 season with a 5-3 championship win over Ritchie County.

Wahama, located just down the road from Jackson County in the Mason County town of Mason, defeated Ravenswood’s Devilettes when the postseason got started a few weeks back. Wahama topped the Devilettes twice in sectional competition.

Meanwhile, the team to capture Class AAA was Cabell Midland — a squad Kenny Swisher’s Ripley Lady Vikings had on the ropes in the Region IV Tournament.

Ripley handed Midland a 4-1 setback in the first of the best-of-three series but fell in back-to-back games to the Lady Knights by scores of 5-0 and 13-9. Thus, Ripley had to settle for the runner-up trophy in the regional.

Midland won three straight games at the state tournament to capture the title, knocking off Washington, 1-0, and defeating St. Albans in two straight games, 3-2 and 3-0.

The defeat by Ripley wasn’t Midland’s only loss of the postseason.

The Lady Knights were also on the brink of elimination in their sectional with Lincoln County. But after losing a game, they fought back to claim the title and advance into regional play with the Lady Vikings.

Like Ripley, Cabell Midland is a young team. The youth of the two programs should make for some interesting regional matchups the next few seasons.

LIEVING ON THE EDGE: An array of talented players helped lead Wahama to its first-ever state tournament and ultimate championship.

One such player was sophomore Mikie Lieving, who has ties to Jackson County.

Her great aunt, Judy Lieving, was a coach for both softball and girls basketball at Ripley High School for several years.

Judy Lieving is a proud graduate of Wahama High School.

She was an assistant on Lady Viking teams that were a part of the Class AAA field of four when the state tournament for softball was played in Moundsville, Milton and Summersville.

Judy was on hand at SC’s Craft Field, where the Class A portion of the tournament was played, to cheer on her alma mater and great niece, who amazingly pitched every single inning in the circle this season for the Lady White Falcons.

STOFFEL SIGHTING: Former Ripley head football and wrestling coach Steve Stoffel Sr. was on hand for the state tournament.

Stoffel Sr. was there primarily to watch his granddaughter, Kendall Stoffel, pitch for St. Albans.

In an elimination game against Washington, Kendall Stoffel struck out nine batters and allowed just two hits as the Red Dragons moved to the championship with a 5-0 victory.

Stoffel will play at the next level for West Virginia Wesleyan College.

Besides watching St. Albans, Stoffel Sr., his wife Brenda and his son Steve Stoffel Jr. (Kendall’s father) enjoyed watching Herbert Hoover compete and win the Class AA state championship. Steve Stoffel Sr. is a graduate of Herbert Hoover and finished out his career there as the head football coach and athletic director. Steve Jr. also played for the Huskies and served as an assistant football and head wrestling coach for the school.

Steve Sr. and his wife now live most of the year at Oak Island.

Joining them to take in the softball was former Viking head boys basketball coach Roger Hart and his wife Ginny. The Harts reside in Putnam County. Roger Hart was also the boys track and field coach while at Ripley back in the ‘70s.

HOOVER’S EXCELLENCE: The story of Herbert Hoover coming back to take the Class AA state title was a story in itself. Then factor in that Missy Smith’s Lady Huskies won a fourth consecutive championship on the five-year anniversary in which flood waters destroyed the school.

Herbert Hoover is getting a new facility, set to open in the fall of 2022. For now, the school continues to operate in makeshift portable buildings near Elkview Middle School.

This year’s Hoover team lost to Sissonville it its state tournament opener, 7-3. It marked Sissonville’s third win of the season over Hoover with the others being one-run games.

After eliminating Independence in a losers bracket game, 9-1, Hoover again faced off with Sissonville, who had suffered a one-run defeat against Oak Glen.

This time around the Huskies dominated the Indians to the tune of 10-0 and earned a spot in the championship with OG.

Needing to top the Lady Golden Bears twice, Hoover forced the second and decisive game with another 10-0 victory.

In the winner-take-all showdown, Oak Glen jumped out to a 5-0 lead only to watch Hoover storm back and win a 6-5 decision in eight innings.

It was indeed an instant classic at the state tournament.

SC’S FIRST TOURNAMENT: As the newest host for the state softball tournament, the City of South Charleston did a great job.

There were a few hiccups, which is always going to be the case when a new town takes over a state championship event.

The crowds were enormous and to no one’s surprise. Three schools hailed from Kanawha County and another from nearby Cabell County.

And throw in Wahama for good measure, which is located just about an hour or less from Kanawha County.

Wahama’s following in all sports, not just girls softball, would put the fan support at some Class AAA schools to shame.

Mayor Frank Mullins and the City of South Charleston are to be applauded for their efforts. It will only continue to get bigger and better.

FAMILIAR FACES: Some other familiar faces at the state tournament included:

  • Bryce Casto, the former Ripley Viking standout athlete who served as the state tournament director. Casto is the athletic director at South Charleston High School, where he won a state football championship in 1994.
  • Rich Skeen, the former Ripley High head girls basketball coach and assistant boys coach who is the athletic director at Sissonville High. Skeen was a part of state tournament teams for both boys and girls basketball at Ripley. He won a girls state AA basketball title while coaching at Sissonville.
  • Steve Lough, Ripley High’s AD and head athletic trainer, was part of the medical staff during the tournament.