By Joe Albright
PARKERSBURG – To call Buffalo softball anything but a Class A power would be a mistake – a huge misstep as a matter of fact.
It just isn’t accurate.
Too much success and heaps of a positive culture emanate from the program for it to be labeled anything but elite.
Yet just because that is the case, it doesn’t mean the school stands immune to down times.
Coming into the 2021 season, Bill Rasnake’s club was young with a freshman pitcher and saw a very young group making up the bulk of the lineup. However, in the midst of those young batters stood a seasoned Class A player capable of putting a team on her back: Abby Darnley.
Prior to the year, she’d already established herself as one of the top hitting catchers in the classification and was chasing a second appearance on the all-state first team. At least, that is what the stats would tell you.
To hear it from her mouth, she was never concerned about being honored a second straight time.
“My main goal was just to get on base and get things started just little things like that,” Darnley said. “And to help a young team adjust to high school softball. I just get caught up in the season and how we can prepare and what we can do to win.”
Still, here we are talking about her as once again being an all-state honoree.
The Bison may have started out on a rough note than got on a roll before getting shut down by COVID-19. But afterward, the group from Putnam County came back in a huge way with Darnley leading the charge.
It was all part of the plan.
“We wanted Abby and Katie (Darnley) to take control of the team and I remember we got back from an away trip, and we lost and one of my assistant coaches told me not to go in the locker room. I stepped up to the door and Abby was having her own team meeting and laying it on the line what she was expecting from our 11 freshmen,” head coach Bill Rasnake said.
“We went out and won seven of eight games after that and got a lot better towards the end. We beat Sherman in the section and Man got us 3-0 in the regional tournament.”
By the time everything was said and done, Darnley pounded out an incredible stat line with a .661 batting average, four home runs, and 39 stolen bases.
What makes this even more impressive?
She came straight from basketball into softball and produced immediately. That, after all, is what true leaders do.
More importantly, she ended up imparting her softball knowledge on to a young group. It sounds like the Bison are once again ready to return to their old stomping grounds at the state tournament.
None of these efforts went unnoticed around the state, either.
Today, she’s being recognized as the leader of another group of players as the captain of the Class A All-State First Team as voted on by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association.
She emerged from a deep field that included Wahama pitcher Mikie Lieving, catcher Amber Wolfe, Ritchie County ace Chloe Elliott and Petersburg’s Lauren Alt along with herself.
“I feel honored. I am proud of myself and the team because we stepped it up at the end of the season. I am just really proud of the team. I wouldn’t be here without them really,” Darnley said.
Rasnake doesn’t think the captaincy could have gone to a better player.
“As good a player as Abby is, she is one of the humblest players I have ever had. She is always wanting to get better and just is an overall great kid. Usually, with a player of that kind of caliber it is a little different, but she is just wonderful to coach,” Rasnake said.
“A player usually with that kind of caliber is a little different but she is just wonderful to coach.”
Seven players from state tournament qualifiers Wahama, Midland Trail, Petersburg, and Ritchie County join Darnley on the top team.
Undefeated champion Wahama received honors for three players in sophomore pitcher Lieving, shortstop Lauren Noble and catcher Wolfe.
Lieving, who finished off Ritchie County in the state final, hurled every inning for White Falcons head coach Chris Noble. Her stats being just as impressive as the feat of endurance. Lieving compiled a 23-0 record with a .556 earned run average and struck out 212 in 159 innings.
Her battery mate Wolfe brought the power throughout the Falcons run to the program’s first state championship. She batted .473 with nine doubles, a triple, three home runs and drove in 27 runs while striking out just twice.
Noble provided a similar offensive attack from the No. 4 spot in the lineup. She hit .523 with 16 doubles, three triples, four home runs and 34 RBIs.
Runner-up Ritchie County sees Elliott ascend to the highest of honors for the third time in as many seasons. The Rebel hurler rose to the top of her game one final time by helping her group to within fourteen innings of a state championship. Along the way, she compiled a 20-1 record over 165 innings, striking out 267 batters and walking 15 including just two at the state tournament.
Petersburg seniors Jenna Burgess and Alt snare spots after making sure 2019 Class AA runner-up Vikings didn’t miss a beat during the first year in their new home. Alt provided consistent power from the leadoff spot with a .447 average, 11 home runs and 27RBIs. Burgess takes up a utility spot after playing multiple positions and batting .409 with seven bombs and 24 RBIs.
Senior Emmie Lopetrone (.393BA, 13RBIs, 66.2IP, 6-0, 70 strikeouts and a 1.78 ERA) represents Midland Trail as the second utility player voted on to the team. She took the ball as the ace on the mound for most of the year for Candace Young’s Patriots.
Rounding out the pitching is Man sophomore Morgan Cooper (18-2, 0.34 ERA in 124 IP with 256 strikeouts). The Hillbillies advanced to a regional final against Wahama, with Cooper playing a big role in helping to get them there.
Joining Noble and Alt in the infield are Wheeling Central senior Jarika Baylor (.527BA, five 2B, three 3B, nine HR, and 30 RBIs), Sherman junior Hailea Skeens (.574BA ((new school record)), 33 runs scored, 12 2B, nine HRs and 42 RBIs) and Madonna’s Landry Bone (.508BA, eight 2B, 3B, 6HR, and 28RBIs).
The outfield consists of Ravenswood sophomore Hattie Jo Kennedy (.607 BA, 37H, 12 2B, 4 3B, 14 RBIs and a .934 slugging percentage batting lead-off for head coach Cindi Carmichael), St. Marys’ freshman Zoey Winland (.489BA, 44H, 9 2B, 8 3B, 4 HRs, 32 RBIs and 18 stolen bases in 29 games) and Moorefield’s senior Remi Hinkle (.450 BA, 7 HRs, 38 RBIs and 17 stolen bases).
The final catcher spot went to Tug Valley junior Emily Hatfield (.440BA, 11 2B, 5 3B, 8 HRs, 34 runs scores, 36 RBIs and 22 SBs).
Two other girls standing out at multiple positions and earning themselves the final utility spots are Greenbrier West senior Caley Chrisman (.609BA, four HRs, and 44 RBIs) and Wirt County’s do-it-all senior Maddy Richards (.606BA, 6 2B, 6 3B, 2 HR, 31 RBIs, 29 runs scored with zero strikeouts alongside 143 strikeouts in 107 innings pitched with a 2.29 ERA in all but three starts for the Tigers).
Sherman’s pitcher Chloe Treadway captains the second team. She possessed the unenviable task of following Class A state championship winning pitcher and 2019 all-state first team captain Autumn Thompson on the mound.
Still, the sophomore rose to the occasion by helping the Tide be competitive into the sectional tournament.
P – Mikie Lieving, Wahama, soph.
P – Chloe Elliott, Ritchie County, sr.
P – Morgan Cooper, Man, soph.
IF – Lauren Alt, Petersburg, sr.
IF – Jarika Baylor, Wheeling Central, sr.
IF – Hailea Skeens, Sherman, jr.
IF – Lauren Noble, Wahama, jr.
IF – Landry Bone, Madonna, so.
OF – Hattie Kennedy, Ravenswood, so.
OF – Remi Hinkle, Moorefield, sr.
OF – Zoey Winland, St. Marys, fr.
C – Abby Darnley, Buffalo, jr. (captain)
C – Emily Hatfield, Tug Valley, jr.
UTIL – Maddy Richards, Wirt County, sr.
UTIL – Emmie Lopetrone, Midland Trail, sr.
UTIL – Amber Wolfe, Wahama, so.
UTIL – Jenna Burgess, Petersburg, sr.
UTIL – Caley Chrisman, Greenbrier West, sr.
P – Chloe Treadway, Sherman, so. (captain)
P – Autumn Hall, Tug Valley, jr.
P – Sydney Wilson, Clay-Battelle, sr.
IF – Olivia Dodd, Ritchie County, so.
IF – Katie Darnley, Buffalo, jr.
IF – Alyvia Pittman, Ritchie County, jr.
IF – Aubrey McCoy, Charleston Catholic, fr.
IF – Madalena Daughtry, Madonna, sr.
IF – Ashlee Tomblin, Man, jr.
OF – Kameron Beck, Williamstown, so.
OF – Maddison Champ, Petersburg, sr.
C – Sydney Sheets, Midland Trail
UTIL – Kymberly Minnich, Petersburg, sr.
UTIL – Meghan Gill, Midland Trail, jr.
UTIL – Josalyn Lipscomb, Doddridge County, so.
UTIL – Taylor McHenry, Gilmer County, jr.
UTIL – Emily Canterbury, James Monroe, sr.
UTIL – Tori Humphries, Moorefield, sr.
Class A Honorable Mention
Jacklyn Barnett, Man; Mariah Huffman, Pendleton County; Lindsay Keller, Williamstown; Hannah Casey, Charleston Catholic; Mahayla Nicholas, St. Marys; Leah Loudin, Tyler Consolidated; Grace Everly, Williamstown; Victoria Ames, East Hardy; Carlee Muncy, Man; Alyson Simmons, Moorefield; Marissa Jeffrey, Ritchie County; Chelsea Thompson, Sherman; Paige Shaffer, Tucker County; Cassidy Griffey, Tug Valley; Madison Campbell, Midland Trail; Gracie O’Neill, Moorefield; Desiree Taylor, St. Marys; Darryn Loughridge, Webster County; Haley Moats, Pendleton County’ Emma Whipkey, Cameron; Hiadyn Bland, Magnolia; Shyanna White, Magnolia; Braelee Brown, Greenbrier West; Raven Fulks, Paden City; Jocelyn Heckert, South Harrison; Sierra Garlic, River View; Bailey Coleman, Hannan.