HUNTINGTON - As the old saying goes, there is strength in numbers.
For Hurricane's softball team, that statement never rang more true as the Redskins used a powerful middle of the lineup and solid pitching to earn their fifth consecutive Class AAA championship.
As a result, Hurricane led the way with four selections, led by captain and senior infielder Caiti Mathes, on the Class AAA All-State softball team, as voted on by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association.
"I'm just super-proud because we said we were going to finish better than we started and we got better every game," Hurricane head coach Meghan Stevens said. "It all comes down to culture. Our girls all get along. They love each other and they dig in for each other. It makes it that much more special."
Mathes, a Marshall signee, had one of the more impressive seasons seen in West Virginia softball history, batting .607 for the season with 22 home runs and 73 runs batted in to lead the Hurricane attack.
However, it was the continued production of a pair of fellow senior first-teamers - infielder Taylor McCray and utility player Zoey Dunlap - that kept teams from pitching around Mathes, who batted in the third spot.
McCray, the team's senior cleanup hitter, finished with 11 home runs and 44 RBIs while batting .444 and Dunlap hit .504 with three home runs and 52 RBIs, which largely came on the strength of a team-best 21 doubles.
In all, it was a 3-4-5 punch in the Hurricane lineup that finished with 169 RBIs on the season.
"We've all just got each other's back," Mathes said.
While those three did damage at the plate, junior pitcher Harlie Vannatter took care of business in the circle. Vannatter finished 31-6 with a 2.51 earned run average. The key for Vannatter was her command. In 201 innings, she struck out a program-record 335 batters while only walking 51 - a 6.57 K-to-walk ratio.
George Washington, the Class AAA runners-up, and Cabell Midland, which fell to Hurricane in sectional play, each had three first-team selections.
The Patriots were led by junior pitcher Brianna McCown, who finished 22-4 in the circle. In addition to her 1.50 earned run average and 200-plus strikeout season as a pitcher, McCown batted .547 with 14 home runs and 56 RBIs. Senior outfielder Katy Darnell (.545 avg., 10 HR, 35 RBI) and senior utility player Grace Smith (.562 avg., 9 HR, 45 RBI; 6-2, 1.93 ERA) also were first-team selections.
For the Knights, senior Kirya Kingery, a Morehead State signee, led the way with a .547 batting average, which included 21 extra-base hits, 14 steals and 40 runs to set the tone for Cabell Midland. Junior outfielder Gracie Hightower (.486 avg., six triples, 46 runs scored) and sophomore utility player Rielly Lucas (.511 avg., 10 HR, 45 RBI) joined Kingery on the first team.
Washington, who advanced to the final day of competition, placed a pair of selections on the first team in senior infielder Kylie Condon (.533 avg., 5 HR, 41 RBI) and senior pitcher Jordyn Brown (8-0, 0.98 ERA).
First-team catchers included Parkersburg sophomore Emily Allen (.492 avg., 6 HR, 2 steals allowed) and Spring Mills senior Keeliegh Megargee (.521 avg., 5 HR, 40 RBI).
St. Albans sophomore pitcher Kendall Stoffel (10-5, 2.75 ERA; .400 avg., 5 HR, 31 RBI) rounded out the first-teamers in the circle while Buckhannon-Upshur senior Alli Robinson (.457 avg., 11 HR, 48 RBI) also rounded out the first-team infield.
Hedgesville's Miranda Payne (.462 avg., 4 HR, 45 RBI; 13-0 pitching) joined Dunlap, Smith and Lucas at utility while John Marshall junior outfielder Anna Blake was also a first-team selection, joining Hightower and Darnell.
Ripley outfielder Jaelyn Hunt was named captain of the second team after hitting .477 with 10 home runs and 35 RBIs on the year.
Pitchers on the second team included junior Rachel Kazmirski of Brooke and Hannah Ruffner of Washington, along with Wheeling Park senior Ashley Linder.
Second-team infielders include Hurricane junior Lindsey Phares, Cabell Midland senior Sydney Chapman, John Marshall senior Lydia Knutsen, Parkersburg South sophomore Paige Adams and South Charleston freshman Emily Ross.
Joining Hunt in the second-team outfield is St. Albans sophomore Gracie Payne and seniors McKenzie Little of Greenbrier East and Rachel Cunningham of Jefferson.
Second-team catchers were George Washington senior Emma Groe and Washington sophomore MacKenzie Myers.
Utility selections on the second team included Washington senior Taylor Cenate, juniors Isabella Forte of Hedgesville and Janna Yost of Parkersburg and Buckhannon-Upshur freshman Alyssa Rohr.