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The state of Oak Glen softball

Golden Bears begin quest for first title since 1998 on Tuesday

MAKING A STATEMENT — Oak Glen’s Lizzie Kell congratulates teammate Maddie McKay, left, for recording an out during Game 2 of the Class AA Region 1 tournament against Keyser on Tuesday. Also shown are Amber Moore and Olivia Munoz. -Joe Catullo

NEW MANCHESTER — Many athletes and coaches have their superstitions in wide varieties. Some sound extremely odd, while others possibly were passed down from earlier generations.

The Oak Glen softball team has found a new one since falling for the first and only time in Game 1 of the Class AA Region 1 tournament against Keyser on Monday — ditch the traditional and official blue powder uniform for its alternative black that was designed by the team.

Keyser hit a walk-off home run to take that first game, 3-2, in eight innings. When the Golden Bears (28-1) returned home the next day, they went to the alternate uniform that features white pants (the blue uniforms come with gray). They won, so naturally they wore them again Wednesday and won the regional title.

Oak Glen also defeated Weir High twice during sectionals while donning the black jerseys.

A great team has to look great doing it.

“Since I’ve been involved for roughly the past eight years, we’ve always talked about adding an alternative jersey to give them more options,” head coach Sherrie Garner said. “Laundry also became a factor. We didn’t do it until school started. The girls helped pick the color, and they get an alternative number, their favorite number. We also added white pants with the black jerseys.”

Some of the Bears are split regarding the so-called good-luck charm. If they can win the Class AA state tournament and hoist the championship trophy Wednesday evening, it will be about how the team performed first and foremost.

“We all have many superstitions that we do as a team and as individuals,” second baseman Amber Moore said. “The jerseys are kind of a last-minute decision we made the night before, so i think we all just go with our gut on what to wear.”

“I don’t think it makes a difference what uniforms we wear. I know Tuesday morning my team will be ready to play,” outfielder Grace Smith said.

Shortly after winning Tuesday and forcing a Game 3, Garner may have started a new trend around the area with #BackinBlack.

“We probably will stay with our black jersey Tuesday, but we still will have to bring our game,” outfielder/pitcher Lizzie Kell said. “One of my (other) superstitions is that I’ve used the same blue socks all year even though we got new ones. I haven’t even opened them up yet. Another is that every inning when I go to center, I have to give Sydney Brown a high-five at shortstop.”

Whatever works for the Bears, they will stick to it. The same could be said regarding their pitching rotation.

Oak Glen changed it up a little for the Golden Tornado. Maddie McKay pitched seven-plus innings in the opener, then Kell got the start for the next two. Following a two-run home run in each, McKay came on in relief and allowed a total of one run (another homer) between Tuesday and Wednesday.

“I think it’ll be similar,” Garner said. “You have to play two games in one day, and we have two available pitchers. There will be a shared amount of responsibility. We’ll be setting up game plans later down the road. Coming back out the next day, you may have to play three games.”

Whoever steps in the circle, Garner and the team will have complete confidence in her. And, whoever does not, are keys in other areas.

“I think Maddie and I complement each other well,” Kell said. “Maddie comes with speed and power, and I come from the left side. It’s two completely different styles. It’s a great feeling when I’m in the circle knowing that I have a pitcher like Maddie if i need her.

“I don’t really think we’ve had any nicknames that I saw. At last practice, they call me golden nugget, so Maddie was joking around and said she would be called chicken nugget.”

The dynamic duo really do have two different styles in the circle and at the plate. McKay, who also plays short, brings the speed and power pitching that Kell mentioned, as well as a ton of power at the plate. Kell, the southpaw specialist who showcases a wicked changeup, bats right, makes solid contact and can beat out bunts and steal bases at will.

“Pitching is very demanding physically and mentally, so it’s great to have another pitcher we can rely on,” McKay said. “We are different pitchers that really complement each other, with Lizzie being a lefty. Both of us are extremely competitive and support one another, while each of us pitch and cheer each other on.

“One thing that motivates us is the great backstop we have in Sarah Brown. She does such great job behind the plate and gives us the confidence to throw any of our pitches. And, we know our entire team has our back and vice versa.”

Oak Glen’s starting pitcher to open the state tournament will have to face Independence (22-14) at 9:45 a.m. Tuesday. Herbert Hoover (24-3) and Sissonville (19-4) will battle 30 minutes after the conclusion of Game 1.

Both losers from those games will square off at 4:45 p.m., while the winners play 30 minutes after that. On Wednesday, the winner of Game 3 faces the loser of Game 4 at 9:45 a.m. Then, the winner of that moves on to the championship round against the winner of Game 4 at 2:15 p.m. If a Game 7 is necessary, that will take place almost immediately after Game 6.

All games will be held at Little Creek Park in South Charleston. Class AA will be located at Rock Field A.

“With Independence, there’s no formula I’m aware of regarding a strength of schedule, but I do think they had a strong schedule,” Garner said. “I’m going to do more research on who and how they played against them as the weekend comes through. Everybody’s scary at this time because they all made it this far.

“As far as Sissonville, that’s a name that always comes up, as well as Herbert Hoover consistently coming out of the regions. There is a lot of familiarity with them because they’ve been here before.”

The Bears easily have the best overall record out of the four teams. Yet, they do not necessarily feel like they are the favorites. Despite the other teams’ paths and records, it no longer matters at this point.

“I think the Keyser series was great competition,” Garner said. “As far as battling, I think they’re confident that they can battle with anybody. I would certainly say our group is humbled because they know what they’re capable of and know what they have to overcome.”

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