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Golden Bears ready to battle for state title

CHASING HARDWARE — Oak Glen celebrated an OVAC title earlier this season and will look to hoist another trophy at the end of this week’s state tournament, which starts Wednesday morning. - Andrew Grimm

SOUTH CHARLESTON — Since the final out of last season’s Class AA state championship when the Golden Bears came up just short in extra innings, the Oak Glen softball team has been on a mission to get back to Little Creek Park and finish one spot better.

Coach Sherrie Garner’s club accomplished the first part of that, winning the Section 1 and Region 1 titles the past two weeks after another stellar regular season and OVAC title to earn a return trip to the state tournament.

“It means a lot to this group to have a chance to be state champions,” Garner said. “We have been fighting to get the opportunity each step of the way. We know it’s going to be a battle, we’re up for the challenge.

“The girls are excited and thrilled to be in the place they are. The girls are going to come ready to play.”

The Golden Bears earned the repeat trip to South Charleston with a two-game sweep of Keyser last week and winning all three of its sectional games, two over rival Weir High, the week prior. Oak Glen is 5-0 in tournament play this spring and are 26-2 overall.

Those two losses came against Class AAA opponents in a weekend tournament at John Marshall, also a state qualifier in its classification, during the regular season.

“It’s been an exciting run,” Garner said.

As the luck of the draw would have it, Oak Glen will get an immediate chance at revenge in the state tournament opener as it will face four-time defending state champion Herbert Hoover, who topped Oak Glen twice in last year’s state championship, in the opening game of the Class AA tournament at 9:45 a.m. Wednesday.

Herbet Hoover is 21-3 on the season.

“They’re a terrific ball club,” Garner said of Hoover. “We certainly know it’s going to be a challenge and we definitely expected to see them at some point (in the state tournament). We are up to the challenge and expect to have our hands full.

“The stage was new for everyone last year. Playing in that park, against that competition is where you want to be at this time of the year. It’s a privilege and an honor.”

The other teams in the double-elimination tournament are Shady Spring (20-4) and Winfield (24-7).

Those teams meet 30 minutes after the opener, with the winners and losers of the first two games meeting one another later on in the day.

The state champ will be crowned on Thursday.

“Our coaching staff is excellent,” Garner said. “We have been working to look at different things and opportunities to learn about the teams in the tournament. I have to give a lot of credit to my coaching staff, Stephanie Fidak, Rachel Wright-McKay, Sarah Wright.

“We all work together to identify different pieces of the puzzle. I can’t say enough about my staff.”

The Golden Bears have been practicing on the Oak Glen football field, an artificial turf surface, to prepare to play on the artificial turf on the field known as “The Rock” on Wednesday.

“We have been doing some routine things, putting the ball in play and fielding utilizing the football field,” Garner said. “We’re keeping sharp and getting used to the turf beneath our feet.”

The Golden Bears have five hitters batting better than .400, led by Grace Smith’s average of .500, while Toledo commit Maddie McKay is hitting .477.

Sydney Brown is hitting .454, Kenna Calahan is hitting .436 and Sarah Brown .400.

Both Browns have hit multiple homers.

In the circle, Oak Glen has one of the top 1-2 pitching combos in the state with McKay, a righty that has 50-plus wins and 600-plus strikeouts in her career, and lefty junior Lizzie Kell, who has had a phenomenal tournament for Garner and company.

Overall, McKay is 17-0 in games of record and has two saves, while Kell, who tossed a no-hitter in the sectional championship game, is 9-2 with four saves.

The Golden Bears were set to be given a sendoff at the school this morning as they made their way south to get settled in for two days of action.

The first pitch on Wednesday is set for 9:45 a.m.

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