The race is on!
No, I'm not talking about today's Boston Marathon or next week's NASCAR event in Kansas.
I'm talking softball - OVAC Tournament-style.
Teams around the valley have been jockeying for a spot in the top 4 of their respective class for better than two weeks, and the cut-off date is now less than a week away to set the semi-final pairings.
Those semifinal matchups will be held on Tuesday, April 23 and Wednesday, April 24, with the championship games slated for Saturday, April 27.
All of the aforementioned games will be played at the I-470 J.B. Chambers Complex in Wheeling. The top two seeds in each division will serve as the home teams. The higher seeded team in the finals will bat last.
Looking at the standings (Page B4), several teams from The Times Leader coverage appear to have a firm grasp on a top-4 finish, while a handful more can improve their status with a good week.
Starting with Class 4A, The Times Leader is all but guaranteed a champion as the first 5 teams on the ladder are in our coverage area.
Martins Ferry, fresh off a 6-1 week, leads the division, followed by Harrison Central, St. Clairsville, Buckeye Local and Union Local. Weir is a very distant sixth.
The Purple Riders travel to Steubenville tonight before heading to St. Clairsville Tuesday for a key Buckeye 8 matchup with the Red Devils. Wednesday they entertain Wheeling Central and, after two days off, they trek to Shadyside for a Saturday afternoon twinbill.
The Huskies have a home-and-home series with Union Local, which begins tonight in Cadiz and concludes Wednesday in Morristown. In between, they welcome Edison in a Buckeye 8 showdown. On Thursday, Steubenville Central visits Sally Buffalo Park. The Huskies conclude their week with a home Saturday twinbill against Weir.
The Red Devils play at Bellaire today before hosting Martins Ferry Tuesday. A home clash with unbeaten St. John Central looms on Thursday before a trip to Wintersville to meet Indian Creek on Friday.
The Panthers, who are the defending champions, have no easy road as they make the trip to Jefferson County tonight to meet Indian Creek. The Redskins return the trip to Connorville Wednesday. In between, Buckeye Local hosts Steubenville. On Thursday, the Panthers entertain John Marshall before a Friday game at Union Local, which could prove to be a pivotal encounter.
The Jets are clinging to the fifth spot, some 8 points behind Buckeye Local. In addition to its home-and-home series with Harrison Central, the Jets host Barnesville Tuesday and travel to Steubenville Thursday before welcoming Buckeye Local on Friday.
In Class 3A, Bellaire is currently second with its fine record. Unblemished Fort Frye holds down the top spot. Barnesville and River are third and fourth, respectively, but Shenandoah, Buckeye Trail and Magnolia are still in the hunt.
Steubenville Central and Wheeling Central are the top two teams in Class 2A, with Shadyside and Toronto holding down the final two positions.
However, Bridgeport is still in contention, as is Cameron. Those two meet today on Irene Ehni Memorial Field.
The Class 1A field might as well be re-named the St. John Central Invitational. The Irish are a spotless 12-0 and have nearly twice as many points as second-place Bishop Donahue.
In Class 5A, the field seems pretty much set as Wheeling Park, John Marshall, Morgantown and Indian Creek are all well ahead of the remainder of the field. Edison is a distant fifth.
There is one deciding factor in all of the games, that being good ole' Mother Nature. Should she take a vacation for the entire week, it should make for some interesting action on the valley diamonds, and not disappoint me one bit.
Two area head coaches reached milestones earlier this season.
Veteran St. John Central head coach Jerry Magistro notched win No. 250 and seems headed for many more with a talented crew this season.
Meanwhile, Bellaire's Melissa Lahna won her 100th game on the very same night.
In the many games that I've covered thus far, an early candidate for Defensive Play of the Year was turned in a week or so ago in the Union Local at St. Clairsville game.
A Jets player smacked a shot to the gap in right-centerfield where the Red Devils' Brianna Sowers got her glove on the ball. However, it deflected off of her mitt but went right into the glove of centerfielder Carlee Gillespie who was alertly backing up the play.
Just think, when was the last time you saw a 9-8 putout? Or have you?
North can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org