Hurricane’s McCray, Dunlap protect Skins’ slugger Mathes in lineup
HURRICANE, W.Va. - Hurricane High School softball player Caiti Mathes is nicknamed “Big Country” for a reason.
The Redskins shortstop has plenty of power and she likes going yard on the opposition to fuel her team to victory.
Mathes is batting .593 with 21 home runs and 68 runs batted in - which raises the question, “Why does the opposition continue to pitch to her?”
While Mathes’ production is critical, the answer to that question is where the real success of the Skins can be found.
Fellow seniors Taylor McCray and Zoey Dunlap bat behind Mathes in the lineup and have made the opposition pay dearly when they elect to put Mathes on base instead of pitch to her.
The end result has been a fearsome middle of the lineup for Hurricane, powering them to 30 wins.
“I have Cait’s back and Zoey has my back,” McCray said. “We’ve just kind of got each other.”
Mathes has been walked intentionally five times this season, including one that came with Parkersburg’s MaKenzie Ridder ahead in the count in the Class AAA, Region IV championship game Tuesday.
Following the walk, McCray followed with a deep sacrifice fly to advance runners before Dunlap drilled a two-run double that helped break the game open in the Redskins’ 11-1 win.
Hurricane head coach Meghan Stevens credited both players for their poise in producing during those situations.
“I’ve credited Taylor a lot this year because when they walk Cait she stays really calm and takes advantage of it,” Stevens said. “In a lot of situations, that could kind of get in your head as a player, but she’s done a great job with it. And time and time again, Zoey has stepped up and, I think, caught some people off-guard. I don’t know why she falls under the radar, because she’s been a tough player for several years. Her RBIs and doubles are just off the charts.”
McCray is known for her intensity on the field, but said that those situations don’t get the best of her.
“I think every time that they walk Cait, I walk up there even stronger and more ready to go,” McCray said.
McCray, who missed the first several games of the season because of a concussion, has 11 home runs and 41 RBI, while Dunlap is batting .491 and has two home runs and 47 RBI to go with a team-best 19 doubles.
Do the math, and that is 34 home runs with 156 RBIs from the middle of the Hurricane lineup.
The success in working together isn’t just built on the field, either.
Those three seniors know every nuance of each other, right down to their pregame and in-game tendencies, which makes for funny banter.
“Cait (Mathes) likes to bang her bat off the cement all the time,” Dunlap said. “It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. And Tay (McCray) has so many superstitions that it’s funny. There are so many that she has to go through and if one thing is messed up, she goes crazy.”
“Taylor? I get kind of scared when she gets out and walks in the dugout,” Mathes said with a laugh. “I just slide out of the way.”
As the conversation progressed, McCray’s tendencies from the Region IV championship win over Parkersburg came to light.
“Zoey and I decided that the way that we were going to get hits was for her to sit on the same bucket every single time in the same area,” McCray said. “That’s how it happened. That’s why we hit the ball (Tuesday). That one came from her, though.”
Success can’t be argued, and there has been plenty of that for the Redskins. In the 11-1 region championship game win over Parkersburg, the three seniors knocked in 10 of the 11 runs with Mathes notching two home runs and six RBI, McCray hitting a two-run homer and Dunlap adding a two-run double.
“They’ve really, really stepped up to the plate this year and I’m really proud of them,” Stevens said.
Mathes’ second three-run blast Tuesday - a walk-off homer - sent the Redskins back to Vienna’s Jackson Memorial Park, where they will attempt to win their fifth consecutive Class AAA championship, starting at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.
For championship No. 5 in a row to come to fruition, Nos. 3, 4 and 5 in the lineup will need to stay red-hot for the Redskins.