06/03/04 — North Lenoir on a mission to win it all

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North Lenoir on a mission to win it all

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on June 3, 2004 1:55 PM

LAGRANGE -- A long bus trip home and a visit to Walnut Creek stirred plenty of inner emotions for North Lenoir's softball team a year ago.

A disastrous defensive breakdown in the sixth inning led to a third-round defeat at Randleman. Once the players recovered from that heartbreaking loss, they attended the Class 2-A final four softball tournament a week later in Raleigh.

Every Hawk realized they belonged there.

Every Hawk knew that dedication and a strong work ethic would lead them down the same path this season, but this time they wouldn't stumble along the way.

"There wasn't much talking on the way home," third-year North Lenoir coach Heather Humphrey said of last year's trip back from Randleman. "There was a lot of sadness and the girls knew what they needed to do to get back to that same position.

"Some of the girls went to Walnut Creek and I don't know if that got them motivated some more or not. But they knew they could have very easily been there."

The dissatisfaction gave the Hawks an edge heading into this season.

The first day of practice they showed a workman-like attitude and immediately put forth the effort needed to make it to the next level. Humphrey spent very little time instructing the players, and didn't have to worry much about the team slacking off at different hitting and defensive stations.

Humphrey could see the desire in their eyes and that the disappointment of last season fueled their souls.

"When we come out at practice, they're focused and know what they need to do to get the job done," Humphrey said. "They work hard at it. They know what they need to work on at the different stations.

"You can joke around and have fun with them, but they know when to draw the line and get serious."

North Lenoir met little resistance in Eastern Plains Conference play and rolled to its third straight league title. The Hawks added the first-ever EPC tournament championship to their growing list of accolades, but the "real" season began one week later.

They dominated Bunn in the opening round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs. They rallied from a middle-inning deficit to avenge last year's loss against Randleman. They followed that up with a shutout against Graham.

Part of their postseason mission had been completed.

"Several times we've been down and they just don't get nervous," Humphrey said. "They stay relaxed and get that one or two runs that we need. They just keep chopping away at it.

"Our best strength is our team unity. That makes a world of difference. I don't think they could play as a team if they don't have that bonding on the field."

The team unity can be attributed to the leadership of seniors Hermia Humphrey, Brandi Whaley and Mary Catherine Mills. That trio has also been bolstered by a group of seven juniors whihch absolutely refuses to give up no matter the score or inning.

The Hawks carry a 12-game win streak into Saturday's eastern regional final against Elizabeth City Northeastern. Two-time defending state champion East Bend Forbush (27-1) opposes East Davidson (21-4) for the western regional final.

The two winners meet at 8:30 p.m., while the two losers fight to remain alive in consolation-round play.

Northeastern fashioned a 12-7 record in the split Northeastern Coastal 1-A/2-A league. The Eagles eliminated nearly every southeastern school in the region en route to their first-ever trip to the final four.

Juniors Shellie Wimpey and Allison Pearce pace Northeastern. Wimpey is hitting .341 and leads the team in RBI. The right-hander also possesses a 0.66 earned run average (ERA) and has 129 strikeouts in 121 innings.

Pearce, a right fielder, is batting .452 with an on-base percentage of .636.

"They like to bunt a whole lot," coach Humphrey said. "So, we've been working on that and getting ready to defend against it."

The short game will test a Hawks defense which has been near-flawless in the postseason. Hermia Humphrey (16-1. 0.24 ERA) will go after her third shutout in the playoffs.

North Lenoir has outscored the opposition 21-2 in the postseason.

Forbush, the state's No. 1-ranked team, is obviously the favorite heading into the weekend. The Falcons have seized four state championships and finished runner-up on seven occasions.

Coach Matt Pruitt's team has beaten two-time defending 3-A champ West Rowan 4-A final four participant West Forsyth this season. Forbush has not allowed a run in the playoffs.

Senior Hannah Angel, the three-time Mountain Valley player of the year, is 67-1 in her career on the mound. The right-hander has a microscopic 0.04 ERA and has notched an astounding 402 strikeouts in 171 innings this season.

Brittany Snow has belted eight home runs for the Falcons.

East Davidson, the Central Carolina champion, will try to counter with Ashley Jones. Jones is batting .487 with 11 home runs. Teammate Amanda Beck has emerged the top pitcher for the Golden Eagles and fashioned a 1.42 ERA in 19 outings.

Coach Humphrey is confident the Hawks will contend well for the state title.

"They're eager and they love practicing, but they're getting tired of it," Humphrey said. "They know this may be a once-in-a-lifetime chance. They just need to continue to work hard and take each inning one play at a time.

"They want to keep winning."