06/13/04 — News-Argus Softball position player of the year Ñ Morgan Worthington, North lenoir

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News-Argus Softball position player of the year Ñ Morgan Worthington, North lenoir

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on June 13, 2004 2:01 AM

LAGRANGE -- Morgan Worthington watched from the on-deck circle and took a practice swing as the pitch sailed across the plate. A minute or so later it was Worthington got her chance in the batter's box.

Before she stepped in for the first pitch, she received the signals from North Lenoir head coach Heather Humphrey. Worthington nodded, dug in her heels and waited for the pitcher's delivery.

Ball one.

Worthington stepped out, looked at Humphrey and asked the umpire for time. She took a practice swing and kept her eye on the ball. A split-second later, Bunn's left fielder found herself cutting off a base hit that could have easily been a triple.

The single started a string of six consecutive playoff hits for the soft-spoken Worthington, who proved to be a tough out this season. Humphrey expected a turnaround from last season, but didn't imagine Worthington would hit at a .400 clip.

"Her batting was so much better than it was last year," Humphrey said. "Any time she went up to bat and any pitch that came to her, she never backed down. She was always ready and she knew she could hit anybody.

"Defensively, she played excellent for us this season."

Worthington also played steady at second base and didn't commit an error in the postseason. Her strong hitting and Gold Glove-like effort in the infield led the Hawk junior to claiming the 2004 News-Argus Position Player of the Year for softball.

"This year I had a better season and my hitting was better, too, than last year," Worthington said. "I was glad of that. My defense was good, too."

Worthington took hitting lessons from Spring Creek coach Roger May and learned how to hit where the pitch was thrown. She unwillingly admitted that change-ups flustered her, but she never lost focus in the box.

Her ability to see the ball better as it came toward the plate improved tremendously. Wherever the pitch location, Worthington usually connected on a hit.

"I think I have an eye for judging the ball when it comes in," Worthington said. "Most of the time I can make contact with it."

"She took the pitch wherever it needed to go," Humphrey said.

Opposing players couldn't find a chink in Worthington's defensive armor.

She played every ground ball with ease and consistently assisted on outs at first or second base. Worthington also moved well on bunt attempts, which allowed the Hawks to pull in their corner players to shorten the field and get the easy out.

"She is so versatile, and that's very helpful," said Humphrey, who also used Worthington as a pitcher. "She accepted the role at second base. She's dedicated and is just a hard worker.

"I didn't worry when balls were hit to her. I knew she was going to get that out."

The Hawks, in fact, proved to be tough outs all season.

North Lenoir captured its third consecutive Class 2-A Eastern Plains Conference regular-season title and extended its league win streak to 30 games. The Hawks claimed the first-ever EPC tournament championship and amassed 22 wins in 24 outings. But they weren't through.

A disappointing loss to Randleman in last year's eastern semifinals fueled their fire for this season. Worthington and her teammates knew they were worthy of earning a trip Walnut Creek -- the mecca of North Carolina prep softball.

The Hawks captured the school's first-ever eastern regional championship in any girls' sport with a thrilling 3-2 win against Northeastern. They fell to No. 1-ranked East Bend Forbush by a 3-1 count in the title game.

"Winning was fun," Worthington said. "I just wish we could have won the games we lost."