05/17/05 — Hollywood ending: N. Lenoir claims EPC 2-A softball tourney crown

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Hollywood ending: N. Lenoir claims EPC 2-A softball tourney crown

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on May 17, 2005 1:46 PM

LAGRANGE -- A Hollywood screen writer couldn't have scripted a more-thrilling and gut-wrenching conclusion in Monday evening's Class 2-A Eastern Plains Conference softball tournament final.

With the game-winning run on third base, North Lenoir shortstop Leslie Oliver didn't flinch when she fouled off the first pitch from Greene Central pitcher Cassie Webb. Oliver kept her poise, which is what a senior does in a tight situation.

Oliver settled her feet in the batter's box and waited for Webb's next delivery. The belt-high pitch sailed into the strike zone and Oliver connected for an eighth-inning, three-run walk-off home run -- the first of her varsity career.

The game-winning shot sealed a 9-6 victory against the Rams, who were denied their ultimate quest -- a state-playoff bid for the first time since 2000.

Had Greene Central accomplished the upset, it would have taken the league's No. 2 postseason berth away from North Pitt. All Oliver could think was "not again."

The Rams delivered the Hawks' lone blemish in regular-season play during her four-year career -- a span of 40 conference games. She wasn't about to let the same team, full of youthful talent, ruin North Lenoir's march to its second consecutive EPC tournament championship.

"I didn't want to lose to them a second time," Oliver said.

Trailing 6-5 in the eighth, the Hawks' bottom order of the lineup -- Lauren Hudson, Emily Brown and Nicole Howard -- helped start the game-winning uprising. Hudson reached on an infield error and stayed alive on base on Brown's infield bunt single. After Hudson and Brown perfectly executed a double steal, Hudson scored the game-tying run when Chanee Lynch reached on another error.

"They went up there with confidence and did what they had to do to get on base," said Hawks coach Heather Humphrey.

That set the stage for Oliver, who finished the night 2-for-5 with three RBI. A little off balance on her first swing, Oliver readjusted in the box. The next pitch was money.

"It was an inside pitch and that was weird because she had been keeping it on the outside part of the plate," an excited Oliver said of the game-winning homer. "I don't know if she made a mistake, but that pitch was right down the middle. It was perfect.

"That hit felt so good."

The home run erased what could have been a disappointing ending for the most-successful senior female class in North Lenoir history. Oliver has been part of eight EPC title runs -- four each in volleyball and softball. That also includes five tournament titles combined in volleyball and softball. During that time, North Lenoir has posted a phenomenal 90-2 record in conference play in the two sports.

The Hawks (20-1) toiled through an uncharacteristic five errors which led to just two unearned runs. The Rams rallied from a 3-0 first-inning deficit and seized a one-run lead on three occasions. The extra-

inning affair featured four lead changes and three ties.

"We all had a bad game tonight," said Oliver. "I've never had that many errors. We knew it was going to be tough because we're already going to the playoffs and they've got nothing to lose."

An infield error allowed Greene Central to claim a 5-4 lead in the top half of the seventh.

Hawks senior Randi Moulton answered in the bottom half with a lead-off home run, her sixth of the season and 14th of her career. Webb, a junior left-hander, retired the next three batters she faced on a strikeout and two groundouts.

"I just keep telling Randi you have to have confidence each time at bat," said Humphrey. "She didn't get down and just took her natural swing. I'm very proud of them because they could have very easily given up down 5-4."

Catcher Jessica Lovett pushed the third-seeded Rams ahead 6-5 on a two-out single. The hit scored Ashley Oakes, who had doubled off Hawks' left-hander Brittany Sanders into the right center-field gap.

Lovett emerged one of six Greene Central starters to get at least one hit for the game.

Oliver, Sanders and Brown paced North Lenoir's offense with two hits apiece. Eight of nine starters had at least one hit and seven players scored in the nine-run outing.

"They played well from the beginning all the way through," said Rams coach Kim Nesbit. "They put runs together and they all wanted to win. It's all about heart and everyone of them had that tonight.

"We've made a huge improvement since the beginning of the season and gotten better every day."