Refuse-to-lose Saints open playoffs
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on May 18, 2005 1:46 PM
DUDLEY -- Two early-season comeback wins not only bolstered its confidence, but defined the character of the Southern Wayne softball team.
Those one-run victories proved to veteran skipper Brad Matthews that he had a coachable squad.
"These girls never quit," Matthews said.
They demonstrated their confidence again late in Class 3-A Eastern Carolina Conference play. The Saints regrouped, embarked on a winning streak and transformed a 4-6 league worksheet into a season-ending 8-6 mark.
The late surge forced a third-place tie with Washington, but it held a more significant meaning. Since the Saints swept the Pam Pack during conference play, they earned the ECC's third playoff seed -- and the program's first postseason trip since 1995.
Southern Wayne (12-8) opens the N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs Friday at Northeastern Coastal champion Bertie. Game time is 4:30 p.m.
However, the postseason officially gets underway this evening in Pikeville. Three-time ECC champion Charles B. Aycock (18-3) entertains Triton, the No. 3 seed from the Big 8 South Conference.
North Lenoir, the 2-A runner-up to East Bend Forbush a year ago, begins its 2-A title quest at home Thursday. The Hawks (20-1) play host to Graham in a rematch of last year's eastern semifinal game in LaGrange.
North Johnston (15-2) starts the 1-A playoffs at home in Kenly against the No. 3 Coastal Plains Conference team. The opponent had not been identified on the NCHSAA website as of press time.
"When we were 4-6 in the conference with four games to play, we knew we had to win out for a playoff spot," said Matthews. "These girls believed in themselves and were determined to make the playoffs.
"They have really worked hard all season long ... day in and day out."
Four seniors have been the backbone of the Saints all season -- center fielder Scarlett Joyner, shortstop Lindsay Jarnigan, pitcher Lesli Darden and pitcher Karen Thornton.
Thornton has shown the biggest turnaround. A year ago, the right-handed hurler collected more walks than strikeouts. But this season, she's amassed 49 strikeouts compared to 17 walks and fashioned a 1.43 ERA.
Darden has been just as solid. Also a right-hander, she's posted a 1.51 ERA in 37 innings on the mound.
"Karen has done an outstanding job on the mound for us this year and she is a competitor," Matthews said. "She wants the ball every time we have a game and you can see it in her eyes. We have played well defensively and we have had some big hits this year."
Southern Wayne bats .262 as a team, led by Joyner with a .418 average. Freshman Alyssa Bradshaw is next at .373, followed by sophomore third baseman Rachel Reynolds (.371) and sophomore second baseman Haley Fail (.316).
PIKEVILLE -- The Golden Falcons have had a good blend of hitting and defense this season. They haven't needed much offensive production at times due to the outstanding efforts of right-handed hurlers Jenny Jackson and Julia Lancaster.
Jackson (12-2) has eight shutouts, including three no-hitters, to her credit this season. She tossed no-hitters last week against South Central and Washington, which helped Aycock secure its third consecutive ECC regular-season title.
A Western Carolina signee, Jackson has accumulated 179 strikeouts in 100-plus innings, which has translated into a near-microscopic 0.51 ERA.
Lancaster (6-1) has four shutouts and two one-hitters on her resume this season. A sophomore, she has 44 strikeouts in 37 innings of work and a 1.50 ERA.
"Our pitching has been super so far with Jenny and Julia, but we have had two sophomores step up and give us quite a boost -- Rusti Talton with her bat and Shelly Lancaster on defense," Golden Falcons coach David West said.
Talton, a sophomore, is hitting a team-best .439 with seven extra-base hits and 19 RBI. Junior Kandace Burroughs is next with a .426 average and 15 RBI. Jackson is hitting .414 and speedster Jasmine Dobbin, the team's lead-off hitter, has a .340 average.
Dobbin has two home runs, including an over-the-fence blast at West Craven.
Lancaster has played solid at shortstop every game and made few mistakes. She's gotten great infield support from third baseman Chrissy Setliff, the most-improved player in the ECC and second baseman Brittani Edgerton.
"Brittani is very experienced and knows what to do in every situation," said West. "Ashley Morris has been very consistent behind the plate."
LAGRANGE -- Just like the other area teams in the playoffs, the Hawks have a solid 1-2 combination on the mound.
Senior right-hander Morgan Worthington has recorded an area-high 186 strikeouts in 102 innings this season. She's 14-1 with eight shutouts.
Sophomore left-hander Brittany Sanders is unbeaten in six outings and has three shutouts to her credit. She threw all eight innings in Monday's extra-inning thriller against Greene Central in the Eastern Plains 2-A tournament championship.
Sanders is also among the team's top three hitters along with Worthington and catcher Randi Moulton. Each of the trio is batting better than .350 and have combined for several home runs, with Moulton the leader at six.
Fourth-year head coach Heather Humphrey is blessed with five seniors who have provided key leadership, but stepped it up a notch since EPC play began.
Moulton, Worthington, shortstop Leslie Oliver, second baseman Chanee Lynch and center fielder Ashley Griffin have been part of four EPC championships. They're eager to make their second trip to Walnut Creek.
"Since conference play started, the leadership has definitely picked up," said Humphrey. "Last night (Monday), they really came together as a team and that's what I stressed at the beginning of the season. We finally came together as a whole group."
North Lenoir has to overcome leaving too many runners on base and show better patience in the box. The Hawks stranded seven runners, including five in scoring position, and struck out six times against the Rams.
KENLY -- Thin in numbers, but quality players best describes North Johnston this season.
Mixing a winning attitude with dedication and talent, the Panthers grabbed their second straight Carolina 1-A Conference title and sixth overall in the last eight years. They fashioned a 15-2 record with both defeats coming against C.B. Aycock.
The difference was defense. North Johnston committed less than one error per outing en route to a perfect 12-0 worksheet in Carolina Conference play.
"A number of the girls made the defensive changes necessary for us to become a good team," said veteran coach George Daniels. "Jessica Narron moved from the infield to outfield. Whitney Parrish stepped in as catcher (and) Stephanie Norris, a catcher by choice, did a great job in left field.
"The defense had a few lapses towards the end, but otherwise did a good job in back up Candace."
When opposing runners reached base, that is.
Evans pitched all but three innings and collected six no-hitters. The UNC Pembroke signee notched 172 strikeouts and yielded a mere eight earned runs to go with a 0.528 ERA.
Robyn Creech paced the Panthers' offense with a .633 average and 28 RBI. Junior shortstop Hannah Ellis batted .483 and scored a team-leading 29 runs. Amanda Pope, a senior second baseman, bats .482 with 25 runs scored.
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