05/27/05 — North Lenoir softball team now 23-1 heading into Walnut Creek

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North Lenoir softball team now 23-1 heading into Walnut Creek

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on May 27, 2005 1:47 PM

LAGRANGE -- Scouting reports are hard to come by in the playoffs, regardless of the sport. But with a little help from an inside source, the North Lenoir softball team earned a return trip to the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 2-A Final Four at Walnut Creek.

Randi Moulton supplied a key two-RBI double in the fifth inning as the Hawks thwarted upset-minded South Granville 4-1 before a standing-room-only crowd Thursday evening. North Lenoir (23-1) collected its seventh straight postseason win at home and 10th overall since 2002.

The Vikings concluded the year 20-4.

Aware of South Granville's tradition-rich program, but unfamiliar with the current team, Hawks pitcher Morgan Worthington stayed in her normal groove. The senior right-hander never flinched when the Vikings rapped back-to-back doubles in the second inning which led to a 1-1 tie.

The run snapped Worthington's string of 15 consecutive scoreless innings in the postseason. South Granville's two hits were the most Worthington allowed since tossing a one-hitter in the opening round against Graham.

"They were probably the best-hitting team we've faced thus far, which I expected that because we were in the third round of the playoffs," said Worthington. "Mr. Hal (Oliver) told me a little bit about their batters, but me and Randi basically know where we want to pitch to each batter.

"I knew it was going to get tougher."

Worthington was equally tough.

Sixteen of the next 18 Vikings either struck out or hit into ground-ball outs. Two batters, Meredith Harris and Haley Suitt, each drew walks. Neither player scored.

The Hawks played flawless defense behind Worthington, who earned her 17th mound win in 18 tries. She finished with nine strikeouts and upped her season total to 212 in 123 innings.

"I have the defense to back me up and that gives me a lot of confidence," said Worthington, who has 32 strikeouts in the playoffs. "With Randi behind the plate, that makes it a lot better, too."

Worthington's first-inning single pushed the Hawks in front 1-0.

However, North Lenoir stranded runners in scoring position in the second inning and fell victim to a costly double play in the third. Harris, the Vikings' No. 2 pitcher, retired the side in order in the fourth.

Harris lost her momentum in the fifth. She issued walks to Nicole Howard and Leslie Oliver, which occurred between an infield bunt pop-up by Chanee Lynch. Moulton patiently watched Harris' rise ball sail by three times before slapping a two-RBI fastball into the left center field gap.

Howard and Oliver scored for a 3-1 lead.

"We've told them all along to be patient with pitch selection, get the pitch you want and then hit it," said Hawks coach Heather Humphrey. "That paid off. Randi got a big hit for us."

Brittany Sanders followed with a line shot off Harris' throwing hand. Brittany McPhail, Moulton's courtesy runner, scampered home for the game's final run.

Harris left the mound in favor of Suitt, who struck out all three batters she faced. Suitt's seventh-inning walk kept the Vikings alive, but Worthington induced an infield pop-up to Lynch to end the game.

North Lenoir finished unbeaten at home this season and eliminated a Northern Carolina team from the playoffs for the second time in three tries since 2001. South Granville, which has won six state championships and accumulated 82 playoff victories in slow- and fast-pitch combined, last appeared in the final four in 2002.