06/03/05 — CBA overcomes midseason errors to reach Walnut Creek

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CBA overcomes midseason errors to reach Walnut Creek

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on June 3, 2005 3:09 PM

PIKEVILLE -- Eighteen errors in two games hardly seemed like a positive when Charles B. Aycock's softball team lost a pair of midseason contests to North Lenoir and South Central in early April.

How the Golden Falcons responded to the two dissapointing performances now makes the losses look like a blessing in disguise.

Since those two games, Aycock has rolled off 15 straight wins, 12 by shutout, and will not have lost in 58 days heading into its N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 3-A eastern regional final contest against Clayton on Saturday at the Walnut Creek Softball Complex in Raleigh.

South Central handed Aycock its only Eastern Carolina Conference loss, before the Golden Falcons finished up the rest of their league slate unbeaten to claim their third straight conference title.

"We learned we had to get rid of those if we want to win. They aren't going to help us get our goal," Aycock coach David West said. "People were saying, 'what's wrong with Aycock?' And they learned to not listen to the outside. We've won 15 in a row since then, and in our league and then the playoffs that's an accomplishment.

"I'm proud of how they picked themselves up. They dusted themselves off and took care of everybody."

Aycock clinched the trip to Walnut Creek with a 3-0 blanking of South Central in the eastern semifinals and has outscored its playoff opponents 23-0 in three games. Senior ace Jenny Jackson has been on the mound for all but two innings during the stretch.

Like West, Jackson is making her third trip to the final four in four years. She and her coach believe hitting is the key difference in this year's teams compared to the last two qualifiers in 2002 and 2003.

"The last time we went, we beat everyone in the playoffs 1-0, before we lost to Harnett Central at Walnut Creek," Jackson said. "Most definitely this team is hitting better. I think travel ball helps that a lot."

Jackson and catcher Ashley Morris, third baseman Chrissy Setliff and outfielder Karlie West are Aycock's four senior captains. Morris, still nursing an injured thumb, and West are making their first trips to Walnut Creek, while Setliff is going for the second time.

Despite their 21-3 overall mark and another league title, West admits it hasn't been an easy year. Along with the usual diversions of the spring -- prom, exams, graduation -- the Falcons had several players leave the team at various points of the season, had a handful of injuries and at least two players with serious illnesses in their families.

"We've had injuries, family illness and have been trying to get people in the right positions on the field," coach West said. "We hit a slump in the middle of the season, and had some girls decide to not play anymore. We had so many things happen to us, but we are stll right back where we want to be.

"This is the sweetest trip for me ... just watching these girls come through."

Statistically, Jackson has been dominant again as a senior -- posting a 15-2 mark with an earned run average of .470 with 204 strikeouts against only nine walks in 1172/3 innings. Offensively, the Western Carolina signee is hitting .422 with 18 RBI and one home run.

Junior Kandace Burroughs, who has recently moved from first base to catcher due to Morris' injury, is also hitting .422 with 15 RBI, while sophomores Jazzmine Lee and Rusti Talton are batting over .400. Fellow sophomore Jasmine Dobbin is batting .338 from the leadoff spot.

Aycock last faced Clayton and its pitcher Sarah Jackson in the first round of the playoffs last year, when the Falcons claimed a 5-0 win in Pikeville. The Comets, the second seed from the Big Eight South, are making their first trip to Walnut Creek since 1997.