06/03/05 — NL softball silences critics

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NL softball silences critics

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on June 3, 2005 3:05 PM

LAGRANGE -- Silencing the critics and second chance.

After losing standout pitcher Hermia Humphrey to graduation, some followers of North Lenoir softball felt the program had missed its chance of claiming a state championship.

Think again.

Five seniors returned and proved the nay-sayers wrong by racking up an unprecedented fourth straight Class 2-A Eastern Plains Conference crown and collecting 23 regular-season victories. They allowed just one run in three postseason games and earned a berth in this weekend's N.C. High School Athletic Association final four at Walnut Creek.

"I've got three or four new girls from last year and these girls knew what it took to get back ... took it one game at a time," fourth-year North Lenoir coach Heather Humphrey said after the South Granville victory. "A lot of people did say 'oh North Lenoir is not going to be as good as last year,' but we proved them wrong."

The Hawks (23-1) defend their eastern regional title Saturday at noon against Pender County. East Rutherford, which upset three-time defending champion East Bend Forbush, opposes North Stanly in the western final.

Winners' bracket and elimination-round play continues at 2:30 and 5 p.m. The title game is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

North Lenoir is the lone returning team from last year's final four.

"We just plan to keep taking it one game at a time and we're focusing on Pender first, of course," said Humphrey. "Then we'll worry about the other teams later. I know they are very quick and they like to bunt the ball.

"That's all I know about them."

The Patriots' strength has been its pitching staff. McKenzie Phillips is 13-1 with a 0.73 earned run average, while Britney Roper is 11-1 with a microscopic 0.07 ERA.

Janetta Robinson leads Pender, the Waccamaw champion, with a .560 average at the plate. Phillips bats .430, while Roper hits close to .400.

Pender has outscored the opposition 23-5 in the postseason.

Defense, undoubtedly, has been North Lenoir's cornerstone to success in the playoffs. The Hawks have yet to commit an error and senior right-hander Morgan Worthington has yielded just three hits in 21 innings.

"Our defense has been coming through and making the plays," Humphrey said. "Morgan has done a good job keeping the ball low and making them hit ground balls. I'm a little surprised."

North Lenoir, which owns a 10-4 playoff record since 2002, has outscored its opponents 13-1. South Granville snapped Worthington's 15-inning scoreless streak with one run in the second inning last week.

Worthington (17-1) has a 0.33 ERA in the postseason and a 0.57 ERA overall. She's recorded 200-plus strikeouts in 123 innings on the mound and surrendered just 10 earned runs.

Senior catcher Randi Moulton provided big hits in the opening-round win against Graham and against South Granville. She's emerged the team's top hitter with a .444 average, followed by Worthington (.366), first baseman Brittany Sanders (.333), shortstop Leslie Oliver (.297) and second baseman Chanee Lynch (.274).

Humphrey likes her team's chances, especially with five seniors -- Moulton, Worthington, Oliver, Lynch and center fielder Ashley Griffin.

"I like their spirit and their leadership has picked up the last couple of games we've played," Humphrey said. "They have come together more as a team. They don't ever give up.

"They've grown together and know how each other play ... feed off each other. They're just a close group of girls who came in with me my first year here.

"They are special."