Team concept key for Falcons
By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on May 31, 2006 2:47 PM
Sacrifices aren't just bunts on the softball field. Charles B. Aycock's Emily Jordan was hitless in her one pinch-hit appearance in the fifth inning of the Golden Falcons' final-four clinching, 11-1 win over Fike.
But Jordan was valuable.
Penciled in the starting lineup as the designated player, she had to give up that spot before the game. As Aycock's second pitcher, Jordan had to be "on call" in case starter Julia Lancaster, who had a cut on her pitching finger, couldn't go.
Lancaster endured the injury, but Jordan was ready if needed. She stayed loose -- warming up between innings until it was evident Lancaster would go the distance.
"We won the game 11-1, but if there was an MVP it was Emily sacrificing starting that game just to make sure she would be ready if I needed to run a pitcher in real quick," Aycock coach David West said. "That was a big sacrifice by Emily, and those sacrifices are part of the reason we made it to Walnut Creek."
Sacrifices like Jordan's and solid team chemistry have been important to Aycock's run this season.
On any given night Lancaster, a junior righty, could dominate a game in the circle and her defense could make all of the plays behind her. If the pitching and defense were not on their game -- and more often than not they were -- the offense could get hot and rally past a team.
Mostly, it was a combination of all of these factors -- and more -- that helped the Falcons (19-7) advance to the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 3-A final four for the fourth time in five years under West and sixth time overall since 2000.
"One person doesn't make a team," West said. "But if you get a lot of people together that start to be successful, you start to be more concerned about your teammates and how the final score is going to look. Good things started happening for us."
Good things, indeed.
Aycock shook off a tough start in non-conference play and captured the Eastern Carolina 3-A Conference title for at least the fourth straight year, then won the inaugural league tournament. The Falcons, on an 11-game winning streak, then stormed past South Central, Currituck and Wilson Fike in the playoffs to reach Walnut Creek once again.
Aycock has outscored its opponents 30-7 in postseason play.
"It's the way they can bounce back. We had that rough start, then we dug down and got back," West said. "We've had rough starts in games since then, but they bounce back every time. That's what I'm most proud of."
West knows it will obviously take more of that 'bouncing back' at the double-elimination final four. All four of the teams in the 3-A event are No. 1 seeds with Walnut Creek experience. The Falcons' possible opponents -- Harnett Central, Kings Mountain and Southwestern Randolph -- have a combined record of 74-7. Up first for Aycock in the eastern finals, will be Harnett Central, a team that has had the Falcons' number in recent years.
After Aycock beat the Trojans in 2001 in the playoffs, Harnett Central has claimed the last three outings, including two at Walnut Creek in 2004.
"Coach Craig Rogers at Harnett has great teams and the history between the two teams is tremendous. We've had some long, 11- and 12-inning games ... Lauren Caviness against Jenny Jackson that was classic high school softball," West said. "We haven't been on the winning end lately, but our school was six or seven years ago. Since then, they have had our number."
After putting up a fight but falling short of a state title in their first five trips, what could make this trip a more successful one for Aycock?
The same factors that got them there -- balance, desire and most importantly, teamwork.
"Several of these girls on the bench could start on other teams ... probably be a team MVP and make all-conference," West said. "We're just blessed with softball talent and have people who are willing to give themselves up.
"It's a family kind of thing, and they take it serious."
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