06/24/07 — All-area softball: Lancaster selected top player

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All-area softball: Lancaster selected top player

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on June 24, 2007 2:01 AM

Emotions nearly overtook Charles B. Aycock senior Julia Lancaster when she yielded an early-inning run against South Central in a second-round playoff game.

"I started thinking this could be my last game if we don't start hitting the ball," said the right-handed hurler.

A few innings later, Lancaster choked back tears when South Central seized a commanding 4-0 lead. Those tears turned to sobs when the Golden Falcons couldn't respond and watched their season come to a grinding halt.

"We just couldn't hit the ball; couldn't put it together," recalled Lancaster.

The disappointing loss capped a brilliant career for the right-handed hurler. Lancaster participated on three Class 3-A Eastern Carolina Conference championship teams and appeared in two N.C. High School Athletic Association final fours.

She accomplished those feats with pitching and hitting.

On the mound, Lancaster didn't lose to an ECC opponent and finished 10-5 overall. At the plate, she slugged two home runs and batted a career-best .281.

For her consistent effort on the softball diamond, Lancaster is the 2007 News-Argus Player of the Year.

"In travel ball through the years, I've never been the best hitter on any team," laughed Lancaster, who was selected the 2007 ECC player of the year. "But, in my senior year, I hit home runs -- something I've never done before.

"It's been a pretty good season. I had a great team to play with and a great coach. If I had to change anything, I wouldn't."

C.B. Aycock coach David West could sense Lancaster's apprehension during the early part of the season. She was 0-3 in the pitcher's circle and just couldn't seem to catch a break.

Opposing batters forced Lancaster to throw several pitches, which led to deep pitch counts. West attributed the strategy to respect for Lancaster, who stepped onto the scene in 2006 after waiting in the wings behind former Aycock standout Jenny Jackson.

"It wasn't that she was going out there with lower expectations of herself," said West. "She was pitching well. (Her success) caused other people to get up for her and become more determined at the plate.

"That made her step up her level of play."

Lancaster prevailed in 10 of her next 12 outings, including three one-run victories against county foe Southern Wayne. She amassed a 1.10 earned run average and fanned 142 opposing batters in 102 innings of work.

West could count on Lancaster at the plate, also. Whenever the team needed a clutch hit, or just a ground ball to advance a runner, she usually responded. But the most-important aspect of Lancaster's season, according to West, was her leadership.

Lancaster fostered those abilities each time she stepped onto the field.

"She kept digging deeper and deeper until she got where she wanted to be," said West. "You love to see that in an athlete. She was not going to be denied, and she wasn't."

But South Central denied Lancaster and her teammates in the end.

Lancaster took the mound aware it could be her last game. The intense- and emotion-filled contest finally took its toll in the huddle after the loss.

She knew, unlike some of her teammates, she'd be packing her glove, cleats and bat for the last time. Lancaster plans to attend East Carolina University next fall, but will not play softball.

"I just need to go onto the next chapter of my life," said Lancaster, who plans to study occupational therapy. "I will miss playing high school ball. I wish I could go back and play one more year.

"It ended too soon."