Prep Softball: South Rowan can’t pull upset
LANDIS — The wind whipped and the crowd gathered at South Rowan shivered under blankets, but North Iredell second baseman Payton York wore short sleeves and a smile.
North Iredell’s softball team is still mentally tough, and despite the loss of six seniors, three of them serious standouts, NI has a chance to defend its NPC regular-season championship.
Seventh-ranked North Iredell (4-2, 2-0) proved that Wednesday when it dominated the last two innings and beat upset-minded South 7-4.
“We got in a rut for a while,” winning pitcher Lacey Fox said. “But when South got some runs, we came right back and got some of our own. We believe we can be good again.”
The NPC is getting about as fierce in softball as it is in volleyball.
North Iredell made a run all the way to the 3A Western championship series in 2012, but that march came after it was smashed in the NPC tournament championship game by Carson.
Carson, still undefeated, is strong again. East Rowan, which ruled the league from 2008-2011 when it had Chelsea White in the circle and Ericka Nesbitt at shortstop, will be a factor. West Rowan may be the best it’s been since its glory days, and South shouldn’t be an easy win for anyone.
“South played well today,” North Iredell coach Lauren Gaither said. “The NPC is a fun place to be.”
It was cold fun, but fun nonetheless.
“We made too many errors at crucial times, and hitting was a struggle,” South second baseman Caroline Hubbard said. “Still, we made a good run at it.”
Fox shut out South (4-2, 1-2) for four innings, and Kaitlyn Marshall’s two-run single off South hurler Logan Lowery was the key blow as the visitors steadily built a 4-0 lead.
South coach Hunter Fuller barked cheerfully at his team that it was time for a big inning as it came to bat in the fifth, and SR responded. McKenzie Ward reached base to start things, and No. 9 batter Samantha Kennerly blooped a single.
Fox recorded a strikeout, but then Emma Pope got South back in it when she drilled a two-run double to left-center. One out later, Hubbard’s booming RBI double made it 4-3.
After Beth Ann Martin’s single, Lowery’s walk and an error, it was 4-4, South had batted around and it still had the bases loaded. Fox (9-1 as NI’s No. 2 pitcher last year) got Ward on a groundball to York to finally end the inning.
With her team suddenly deadlocked in a game it had been breezing in, Gaither didn’t scream or stomp.
“I really didn’t have to say anything,” she said. “We’ve got two very good captains (Heather Josey and Breanna Davenport) who know what to say and they all knew we needed to get some runs.”
Lindsey Coley had struggled all day against Lowery, but with two out and two on and Lowery one pitch from getting through the sixth, Coley ripped a sharp single that put North Iredell back on top.
“Sign of a good hitter,” Gaither said. “She came through when we needed her.”
Marshall plopped a single to center to make it 6-4 before the sixth was done, and Josey crushed a triple to deep center to make it 7-4 in the seventh.
Fox didn’t give South a chance the last two innings. She sat down six in a row.
“The umpire was giving a little bit more there at the end,” Fox said with a smile.
South wasn’t smiling much, but it did show it’s dangerous.
“Our bats came alive for that one inning,” Hubbard said. “But we’ve got to hit in all parts of the game to beat a team like North Iredell.”
NOTE: The NPC fun continues today when East plays West.