Prep softball: North Iredell 4, West Rowan 0
By Mike London
MOUNT ULLA ó West Rowan’s Sabrina Stephens somberly steered the automated pitching machine toward the distant batting cages just minutes after the Falcons lost 4-0 to North Iredell on Monday.
More batting practice was coach Elizabeth Clarke’s remedy for an early-season slump that has gripped her entire lineup. She had her varsity girls putting in extra swings even as the jayvees took the field to play a nightcap.
“We’ve got like five hits in 90 at-bats so far,” Stephens said. “That’s ridiculous.”
West (1-3, 1-2 NPC) has scored two runs all season. Other than a 2-0 victory against defending NPC champion East Rowan, the offense has produced only zeroes.
“We’re not gonna win this way,” Clark said.
North Iredell (4-1, 3-1 NPC) stayed hot with a young team keyed by freshman pitcher Karley Harkey. She struck out 11 Falcons, went 3-for-4 at the plate and knocked in runs in the first and fifth innings.
Senior Kasey Talley’s two-out, two-run single in the seventh gave the Raiders breathing room.
Despite being limited to three singles, West had chances.
An error and Lauren Fesperman’s infield hit to deep short provided two baserunners in the second. Ashlynn Perry’s bunt created momentary chaos when the throw struck her as she raced toward first base, but she was ruled out for straying from the designated running lane and the rally died.
In the fifth, Perry was at second base when Ellen Watts popped up a bunt that squirted out of diving catcher Meredith Hill’s mitt in fair territory. Watts reached first safely, but Perry was thrown out trying to advance to third.
“You have to give North Iredell credit for very good defense,” Clarke said. “Every time we tried to make something happen, they were solid.”
It was a major breakthrough for North Iredell, which hadn’t beaten West since the teams became NPC opponents in 2002.
Not that West has lost often to anyone. The Falcons were 159-27 from 2002-08, when they recorded six NPC championships and a runner-up finish.
“North Iredell hasn’t beaten them in a long, long time, so it’s big for the girls,” said first-year North Iredell coach Steve Harkey, Karley’s father. “West is still a very good team, but we pitched it good and got the key hits we needed. It’s a great way to start out a very tough week.”
It couldn’t be much tougher. North Iredell, now tied for second, travels to East Rowan this afternoon and takes on league-leading Northwest Cabarrus on Friday.
As for West, the Falcons have to get the bats going if they’re going to contend and make the playoffs for the ninth straight season.
“We’re giving up runs on defense, so our offense has got to produce to keep up,” Stephens said. “That’s about all there is to it.”