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NPC softball ‘way, way up’

Staff report
Most of the teams in the current 3A North Piedmont Conference were thrown together in 2002. Most softball seasons there have been three haves (West Rowan, East Rowan, Northwest Cabarrus) and a host of have-nots.
From 2002-07, West won everything in sight ó every regular-season title and every tournament that was held.
East, West Rowan and Northwest were the dominant trio again in 2008, although the Mustangs, returning to the league after two seasons in 4A, emerged as a conference champ for the first time since the 1990s.
East has everyone back from a team that was 16-2 in the NPC, but a lot’s changed. It’s unlikely anyone will go 16-2 this time. It’s possible 14-4 could win the league.
In its last season before the league splits up, the NPC’s most wide-open race ever is shaping up. Most teams have played seven games. No one is undefeated.
“You look at some of the scores and shake your head,” East coach Mike Waddell said. “It seems like everyone is way, way up, a lot better than they were last year.”
It’s a 10-team league ó the state’s largest ó so six go to the playoffs. The difference this time is some pretty good teams won’t make it.
Statesville is the only team that doesn’t have a chance most days. Mooresville has won only once in the league, but it’s been close often. The other eight seem capable of beating each other on any given afternoon, and that’s an unusual situation in any sport.
Northwest, which has had its core together for several years, has lost once ó to North Iredell, one of the younger teams in the league, but also one of the most talented.
East has a dominant pitcher in Chelsea White, but it lost at West Rowan and Northwest. Still, the Mustangs are spotless at home and in good shape to repeat unless someone can beat them in Granite Quarry.
North Iredell and Lake Norman also have lost twice in the league.
Carson is playing low-scoring games with Megan Meismer pitching. The Cougars have lost three close games against East, Northwest and North Iredell.
West Rowan has many new faces and also has lost three in the league, but the Falcons remain dangerous. Pitcher Sabrina Stephens has shut out East and South Rowan, which has three pitchers and the best team it’s had in quite a few years.
There have been 1-0 and 2-1 games every Tuesday and Friday, an indicator quality softball is now being played in venues that used to provide easy wins for the Big Three.
“Everyone seems to have a pitcher, and it’s just a very competitive league this year,” Waddell said. “It should help all of us in the playoffs.”

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