Prep Softball Playoffs: East Rowan 3, Central Cabarrus 0
By Mike London
GRANITE QUARRY — East Rowan pitcher Chelsea White is always honest, and she had to admit she was pretty decent in the circle in Friday’s second-round 3A playoff game.
Asked what was working for her, White shrugged and offered, “There were none of my pitches that weren’t working.”
White’s repertoire has as much variety as a box of chocolates. She employed six different offerings to fan nine and beat Central Cabarrus 3-0. Assistant coach Lonnie Barrier made the calls as far as pitch selection, and White and batterymate Bobbi Thomas mixed it up so well they only had to face 20 hitters.
White was a half-step from a no-hitter. Central’s T.J. Fain beat out a bunt that White fielded in the fifth and was deemed safe on a bang-bang play at first.
“We’re very familiar with Chelsea and knew what we would be dealing with,” Central coach Doug Buckwell said. “What was uncharacteristic about us today was that we took so many called third strikes on the outside corner. That’s not something we ordinarily do. Eight of our girls have hit home runs. We’re a team that puts the bat on the ball.”
Central (17-8) is young (one senior), but good. A No. 3 seed, the Vikings contended with Robinson and Northwest Cabarrus for the SPC title down to the final week of the regular season.
“Our league had five good teams that were all about equal,” Buckwell said.
The bad news for the Vikings was they caught East (22-2) on a day when the Mustangs likely would have beaten anyone. Not only was White on top of her game, the Mustangs turned in four exceptional defensive plays.
“We looked really good today,” said upbeat senior center fielder Kayla Kirk. “They’re a good-hitting team, but they didn’t get a lot of hits. I think that was our best defensive game.”
Right fielder Jesse Rummage made a running catch in foul territory to end the fourth and another grab at full gallop to end the ballgame.
“Our outfielders flew to the ball,” East coach Mike Waddell said. “Kudos all around. We made some great plays.”
Courtney Lyerly, the “flex” player who is not in the batting order, made the play of the game sprinting toward the left-field fence in the fifth.
East was leading 2-0 but Fain was at first with one out when Ali Hartsell jumped all over a pitch. It looked like a potential homer when it left the bat, but Lyerly, whose brother Craige starred for East and Catawba baseball before being drafted by Tampa Bay, made a terrific snag.
Fain was well past second when the catch was made. She failed to retouch the bag when she hurried back to first, and that gave East an unusual DP.
“I was playing deep, and that helped,” Lyerly said. “That ball about went over. I reached out and touched the fence right when I caught it.”
Thomas added a lunging catch of a popup in the sixth.
White crushed a homer to center in the first to give herself a lead to work with.
“I don’t know how that happened,” White said. “Just a pitch right down the middle.”
Waddell said that was the most significant swing all day.
“When you can jump out like that in a playoff game, it really puts pressure on the other team,” he said. “It also helps you relax and get after it a little bit defensively.”
East made it 2-0 in the second when Kirk drilled a two-out RBI single to left with infielders expecting her to slap.
“I don’t do that a lot, but sometimes I have to swing,” Kirk explained. “I was kinda nervous, but I also knew I had to get a run in.”
Allyson Mills ripped a ground-rule double and scored on Ericka Nesbitt’s single for insurance in the sixth.
East has looked stout in the playoffs, showing no ill effects from an NPC tournament loss.
“Sometimes you start thinking you can’t lose,” Kirk said philosophically. “Now we’re more aware of reality.”