Softball playoffs: East Rowan 2, N.W. Cabarrus 0
By Mike London
KANNAPOLIS — East Rowan’s softball team got some unlikely help from a timely leg cramp, and beat Northwest Cabarrus 2-0 in the third round of the 3A state playoffs on Tuesday.
The victim/beneficiary of the cramp was East senior Chelsea White. A sudden pain in the star pitcher’s leg forced her to put on the brakes at first after she hit a rocket to the base of the center-field fence with two out in the sixth.
“I was definitely going for a double,” White said. “Then I felt a cramp in my leg.”
White would’ve made the third out had she tried for two. Her drive got to the fence in a hurry, and Northwest center fielder Michaela Boyd recovered the ball quickly and fired a strike to second base.
After Josie McNeely entered the game as a courtesy runner for White, East catcher Bobbi Thomas crushed the first pitch she saw high and deep to left field for a game-deciding two-run homer.
“When Bobbi hits it, it’s gone,” White said. “I gave her a hug.”
East (23-2) wasn’t as sharp defensively as it was in its second-round win against Central Cabarrus — two errors, another couple of plays that might’ve been made — but White kept Northwest (22-6) off the scoreboard.
“We were just a little nervous today,” White said.
White looked calm. She struck out 11, walked none and limited the Trojans to a pair of opposite-field singles.
“Chelsea actually started a little slow this year, at least by her standards,” said East assistant Lonnie Barrier, who calls her pitches. “The last month, though, she’s been on. When we ask her to hit a spot, she doesn’t miss it. And if we make a mistake behind her, you would hate to be that next hitter because you know Chelsea is going to come back.”
White always has experienced success against Northwest’s lineup. That didn’t change. Northwest’s most dangerous power hitter, Hannah Eudy, fanned three straight times. The top four in Northwest’s lineup, all all-star caliber players, went 0-for-12.
“What I was most worried about was that we could lose on one swing,” White said. “It was tense when it was 0-0 for so long. They have some girls who can hit it out. I’ve played with some of them.”
Kayla Kirk singled in the first inning for East and stole second, but Thomas popped up to end the inning.
Thomas smashed a two-out double in the fourth, but Sydney Poole was called out on strikes to end the inning.
In the fifth, Ally Mills singled and was sacrificed to second by Steffi Sides, but Jesse Rummage popped up.
That’s how it went. And each time East missed a scoring chance, the pressure got a little more intense.
“It was just nerve-wracking,” Thomas said.
The tensest moments of all for East’s coaches and players came in the Northwest fifth.
Leading off, Andrea Jones grounded a 3-2 pitch past White. Shortstop Ericka Nesbitt got to the ball but couldn’t make a clean pickup.
Jones went to second when pitcher Katie Williford’s soft liner trickled out of first baseman Meagan Kluttz’s mitt. Kluttz got the out at first.
Moments later, when a pitch from White caromed off Thomas’ mitt, Jones was at third with one out.
“We were all expecting a bunt,” Thomas said.
That’s what the Mustangs got, and it stayed airborne just long enough for White to charge in and catch it for a huge second out.
A routine popup to Nesbitt ended the inning, and the Mustangs breathed a sigh of relief.
Nesbitt led off the sixth with a groundball to short and appeared to have the throw to first beaten by a full step. Nonetheless, she was called out, and after an umpiring conference, she remained out.
The Mustangs already had been flustered by a call in the fifth when Kluttz appeared to take a pitch off her wrist. Instead, the ball was ruled to have struck her bat. She pointed to the bruise on her arm in vain as umpires conferred, but she was instructed to return to the batter’s box. She struck out on a 3-2 pitch.
“We had a lot of things going against us,” East head coach Mike Waddell said. “We kept fighting through it.”
It looked like Williford would have an easy sixth, but White’s single to the wall extended the inning. Fans were still marveling at the throw Boyd made when Thomas hit one out of sight. It was a no-doubter when it left the bat.
“A nice little, two-out rally and some very good contact at the right time,” Waddell said. “I was so glad Bobbi jumped on that first pitch. She saw her bat hit that ball.”
Thomas connected so perfectly that she felt nothing at all when bat met softball.
But emotionally she felt plenty, breaking into a wide grin as she rounded first base and jogged toward the mob of teammates waiting for her at the plate.
“We felt like it would come down to one inning with these two pitchers,” NWC coach Lori Treiber said. “Whoever got two hits back-to-back was going to win. We were just hoping it would go the other way.”
With White pitching, 2-0 may as well have been 12-0. Northwest went down 1-2-3 in the sixth with two Ks.
White struck out two more in the seventh before Jones singled to right. East got the final out on a grounder that deflected off Kluttz’s glove. Poole, the second baseman, scooped up the ball and won a race to the bag.
White hasn’t allowed a run in the playoffs. Thomas’ homer ended a five-game streak of shutouts for Northwest’s Williford, a freshman.
“I wish Chelsea all the success in the world in college (Elon),” said Treiber, managing a small smile. “She’s done her job here well, but I’m glad it’s time for her to move on.”
White’s job is not quite done. East advances to a fourth meeting — in Granite Quarry — with NPC rival North Iredell, a 3-2 winner against Robinson. A spot in the Final Four will be on the line.
East swept the regular season meetings with North Iredell but lost to the Raiders in the NPC tournament final.