Shaw column: White's injury drained Mustangs
RALEIGH — This is not the story East Rowan’s softball team expected to tell Saturday at Walnut Creek, just one that needs to be told.
All-solar system pitcher Chelsea White wasn’t supposed to suffer a hyperextended left knee in the third inning against Southern Vance — and the Mustangs weren’t supposed to unravel because she had to leave to game.
But she did. And they did.
And when all the fires had been extinguished the smoke had cleared, East was sent home with a season-ending 10-1 loss.
“We were thinking this was going to be a long day at the ballfield,” outfielder Jessica Rummage said. “But without Chelsea, it was an emotional drain on all of us. Look at everything she’s done for this team — gotten us through the conference, through the playoffs and into the state tournament.”
From the East bench —where White remained for the duration, an ice pack fastened to her knee — she could offer no help.
“I was still cheering them on,” the affable senior said. “I really felt like they could still do it. I don’t know if it got in their heads or they got down on themselves.”
The assignment facing the Mustangs was an awfully ambitious one to begin with. To capture the state championship, they would need to knock off Southern Vance, then earn back-to-back victories against favored D.H. Conley. That’s a formidable task for any team on a good day, especially one that relied so heavily on its fireballing pitcher.
“When you have to take her off the mound, it gets hard,” East coach Mike Waddell acknowledged. “She tried to convince us she was OK when we first went out there. So we let her throw that one warm-up ball, but as soon as she did it was a no-brainer. She was coming out.”
Let’s re-set the scene. East was ahead 1-0 with one away and no one aboard in the top of the third inning. White, with six strikeouts already, was cruising, working on another highlight-reel performance. Each time catcher Bobbi Thomas called for a fastball, it seemed like soldiers loading a cannon.
“You could tell right away she was on,” said Southern Vance winning pitcher Jordan Garrett, “We knew we were in for a really hard battle. She was throwing very hard and her ball had all kinds of movement on it. It was hard just to make contact.”
The game’s defining moment — and quite possibly the season’s — came when White reportedly heard a pop in her knee and collapsed as she delivered an 0-2 riseball to SV’s Samantha Patrick. A hush fell over the crowd as East coaches and a Walnut Creek medic huddled around White, gently manipulating her injury before requesting a warmup toss. When that produced only more excruciating pain, her day was over.
“She actually injured that knee last fall at a tournament in Florida,” said Waddell. “And she’s tweaked it on and off during the season, but never as severe as today. When I saw her sitting up out there, staring into the outfield, I knew she had to come out. As a coach, that’s not the picture you want to see.”
Without White, East looked nothing like the team that won 25 of its first 27 games — a team that showed remarkable poise and resilience until it blew up late in Friday night’s 4-3 loss to Conley. Right-hander Sydney Poole, ticketed as next year’s model, relieved and was far less effective, yielding 13 hits over the last 42/3 innings. It was only her second appearance in the circle this season.
“I’ve been wanting to pitch in a game all year, but I didn’t want it to happen this way,” Poole said afterward. “Not with Chelsea getting hurt. Nobody really said anything to me. I just knew I had to go in there and try to win.”
Instead, an army of weeds quickly sprouted in East’s well-manicured world. The rest of the game resembled an onsides kick — chaotic and all over the place. Before the third inning was over, Poole allowed two runs to score on wild pitches. Then the floodgates burst open as Southern Vance plated eight more runs in the final three innings.
“Everything got away from us,” said Rummage. “Sydney Poole did what she could, but after Chelsea went out, we stopped hitting and started making errors.”
As White was transported from the field by her father, a pall of sorrow fell over the Mustangs.
“The whole time you’re hoping she’s gonna get up and have some miraculous story to tell,” Waddell said, a warm smile masking his pain. “You hope she’s gonna stand up and pitch a seven-inning shutout. But then you realize it’s not Hollywood.”
And then you realize this: as Chelsea White goes, so goes East Rowan. Sadly, both went nowhere yesterday.