High school softball: East Rowan could contend in NPC

Published 12:33 am Friday, March 15, 2019

By Mike London

GRANITE QUARRY — East Rowan will be better than it was in 2018.

That’s a given. East had a one-player senior class  in 2018 and lost that player, shortstop Caroline Johnson, for the season on a disastrous slide into home last March 27.

Johnson was tearing covers off softballs and was batting .500 when she was hurt at South Iredell in East’s 11th game. East was 7-3 when it headed to South Iredell and had already beaten West Rowan, but then it had to play the last 14 games without Johnson, and things weren’t the same.

Two losses to third-place South Iredell relegated the Mustangs to fourth place in the six-team North Piedmont Conference.  Carson and West Rowan tied for first.

“We were snake-bit in the South Iredell games,” East coach Mike Waddell said. “We could’ve won both, but we let them get away. We lost Caroline in the game there.  Then when we played them at home we built a nice lead, but then we had one inning we couldn’t get out of.”

The Mustangs hit .335 as a team in 2018 and averaged nearly seven runs per game. They return a potentially energetic offense sparked by first team all-county players Maddie Trexler and Mackenzie Sprinkle, plus second team all-county performers Haley Strange, Karley Teague and Kaitlyn Samples.

Ashlyn Fritz and Izzy Schroeder are two more returning starters, and East has added promising freshmen to the mix.

“We’ve got 15 on the roster,” Waddell said. “We don’t have enough girls for a jayvee team, but we’ve got enough to push the starters.”

Trexler, the senior center fielder, and Sprinkle, the senior catcher, should be trouble for East’s opponents at the top of the lineup. They combined for 49 runs scored a year ago. Both are difficult to strike out and they provide some pop. Trexler had 13 extra-base hits, while Sprinkle smacked two homers.

Samples, the junior right fielder, had a terrific sophomore season with two homers, a .391 batting average and 22 RBIs.

Strange, a sophomore, and Teague, a junior, shared East’s pitching duties a year ago, but they also can hit. Strange batted .406 with three homers and 23 RBIs. Teague didn’t hit for a high average but contributed two homers and 15 RBIs.

Freshman Emma Walker gives East a third option for the circle, and she also can swing the bat.  Walker can play first base or third base. When Walker pitches, Teague probably will be at first base, with Strange at third.

“It’s a little bit of musical chairs,” Waddell said. “But with Emma able to play either corner, we’ll be able to get all three of them in the lineup together a lot.”

Schroeder slides over to shortstop after starting as a freshman at second base. She has a good glove. Expected to handle second base this season is freshman Mac Misenheimer.

Fritz will be a regular in left field. She contributed 11 RBIs a year ago and was one base hit away from hitting .300.

Junior Caroline Houpe is athletic and is a versatile player who can handle multiple positions. Senior Nicole Fleming is experienced and can play both infield corners.

Senior Carmen Fraley, who can drive a golf ball a long way, is making a softball comeback. Her best position is third base.

East  has depth in the outfield with  junior Erika Lloyd and freshmen Tiffin Jacobs and Emily Davis.

Strange homered and had six RBIs on Wednesday as the Mustangs scored 11 runs and slugged their way to a win at Northwest Cabarrus.

East should have the bats to swing it with rivals Carson and West Rowan, but the key to taking a step forward and contending in the NPC is going to be more consistent pitching. That could happen. East is counting on two freshmen starters, but overall the team is much more seasoned than a year ago.

‘We lost an early game this season to North Stanly in cold and drizzle, but North Stanly is going to be good,” Waddell said.

Waddell says he’s “cautiously optimistic” that the Mustangs will be as well.

East improved in 2018 from 7-14 to 12-13. A similar jump this year might put the Mustangs in the thick of things in the NPC.