High school softball: Carson beats West in a wild one

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 21, 2021

By Mike London

CHINA GROVE — It ended the way it must have been meant to end — with former Little League World Series teammates Kary Hales, a Carson senior, and Taylor Walton, a West Rowan senior, staring at each other from a distance of 43 feet.

The bases were loaded for the Cougars, bottom of the seventh, after consecutive one-out singles by Ellie Wilhelm, Abbey Nixon and Liza Simmerson.  West, which had trailed 9-1 at one point in the North Piedmont Conference contest and looked completely out of it, led 12-10 after a mind-boggling comeback.

Hales had been ahead in the count 2-and-0, but now it was 3-and-2. Walton went into her familiar left-handed motion. Hales, who had swung and missed twice on that at-bat, knew she couldn’t whiff again. She focused on the task at hand.

Walton’s full-count pitch to Hales would’ve been a strike, but it never reached the outside corner where Brooke Kennerly was holding her mitt. Hales smoked the ball on a line toward right-center, It was in the gap, and Cougars raced gleefully around the bases, as teammates started screaming in the dugout.

“Taylor likes to pitch away from me, and I’ve been working on hitting outside pitches for weeks,” Hales said. “The pitch was away and I was ready for it. Liza (Simmerson) was running from first base, and she’s really fast. By the time I got to first base, Liza was rounding third. I knew that was the ballgame.”

It was ballgame, but what a wild, strange trip it was.

“Both teams played all-out,” Carson coach Charissa Duncan said. “Neither of these teams is ever out of a game. I thought we had it, and then I thought West had it. Our girls just kept playing for that name on the front of the jersey. That’s why they’re out here.”

It was a huge, emotional Senior Night win for Carson (7-1, 4-1), which now has split with West Rowan (8-2, 6-2) and has a chance to win the NPC outright. The only serious challenge for the Cougars comes Monday at East Rowan (5-1, 3-1), where they’ll be completing a suspended game (Carson leads it 3-0) and playing a second game. East pitcher Haley Strange has been tough to hit, and East already has split with West.

West scored in the top of the first. Kenadi Sproul singled, Emma Clarke lined a double off the wall, and Kennerly got a run home with a flyball. Hales was pitching for Carson at that point, and she did a great job of damage control.

Then Carson scored five times in the bottom of the first against Walton on seven singles. Abbey Nixon’s single was a long flyball off the wall, but most were well-placed, rather than hard-hit. Allie Burns and Jaden Vaughn produced two-run singles, with Vaughn’s coming with two out.

That inning stunned West fans and players, but it quickly got worse for the Falcons. Nixon creamed a double to start the second, and Simmerson cleared the wall in center for a two-run homer. West miscues handed the Cougars two more runs, it was 9-1, and Carson fans were thinking about the 10-run rule.

“It was shocking to go ahead 9-1,” Hales said. “Everyone was saying, ‘You can relax now, Kary.’ But I knew I couldn’t relax. You don’t relax against West Rowan. That’s a really good team. They weren’t going to stop fighting.”

An odd play in the top of the third reversed West’s fortunes. It appeared Carson had recorded a routine 4-3 groundout to end the inning, but West coach Jimmy Greene insisted Simmerson had taken her foot off the first-base bag before she took the throw, and after some discussion, the umpires saw it the same way. Sproul hadn’t stopped running from second base and had crossed the plate, so it was 9-2. Madilyn VonCannon roped a two-run double for 9-4. The Falcons had life.

Carson made it 10-4 in the fifth. Hales nearly launched a grand slam, but West center fielder KK Dowling made the catch at the wall, and it was only a sacrifice fly.

West’s two-run sixth to get within 10-6 against a tiring Hales was sparked by Megyn Spicer’s leadoff double. Spicer scored on a wild pitch, and the Falcons added another run when Kennerly walked with the bases loaded. West got the tying run to the plate in the sixth, but Hales worked out of it.

Carson took that 10-6 lead to the seventh. That’s when the wheels came off. VonCanon’s bullet of a single got the inning started for West, and a walk and an error filled the bases. Allison Ennis bounced one toward the hole on the right side. Simmerson nearly gloved it with a backhand effort, but the ball trickled through, two Falcons charged home, and it was 10-8.

That’s when Duncan called on Lonna Addison, who has done most of the pitching for Carson this season, and sent Hales to shortstop.

Sproul kept the merry-go-round spinning with an infield hit before Clarke smacked a solid two-run single for 10-all. The power-hitting Walton fooled everyone with a bunt, and when Carson threw it around, the Falcons led 11-10.

Kennerly’s second sac fly of the marathon made it 12-10, but Addison didn’t give in. She stopped the Falcons there.

“We’d gone from up 9-1 to down 12-10, but I still didn’t see any doubt in any of my teammates,” Hales said. “There were so many highs and lows. My stress level changed so many times. But no one ever stopped believing we were going to win the game.”

With one out in the bottom of the seventh, Wilhelm beat out an infield hit. Nixon and Simmerson didn’t hit the ball hard— Walton made good pitches to exceptional hitters — but they found holes, and the bases were full for Hales.

That’s when Hales did what she’s done quite a few times over the years. Her bases-clearing double may have had conference championship written all over it.

Only time will tell.

“Kary is the one we wanted up there in that situation —  she’s been doing that her whole life,” Duncan said. “It was a perfect way to end it.”

West had 10 hits, with Sproul, Clarke and VonCanon getting two each. The Falcons made four errors.

Nixon had four of Carson’s 16 hits. Simmerson had three. Wilhelm, Hales, Burns and Makayla Johnson had two each. The Cougars survived six errors.