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High school softball: Carson sweeps East, takes NPC title

By Mike London
mike.london@salisburypost.com

GRANITE QUARRY — Carson pitcher Lonna Addison coaxed a routine groundball to first base to end a doubleheader at East Rowan and to end Carson’s long, strange trip to first place.

The Cougars’ 3-0 and 2-0 victories over the Mustangs on Monday settled the jumbled North Piedmont Conference standings, once and for all, with Carson (7-1) finishing ahead of rivals West Rowan (6-2) and East (5-3).

If East had been able to split on Monday, the league race would’ve ended in a three-way tie.

Carson’s home game with East was suspended by weather on March 25 and Carson lost at West 3-0 on April 1 to get in a hole. Carson’s insane 13-12 triumph over West on Senior Night in China Grove, April 20, thrust the Cougars back into contention.

“After we lost that game at West, we were always behind, always chasing them,” Carson shortstop Kary Hales said. “But Coach (Charissa) Duncan kept reminding us that we weren’t out of the championship picture. Then we had that crazy energy night and beat West at home and we knew we could be champions, even though we still had to face East twice on the last day, and East is a good team with a very tough pitcher.”

While West and Carson have lineups filled with famous seniors, household names from their days representing Rowan Little League on faraway fields in nationally televised World Series play, East has sturdy, rise-balling pitcher Haley Strange, hard-hitting infielder Mac Misenheimer and a lot of people no one knows yet.

“We shocked the world when we beat West early in the season,” East coach Todd McNeely said. “Carson and West have lineups full of great athletes, but no one knew what to expect from us. We’ve just got some girls who play hard. We’re a band of gypsies — five travel-ball players, two volleyball players, a waitress and a cheerleader. To hang with West and Carson, we have to play great defense. We can’t make mistakes. Today, we made too many mistakes.”

Carson led 3-0 when the March 25 game with the Mustangs was suspended. Hales and Abbey Nixon had doubled and Makayla Johnson had tripled. The Cougars were able to finish off that win Monday with Hales in the circle. The only excitement that occurred once that game resumed was a two-out, two-run single by Addison that was wiped off the books for a violation of the reentry rules.

“My mistake,” Duncan said. “It cost us two runs, but, fortunately, not the game.”

After some field maintenance, the teams settled in for the nightcap, a matchup of aces Addison and Strange.

The pitcher is the great equalizer in baseball or softball, and Strange has been so good this season that she’s elevated a young team into contention. She’s East only senior.

“We can beat Carson and we can beat West,” Strange said. “We just have to keep our heads up and play with confidence.”

Strange pitched Carson hitters inside the first time she saw them back in March. She and McNeely knew that’s what Carson hitters had been working on for weeks. So on Monday she attacked them inside.

“Todd McNeely has a pretty brilliant coaching mind,” Duncan said.

Strange held Carson to four singles and struck out nine. The Cougars really shouldn’t have scored.

“It still should be 0-0 right now,” said McNeely, about 20 minutes after the game.

The top of the third told the story. Addison walked to start the inning for the Cougars. Strange struck out the next two, but Nixon’s little popup to the left side was lost in the sun and wasn’t caught. That gave Hales a chance to swing. Hales skied a foul popup to the left of home plate. That wasn’t caught, either, glancing off the mitt of diving catcher Maddie Schroeder.

“I thought that was it when I popped it up,” Hales said. “But I got a second chance.”

On that second chance, she drove a high pitch to deep center. East center fielder Tiffin Jacobs chased it, had a bead on it, caught up to it at the fence, but couldn’t hold on. Two Cougars scored. That’s all it took for Carson, which was playing without masher Liza Simmerson, to take the game.

Addison allowed a rocket of a triple to right-center by Misenheimer in the third inning. East was able to load the bases with a bunt single and a walk, but Addison struck out the side and kept Misenheimer at third.

In the fifth, Misenheimer and Myah Sifford had singles and pulled off a double steal, but Addison got a routine groundout to strand Misenheimer at third again.

Addison walked the leadoff batter in the seventh, but she struck out the next one and got Misenheimer to pop up, reaching for a first-pitch curveball. Sifford’s groundout ended the game — with Strange, who supplies most of East’s power — on deck.

“I’m not saying I wasn’t nervous, but I had a lot of faith in my teammates to catch the ball when they hit it,” Addison said. “My catcher (Johnson) did a great job on low pitches and high pitches.”

Addison made perfect pitches to Strange, in and out and on the corners, and struck her out swinging three times. Addison fanned 11.

“I may have struck her out some, but I was terrified every time she came up there,” Addison said. “I knew I couldn’t make a mistake to her.”

Added Duncan, “When a good player has struck out three times, she’s angry and hungry. We definitely didn’t want to see Haley get to the plate in the seventh.”

There weren’t any losers on Monday.

Carson won a title. East, playing with a roster of 10, had the satisfaction of knowing it still had a chance to win that title on the last pitch of the last day.

“We didn’t back down and I was proud of that,” McNeely said. “We just needed one hit with people on base.”

•••

The NPC tournament is next.

North Iredell and South Iredell will play Tuesday, with the winner facing Carson in a Wednesday semifinal.

East Rowan will play at West Rowan in the other semifinal on Wednesday.

Carson has secured the league’s only guaranteed playoff berth.

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