High school softball: Nixon, Walton top all-county team
Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 13, 2021
By Mike London
SALISBURY — It was a short softball season that played out in the shadows of Salisbury High’s dynamic football run.
In normal times, softball doesn’t have to compete with football.
“It was a shame that softball couldn’t get more attention this spring because it was an incredible season,” West head coach Jimmy Greene said. “When you look at what we did, what Carson did, what East Rowan did, it was all something very special. We’ll never forget these girls.”
West (12-3) and Carson (12-3) came in with high hopes and strong senior classes. East Rowan (9-5) came in with close to zero expectations and just one senior.
West had the most talent, the most power. There wasn’t much doubt about that. Greene is quick to point out that West beat both East and Carson two out of three.
West won the North Piedmont Conference tourney, but Carson, which pulled out a 13-12 home game with West and shut down East twice, won the NPC regular season.
East was actually the last team standing. The Mustangs were still playing the night after West and Carson were eliminated from the playoffs. The 3A West bracket, which had started with 16 teams, had the Falcons seeded 16th and the Mustangs 15th. It was down to five survivors when West fell to North Buncombe. Carson, which experienced a string of rainouts, and East were both ousted by Alexander Central; Carson in the second round and East in the third.
East coach Todd McNeely is the Post’s Rowan County Coach of the Year. That wasn’t a hard one. East’s run with 9.5 players (one player was shared by the cheerleading and softball squads) was close to miraculous.
“Ten players and sometimes nine, and half of our team doesn’t play travel ball,” McNeely said. “So what the girls did, winning two road playoff games, was pretty unheard of in this day and time. We beat some teams we weren’t supposed to beat because everyone bought in to what we were trying to do. And we had a great leader.”
That leader was pitcher Haley Strange, the Post’s Rowan County Pitcher of the Year.
When Strange walked out to the circle, the Mustangs had a chance against anyone. She allowed five earned runs for the entire season. She piled up 159 strikeouts and an ERA of 0.43. Opponents batted .118 against her.
“We were young and we were inexperienced, but Haley was steady as she goes and never got wild,” McNeely said. “We couldn’t have asked for any more than we got from her as a pitcher, but the most exciting thing for me was watching her grow as a person, a leader, a teammate. She would tell the girls, ‘We can do this. Give me a run and we’ve got this.’ And as the season went on, she didn’t try to strike everyone out. She learned to trust her defense.”
East made a statement very early, beating West 2-0. Strange not only pitched a shutout, she and Mac Misenheimer hit solo homers.
“Everyone on our team made a defensive play in that game,” McNeely said. “We shocked the world.”
That game would go a long way toward making Carson the regular-season champ and West the runner-up.
“First game — and it just killed us,” Greene said. “We didn’t play a game for a year and a half and then our first game back was against Haley Strange. She pitched a great game and beat us.”
West had an impressive team, with young power hitters Brooke Kennerly and Emma Clarke, fast Kenadi Sproul at the top of the lineup and familiar seniors such as Megyn Spicer, KK Dowling, Allison Ennis, Caylie Keller and Taylor Walton.
Walton was the most important of all of them and is one of the Post’s Players of the Year. Walton, who signed with D-I Quinnipiac, was not only a .400 hitter with some power, she was a punch-out hurler. She overwhelmed good Crest and Piedmont teams in the playoffs and gave West every chance to win against North Buncombe. She was the county’s strongest two-way player.
“Taylor had one off game, and that was the night Carson beat us 13-12,” Greene said. “She pitched fantastic in the playoffs and she was a very strong hitter all year. She’s been so good for so long that people just assume she’s going to be good every time, she gets taken for granted, and I think maybe that hurts her. There’s nothing she can do to surprise people anymore, but she had a very consistent senior year. We were right there against North Buncombe (a 3-2 loss) and that North Buncombe pitcher (Tennessee commit Karlyn Pickens) was the best we’ve faced since I’ve been here.”
Carson also put an experienced team on the field, including seniors Kary Hales, Liza Simmerson, Ellie Wilhelm and Jaden Vaughn, plus a solid junior group.
Carson got a big season from sophomore pitcher Lonna Addison, who may have been the county’s most improved player.
Hales, who is headed to Catawba was voted North Piedmont Conference Player of the Year by the league’s coaches.
“Kary came through with big performances when we beat West and East,” Carson coach Charissa Duncan. “So she deserved it.”
For the season as a whole, however, it was hard to overlook Carson junior Abbey Nixon. The Lenoir-Rhyne commit batted a county-best .528 and led the county with 22 runs scored. She shares the Post’s Players of the Year honor with Walton.
“Abbey had a great season and deserves recognition for it,” Duncan said. “She had key two-out hits. She hit a lot of balls in the gaps, and she got it done defensively whether she was playing center field or shortstop.”
Nixon had four hits the night Carson beat West and she had hits in 13 of the Cougars’ 15 games.
Duncan expects even bigger things next season from Nixon, who had seven doubles among her 27 hits.
“She’s selfless, very humble, a great teammate,” Duncan said. “I think it really helped her once she made her college commit. She relaxed at the plate and she hit consistently.”
Pitcher of the Year
Haley Strange, East — Senior struck out 159 and allowed five earned runs all season.
C0-Player of the Year
Abbey Nixon, Carson — Junior Lenoir-Rhyne commit batted .528 and led the county in runs scored.
Co-Player of the Year
Taylor Walton, West — Senior was one of the county’s top hitters and provided dominant pitching with 121 strikeouts.
Coach of the Year
Todd McNeely, East — Led a young team to the third round of the state playoffs
Lonna Addison, Carson — Sophomore did most of the pitching for the Cougars and kept her ERA around 1.00.
Allie Burns, Carson — Junior third baseman batted over .400.
Emma Clarke, West — First baseman hit five homers, batted over .400 and was one of the state’s top freshmen.
KK Dowling, West — Senior center fielder batted .450.
Allison Ennis, West — Senior shortstop batted .359 and was great defensively.
Kary Hales, Carson — Senior shortstop had three homers and 22 RBIs and was North Piedmont Conference Player of the Year.
Makayla Johnson, Carson — Junior catcher batted well over .400 and had 13 RBIs.
Brooke Kennerly, West — Powerful sophomore catcher batted .405 and homered in each of the Falcons’ last four games.
Rachel McCullough, Salisbury — Junior catcher was second-best hitter for the Hornets, who won four games.
Mac Misenheimer, East — Junior shortstop was the leading hitter for East.
Zoie Miller, South — Junior outfielder led South with a .417 batting average and .512 on-base percentage.
Maddie Schroeder, East — Sophomore did a great job of catching Haley Strange.
Myah Sifford, East — Sophomore second baseman came through with some key hits.
Liza Simmerson, Carson — Senior first baseman batted .360 and signed with D-I USC Upstate.
Megyn Spicer, West — Senior outfielder batted over .300 and put the ball in play in all three at-bats in West’s season-ending loss against one of the nation’s top-ranked pitchers.
Kenadi Sproul, West — Junior second baseman batted over .400 and scored 17 runs in a 15-game season.
Chloee Stoner, North — Sophomore pitcher was the top player for the Cavaliers.
Ellie Wilhelm, Carson — Senior second baseman batted over .400 and scored 15 runs.
Ellen Yang, Salisbury — Senior pitcher struck out 71 batters in 12 games and was the Hornet’s leading hitter.
Bailey Yon, South — Sophomore first baseman batted .371 for the Raiders.