High school softball: Carson powered by experienced battery
Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 20, 2022
By Mike London
CHINA GROVE — Carson’s softball team didn’t panic over an 0-4 start to the 2022 season for three reasons.
First, the losses were to perennial powers. Second, the losses were non-conference. Third, the Cougars know they’re going to be good.
”We put together the toughest schedule we’ve ever played because we have the expectation of having a team that can handle that schedule,” Carson head coach Charissa Duncan said. “You start 0-4, and I know it doesn’t look so good, but those were very good teams we played. We were one pitch away from beating Mooresville, but a good hitter (Lauren Vanderpool) hit one in the gap to beat us. But we know we can play with good teams.”
Basically, those early games were just solid preparation for the conference race and the playoffs.
Carson will be fine. The Cougars hammered Concord and Northwest Cabarrus in their first two South Piedmont Conference outings.
Carson was North Piedmont Conference regular-season champ in 2021, sweeping a doubleheader late in the season at East Rowan to claim the title.
The shift to the SPC means competing for trophies with Central Cabarrus, as well as familiar rivals West Rowan and East.
On paper, Central, West and Carson appear to be the top trio, with Northwest Cabarrus, Lake Norman Charter and Concord the bottom three. Young East Rowan and South Rowan teams are expected to fall in the middle, but both are so freshmen-heavy that it’s hard to tell exactly how good they can be.
As far as Carson, there’s not much doubt that the Cougars are going to pound a lot of people.
The booming bats of Kary Hales and Liza Simmerson will be missed, but the Cougars still have a strong offensive nucleus with seniors Abbey Nixon, Makayla Johnson and Allie Burns and junior Landry Stewart.
There was a lot of worry about Nixon, a Lenoir-Rhyne signee who tore an ACL trying to help out the track team after her fantastic 2021 softball season ended. Duncan had penciled her in for third base, but nine months after surgery, she has shown she’s capable of handling shortstop. She’s a tough out, a gifted hitter who put up a .510 batting average as junior.
Nixon had five hits and eight RBIs in last week’s Concord game.
“We’ve been moving our infield all round in the early games,” Duncan said. “But with Abbey looking healthy, we’ve figured out how we want to play it.”
Burns, a Catawba signee who hit .426 in 2021, can play several positions, but will likely be the third baseman.
Phoebe Cole, a junior who is the second pitcher for the Cougars, has taken charge at second base.
“She’s a tough kid who’s come a long way,” Duncan said.
Cora Atwell, a sophomore who has shown power, usually will be the first baseman.
Carson is really good and really experienced in the pitcher/catcher department. That’s critical. The battery decides a high percentage of softball games.
Junior Lonna Addison will be in her third season as Carson’s No. 1 pitcher, and there’s no substitute for experience. Addison racks up strikeouts without walking a lot of people. She should give the Cougars a chance against anyone.
“She’s got some speed, and we’ve also got Phoebe Cole, who gives us a different look and is throwing very well,” Duncan said. “They’re a good tandem, supportive of each other.”
Where Addison has made a huge jump is in the batter’s box. She’s been a decent hitter in the past, but she’s become a major power threat a senior. She’s been pounding homers.
“She’s matured at the plate, she’s strong, and it’s good to see her succeeding in game situations,” Duncan said. “She can hit one out at anytime.”
Makayla Johnson was a starter for Carson’s basketball team, but quickly re-established herself as the Cougars’ top catcher, as soon as she reported for softball. She batted .452 in 2021.
“She’s got a cannon behind the plate, and the experience to know how to use it,” Duncan said.
Holly Stowe is the backup catcher, but Johnson will be in the lineup most of the time. That frees Stowe to play some in right field where other leading candidates are Evie White and Emily Kann.
Landry Stewart is Carson’s best defender. She could be a fine shortstop, but her speed is more impactful in center field.
‘We don’t have anybody who can cover the kind of ground she covers,” Duncan said.
A junior who already has committed to D-I USC Upstate, Stewart isn’t a household name yet because softball teams played only a handful of games in 2020 and roughly half of a season in 2021. But she can catch just about anything that stays in the park. At the plate, she can turn a slapped ground ball that finds a hole into a triple. She puts a lot of pressure on defenses when she puts it in play. She batted.356 as a sophomore.
Carson is breaking in a second slapper this season. That’s left fielder Brooklynn Davis, who started the season very hot.
It’s a full roster. Duncan will also try to find playing time for Stef Shut, Peyton Hollar, Devyn Lee, Laila Furr and Emma Reedinger.
“The biggest thing is the chance to play a lot of softball,” Duncan said. “The kids in this senior class have had so much taken away from them and they’ve lost so much to COVID. Now they’ve got the opportunity to play a full season and show what they can do. I know they’ll make the most of it.”
Coach: Charissa Duncan, 6th season, enters 67-36
Top returners: Infielders Abbey Nixon and Allie Burns, pitcher Lonna Addison, catcher Makayla Johnson, center fielder Landry Stewart
2021 record: 12-3 (conference champs)
Playoffs: Lost to Alexander Central 3-0, second round
2022 record: 2-4