High school softball: West salutes past, looks ahead to playoffs
Published 12:01 am Sunday, April 24, 2022
By Mike London
MOUNT ULLA — Devon Williams Jarvis is a new mom, a triathlete and a co-managing partner in a major law firm in Raleigh.
She lives in Cary with husband, Andy Jarvis, who used to make 3-pointers for West Rowan.
It’s a small world. Jarvis heads to an office every day that is 17 miles from the Walnut Creek Softball Complex where she enjoyed her greatest athletic moments.
She earned back-to-back 3A softball MVP awards for West’s state champions in 2002 and 2003, her freshman and sophomore seasons. As a senior in 2005, she led a brand new bunch of Falcons on a Cinderella journey that ended with a state runner-up finish.
Jarvis returned home on Friday, as West Rowan’s softball program honored those back-t0-back softball champs — still the only Rowan teams to win state titles in the sport.
“We’ve been trying to recognize those teams for quite a few years,” West head coach Jimmy Greene explained. “We finally got some things worked out, and we were able to do it on a Friday so that Devon could be here.”
Jarvis was capable of playing all over the field, for West and later for the University of Maryland Terps, but she usually was in the circle at crunch time for the Falcons. That’s how she came to be 3A state MVP twice.
She returned to the circle Friday, throwing out the first pitch for the game between South Piedmont Conference rivals West and East Rowan. Joining Jarvis were former teammates Charlene McLaurin Coughenour, Stephanie Athey Gallo, Blair Harkey Stephenson and Hillary Hampton Nixon.
Stephenson may have been the best center fielder in Rowan softball history and was a starter at that position for N.C. State.
Nixon played softball and basketball at Catawba and is married to former North Rowan and West Rowan and current Mooresville head football coach Joe Nixon. She probably is best remembered for an epic basketball career, but she was at least as good in softball. She played second base and catcher for the Falcons.
The core of those defensive-minded West teams was the Class of 2004. Those girls began to make noise with a 17-6 record as freshmen in 2001. Williams joined the fun in 2002, and the Falcons were 101-15 in her four seasons.
The former Falcons high-fived the current ones before they witnessed a wild game. Fans expected 3-2. Instead, they got touchdowns. West beat East by a football-esque 14-7.
“Any time you can beat East, you take it, whether it’s 1-0 or 10-9 or 14-7,” Greene said. “East has a great ball team.”
It was Senior Night for the Falcons. West honored second baseman Kenadi Sproul, the only senior who normally starts, as well as reserves Madeline Kluttz and Regan Roakes.
“Madeline and Regan have been a huge part of our season with their leadership and it was great to see them on the field and to get them to the plate a couple of times tonight,” Greene said. “Senior Night is always tough, always emotional, but I try to save all the tears for the last game of the season. This was a big game and our girls did a great job of being disciplined at the plate and putting the bat on the ball. When we’ve lost games this year, it’s usually because we got away from our game plan and lost our plate discipline. The secret to hitting is getting a good pitch to hit. We swung at good pitches.”
Senior Night at West (13-4, 10-2) also meant the tradition of saluting East’s seniors, including East shortstop Mac Misenheimer, who has frequently been a thorn in the side of the Falcons. “Misenheimer,” Greene said with a laugh, “can’t graduate soon enough.”
Greene estimated the crowd on Friday at 200, which is a throng for a regular-season softball game. Ideal weather conditions contributed to that.
“This was really the first hot night we’ve had all season,” Greene said. “It was like it went from 48 to 88 degrees in 24 hours.”
The offensive hero for West was freshman EA Nance. She wasn’t a household name before Friday, but now she might be. She launched a three-run homer in the second inning to give the Falcons an early 5-0 lead. She had run-scoring singles in the first and fifth and a sacrifice fly in the fourth to finish with seven RBIs.
West’s lineup starts with Sproul, who is small and quick, and then features sluggers Emma Clarke, one of the state’s top sophomores, and junior Appalachian State commit Brooke Kennerly. Nance is next. She bats cleanup for a reason.
Sproul and No. 9 batter Ashlee Ennis scored four runs apiece.
“Ashlee has come a long way this season,” Greene said. “There was a time when she was happy just playing in the field and not batting. Now she’s going up there to hit.”
Nance socked the only homer, but West was aggressive on the base paths. The Falcons stole five bases and swiped third twice.
Nine different players had hits to back the pitching of Carmen Freeze. Arabelle Shulenberger, who pitches most of West’s big games, was out for this one.
Freeze allowed seven hits and three earned runs. Her teammates made some errors, but she kept throwing strikes. She walked one and struck out four.
East almost overcame its early deficit and got as close as 6-5 with a three-run fifth. Clarke, West’s 6-foot shortstop, turned a hot grounder into a double play to stop that East rally.
Then West used three walks, Sproul’s RBI single, Clarke’s sac fly, Kennerly’s sac bunt and a hit by Nance to score four runs in the bottom of the fifth to get some breathing room.
Misenheimer had three hits for East. Maddie Roberts had two hits and two RBIs. Losing pitcher Eleni Miller had a triple.
Things come full circle. Miller’s mother Candice Hurlocker, was an All-State pitcher for East and was the Falcons’ toughest adversary during their state-championship seasons.
West has SPC games with Carson and South Rowan in the week ahead and hopes to finally play Davie, which has an explosive offensive team. West=Davie has been rescheduled multiple times.
Greene is still optimistic the Falcons will be able to complete a suspended game at West Stanly. That one was 5-5 in the fifth when the bottom fell out. Clarke hit two homers, including one right before torrential rain arrived. If it does become an official game, she’ll have 11 homers for the season.
Clarke is Greene’s niece and is the daughter of Elizabeth Clarke, the head coach of West’s state runner-up team in 2005.
Vanessa Noe coached the 2002 Falcons to the state title when most of the girls were sophomores. Ray Graham piloted a group of mostly juniors to the 2003 crown.
Five of those champs were able to return to the field n Friday.
Greene, who is 116-39 during his tenure with the Falcons, hopes the visit by the former champs will inspire the current team.
“Rowan County softball is coming back pretty strong right now,” he said. “Carson is very good. East Rowan and South Rowan have so many good freshmen.”
West and East reached the third round of the state playoffs in 2021, while Carson got to the second round.
Carson was a Final Four team in 2018.
East Rowan made Final Fours in 2010 and 2011, back in the days when the last four teams standing gathered in Raleigh for a double-elimination tournament.
Central Cabarrus will win this season’s SPC championship and is rated No. 1 in 3A West, but Carson, East and West all lost games with the Vikings that went down to the end. They should have a chance against anyone in the playoffs.
So maybe this is the year someone in the county makes a run.
“We’ve got a good focus right now, what I like to call a loose focus,” Greene said. “When we went into the playoffs last year, we weren’t scared of anyone. We were confident and we didn’t care who we were playing or who was pitching for the other team. I think we’re getting back to that kind of confident feeling.”
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