High school softball: Surging Falcons win tournament, take momentum into playoffs
Published 5:19 am Friday, May 5, 2023
MOUNT ULLA — Arabelle Shulenberger pitched a one-hitter and Brooke Kennerly produced two bases-clearing hits, as West Rowan’s softball team stayed on a roll.
The top-seeded Falcons beat second-seeded Carson 10-0 in five innings in Thursday’s championship game of the South Piedmont Conference Tournament.
West took two out of three from the Cougars and won the last two. Carson smacked West early in the season when Lonna Addison had an epic day.
West also won recent conference tournaments in 2019 and 2021. COVID stopped the 2020 season not long after it started. Central Cabarrus won the 2022 SPC tourney.
Carson’s most recent conference tournament championship came in 2018, the year the Cougars made it to all the way to the 3A West Championship Series.
Now the Falcons (18-3-1) will take a 13-game winning streak and all the momentum in the world into the 3A state playoffs.
West has the bats smoking and has scored at least seven runs in every game during its current winning streak.
Shulenberger struck out eight Cougars. She didn’t walk any batters, although she hit four. She plunked Carson power hitters Addison and Holly Stowe two times each.
Addison was in the circle for the Cougars (15-8), but West got on top in the bottom of the first. Ashlee Ennis tripled and scored on a wild pitch.
It was still a 1-0 game when Carson batted in the top of the fourth, and the Cougars had a great chance to break through in that inning. Addison and Stowe were hit by pitches, before Emma Woodlief’s line-drive single to center, the Cougars’ only hit of the day, loaded the bases with one out.
That was the key moment in the game, but Shulenberger was up to it. The sophomore struck out the next two batters, stranded three and maintained the 1-0 lead.
Addison contained West’s powerful lineup until the bottom of the fourth, but EA Nance’s double triggered a huge inning. Taylor Keller walked before Riley Haggas singled in a run.
Ennis singled, and a run scored on an error to make it 3-0. After an intentional walk to Emma Clarke loaded the bases, Kennerly unloaded them with a solid hit to right field. Officially, it was a single, but Clarke was running from first and turned it into a three-run single for a 6-0 lead.
West added four more runs in the fifth to send fans home early. Kennerly, who was credited with six RBIs on her two hits, followed a walk to Clarke with a bases-clearing double.
Ennis had three hits, scored three runs and knocked in two. Nance went 2-for-3.
Clarke may as well have walked to the plate twirling a baton. She had four plate appearances and four walks. She scored twice.
The length of West’s playoff run will depend a great deal on Shulenberger and a great deal on Kennerly, who always hits behind Clarke. Clarke will be walked often by just about everyone who can read a scouting report. The junior Tennessee commit is a candidate for several statewide awards. A standout for three conference champion teams, she’s a final-five finalist for High School OT’s Female Athlete of the Year.
Addison has turned in a magnificent season for the Cougars, but didn’t have her best day in the circle — eight hits allowed and three walks in addition to the four free passes to Clarke. She struck out four.
West Rowan is fourth in the 3A West RPI rankings, so it can expect to be the No. 4 seed in the 3A West playoff bracket.
The Cougars will look to regroup for the the state playoffs and they could make some noise. They are No. 9 in the 3A West RPI rankings.
Central Cabarrus (10), East Rowan (14) and South Rowan (23) also will make the playoffs.
Seeds will be announced on Monday. First-round games will be played on Tuesday. West and Carson will be at home, and East might be. South will be on the road.