High school softball: Carson stays on a roll

Published 1:09 am Thursday, May 18, 2023


By Mike London

CHINA GROVE — As Carson’s Holly Stowe stepped into the batter’s box in the fifth inning, head coach Hunter Gibbons saw the look on Stowe’s face and knew what was coming next.

“Holly is going yard,” Gibbons told assistant Chloe Monroe, and a few seconds later Gibbons’ prediction was proven accurate.

Stowe’s blast to center field with two out and two on basically started the bus for visiting West Henderson. A precarious two-run Carson lead had become a secure five-run advantage with one mighty swing from Cars0n’s senior catcher.

Carson (18-8) beat 14th-seeded West Henderson 6-1 on Wednesday night, the third playoff victory for the 11th-seeded Cougars, They are the lowest seeded team in the 3A West bracket that is still breathing.

“Holly is one of a kind,” Gibbons said. “When she’s on, she’s on, and right now, she’s on. She’s going to UNC where she’ll just be a regular student, so each softball game she gets to play  is really important to her. She’s eating, drinking and sleeping softball. I think she wants it right now about as much as anyone I’ve ever seen.”

Gibbons, who was a two-time Rowan County Player of the Year as a slugging shortstop for West Rowan before she broke records at Western Carolina University, is in her first season as Carson’s head coach. She’s led the Cougars through some rough patches. They’ve bounced back from some tough losses to be the last Rowan team standing in the softball playoffs.

Only two Cougars (seniors Lonna Addison and Landry Stewart) have huge stats. The rest of the Cougar lineup is a mix of seniors and new faces.

“We had a rocky season for a while, a lot of ups and downs, but we played in a deep league and played good teams outside our league, tough 4As and a good team from out of state,” Gibbons said. “That’s all helping us now. We’ve got a group of five seniors who are giving this team a lot of life and we’re playing our best at the right time. Our hearts are in it”

Carson’s senior class includes Stowe, pitcher Addison (Lees-McRae), center fielder Stewart (USC Upstate), shortstop Phoebe Cole (Gaston College) and left fielder Emily Kann.

Addison has carried a substantial load as both the ace pitcher and the team leader in homers and RBIs. Stewart is a fast lead-off batter who scores runs.

“Teams started pitching around Lonna some,” Gibbons said. “But we’ve had other girls come through.”

The bottom of the first inning started with a bunt hit by Stewart. If she gets it on the ground, it’s a single, even if the catcher fields it.

Cole’s sacrifice  bunt moved Stewart to second. She took third on a wild pitch and scored on Addison’s infield hit for a 1-0 lead.

Stewart also started the third with a bunt single. When Cole walked and Emma Woodlief’s bunt led to a miscue, the Cougars had the bases loaded. Stewart was able to score on Addison’s groundout. When Cole scored on a passed ball, the Cougars led 3-0.

“When Landry gets on base, good things are getting ready to happen for us,” Gibbons said. “We’ve had to work to be able to execute small ball because we don’t have a lot of people who are going to hit home runs.”

West Henderson (17-6) got on the scoreboard in the fourth. The visitors only had four hits, but they got two of them in that inning to cut Carson’s lead to 3-1.

In the Carson fifth, Woodlief, who has provided a lift for the team since returning from surgery, walked with one out and Addison produced a line-drive single. With two outs, Stowe fouled off a pitch and took a ball before she connected solidly for the three-run homer that broke the game open.

Stowe also homered when Carson won 8-0 at sixth-seeded Crest last week.

“The mindset of the seniors is that we’re in it to win it,” Gibbons said. “We’re a different team that we were a month ago It’s been kind of crazy to sit back and watch it.”

Addison was solid gold in the circle as she’s been in most of Carson’s games. She struck out 13 with no walks.

“She’s pitched great,” Gibbons said. “Just goes out there and pitches her game. Another senior who wants it pretty bad.”

Carson made no errors. Stewart and Addison had two hits each, while Stowe had one big one. Cole, Cora Atwell and Laila Furr contributed one hit each.

Nextfor the Cougars is a Friday road trip to seventh-seeded Rockingham County, about 30 miles from the Virginia line.

“Handling the trip won’t be a problem,” Gibbons said. “We’ve already had a playoff road game at Crest.”

Rockingham County (22-5) knocked out Oak Grove 2-1.

The other teams left in the 3A West bracket are No. 1 Enka, which beat East Rowan in Round 2, and No. 5 East Lincoln, which beat West Rowan in Round 3.

A win at Rockingham County would put the Cougars in the regional championship series. Carson made it to that series in 2018 but lost to Alexander Central.