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RALEIGH- As usual, pitching and defense should be featured as the top fast-pitch teams in the state prepare for the North Carolina High School Athletic Association state championships this weekend.
The top four teams in each classification have qualified for the double-elimination tournaments at the Walnut Creek Softball Complex. All four of the championships are scheduled for Friday and Saturday.
The opening rounds pair Eastern representatives against Eastern representatives and West against West.
This will mark the 15th annual fast pitch championships and the 35th year for NCHSAA softball. The Raleigh Sports Consortium and the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau are among the host city sponsors.
Here is a look at each of the four championships:
Class 4-A: Perennial power Alexander Central, which is riding a 13-game win streak, will take on North Davidson in a battle of teams with 28-1 records on the opening day of play.
Alexander’s top pitcher is Chelsea Wilkinson (28-1, 323 strikeouts) while North Davidson will counter with a pitching duo of Hannah Alexander (14-1, 0.27 ERA) and Tess Swing (14-0, 0.58 ERA). Tisha Mahon is hitting a sizzling .562 for North, which finished as state runners-up a year ago.
The other 4-A matchup will send Fuquay-Varina (20-4) against New Bern (17-7). New Bern finished fifth in its conference but qualified for the playoffs and has been hot. Four-year starter Alex Warren of New Bern, an excellent shortstop who scored the winning run in New Bern’s playoff win over Cape Fear on Friday, is the sister of UNC baseball star Adam Warren. New Bern junior pitcher Kelsey Sanfilippo is 14-0 with an 0.78 ERA.
Fuquay-Varina senior pitcher Alex Ryan is 20-4 with an 0.58 ERA.
Class 3-A: Southwestern Randolph (27-1) will play Asheville T.C. Roberson (28-2) in one opener. Southwestern, the 2001 and ‘07 3-A state champ, makes its fourth straight trip to the finals.
Anna Maness pretty much does it all for Southwestern, with a 23-1 mound mark and an 0.54 ERA to go with a .621 batting average and eight homers. Roberson’s Kaitlin Ramsey sports a .434 batting average while sophomore third baseman Jordan Critcher leads the team in homers (8) and RBI (27).
Erwin Triton (24-4), winner of 15 straight, takes on Pikeville Charles B. Aycock (25-2) in the other Friday opener. Triton makes its second consecutive trip to Walnut Creek, led by junior pitcher Candice Faircloth (21-4, 0.52 ERA and team-leading .431 average at the plate), part of a young team that starts six sophomores, three freshmen and only one senior.
Aycock junior second baseman Torie Benton leads her club at the plate with a .397 mark while catcher Anna Sullivan has 35 RBI, more than twice as many as anybody else on the team.
Class 2-A: Unbeaten Richlands (26-0) takes on West Stokes (21-6) in the East regional matchup. Mikayla Jarman of Richlands has a perfect 26-0 pitching mark and was the East Central Conference Player of the Year, while West is led by two-time North State Conference Player of the Year Samantha Wilson, who is batting .480.
Black Mountain Charles D. Owen (21-5) will battle two-time defending champion Central Davidson (18-7) in the other 2-A opener Friday.
Central is in the Final Four for the fourth straight season after going 33-0 a year ago, while Owen is a young team with no seniors. Stephanie Jones is batting .488 with seven homers for Owen.
Class 1-A: One battle in this classification is a rematch of last year’s state championship game between East Surry (27-2) and Swain County (21-6). East beat Swain 1-0 in the West Regional game last year and then beat the Maroon Devils again in the final, 6-0.
Swain makes its fourth consecutive visit to Walnut Creek, paced by sophomore pitcher Shelby Parker (18-4, 0.42 ERA) and Kayla Myers with a .506 batting average. East Surry’s Courtney Simmons leads her club in most offensive categories (.457, 4 HR, 32 RBI) while Hayley Shelton has a 17-0 pitching mark and 0.19 ERA.
North Johnston (21-4) tangles with Jamesville (15-4) in the other opening 1-A game. Jamesville rides an 11-game win streak into the finals and is an extremely young team with only senior on the roster.
North, which has won the last six Carolina 1-A Conference titles and makes its fourth trip to the state semifinals since 2000, has sophomore first baseman Lindsay Tippett batting a sizzling .530 while Tayler Creech is North’s top hurler (17-3, 0.83 ERA).
NORTH CAROLINA HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION
2009 STATE FAST PITCH SOFTBALL CHAMPIONSHIPS
Walnut Creek Softball Complex, Raleigh
Fuquay-Varina (20-4) vs. New Bern (17-7), Friday at 5 p.m. (Field 1)
Alexander Central (28-1) vs. North Davidson (28-1), Friday at 5 p.m. (Field 2)
Winners' bracket final Friday at 7:30 pm (Field 1)
Elimination game Friday at 7:30 pm (Field 2)
Losers' bracket final Saturday at 11 am (Field 1)
Championship game Saturday at 1:30 pm (Field 1); if needed, a second game will follow at 4 pm
Erwin Triton (24-4) vs. Pikeville Charles B. Aycock (25-2), Friday at 5 p.m. (Field 3)
Southwestern Randolph (27-1) vs. Asheville T.C. Roberson (28-2) Friday at 5 pm (Field 4)
Winners' bracket final Friday at 7:30 pm (Field 3)
Elimination game Friday at 7:30 pm (Field 4)
Losers' bracket final Saturday at 11 am (Field 2)
Championship game Saturday at 1:30 pm (Field 2); if needed, a second game will follow at 4 pm
West Stokes (21-6) vs. Richlands (26-0), Friday at 5 pm (Field 8)
Black Mountain Charles D. Owen (21-5) vs. Central Davidson (18-7), Friday at 5 pm (Field 9)
Winners' bracket final Friday at 7:30 pm (Field 8)
Elimination game Friday at 7:30 pm (Field 9)
NOTE: West Stokes has graduation ceremonies Saturday at 2 p.m. Saturday game times are subject to change.
Losers' bracket final Saturday at 11 am (Field 4)
Championship game Saturday at 1:30 pm (Field 4); if needed, a second game will follow at 4 pm
North Johnston (21-4) vs. Jamesville (15-4), Friday at 5 pm (Field 6)
Swain County (21-6) vs. East Surry (27-2), Friday at 5 pm (Field 7)
Winners' bracket final Friday at 7:30 pm (Field 6)
Elimination game Friday at 7:30 pm (Field 7)
Losers' bracket final Saturday at 11 am (Field 3)
Championship game Saturday at 1:30 pm (Field 3); if needed, a second game will follow at 4 pm