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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, but there are also a number of spectacular offensive statistics in the 16-team championship field.
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 16th annual fast pitch championships and the 36th 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 North Davidson (29-0), in the finals for the fifth straight year but still seeking that elusive state title, will take on T.C. Roberson on the opening day of play. North has a devastating one-two pitching punch with Hannah Alexander (15-0, 0.25 ERA, 171 strikeouts and just nine walks in 97 innings) and Tess Swing (14-0, 0.44 ERA, 159 strikeouts and 22 walks in 95 innings). They shared the Central Piedmont Conference Pitcher of the Year award. Kaitlin Ramsey has a 20-2 pitching mark for Roberson, which has three hitters over .400 led by Izzy McCurry at .422.
The other 4-A matchup will send Fuquay-Varina (17-11) against Harnett Central (22-5). Harnett Central is in the final four for the fifth time, although this is the first time as a 4-A team. Tori Williford leads the Harnett Central offense with a .404 batting average.
Fuquay-Varina has played its way through the state tournament as the number-four team from the Tri-Nine Conference, getting hot at the right time. Alexa Cannon is hitting .391 for the Bengal Tigers, who are back in the state championship event for the second straight year.
Class 3-A: East Rowan (24-1) will play Shelby Crest (23-1) in one opener. Chelsea White (23-1, 0.53 ERA, 222 strikeouts and 18 walks in 160 innings) and Ericka Nesbitt (.592 batting average) lead the way for East. Crest will counter with Bailey Smith (22-1, 0.50 ERA and .419 batting average with eight homers). Crest did not allow an earned run in a conference game this year.
Perennial softball power Southwestern Randolph (22-4) takes on South Johnston (22-8) in the other Friday opener.
Southwestern, the defending 3-A champion, also won it in 2007 and was runner-up in '08. Cynthia Hayes leads her club with a .500 average.
South Johnston has played a number of close games this year but keeps finding a way to win. Kaitlyn Barbour (15-5, 2.13 ERA) does the bulk of the work on the mound for the Trojans and was the MVP of the Princeton Easter Tournament which South won.
Class 2-A: Three-time defending champion Central Davidson (24-4) will start its quest for a fourth straight state crown against Boonville Starmount (27-4). Central's Carley Tysinger can beat teams with her arm (13-1, 0.73 ERA, 165 strikeouts and 21 walks in 96.1 innings) and with her bat (.500 average, four homers). Starmount, which has won the last two Mountain Valley Conference tournament titles, is paced by Jessica White (.500 average) and Courtney Groce (27-4, 2.30 ERA, 144 strikeouts and 49 walks in 155 innings).
Eastern Randolph (27-2) will battle South Lenoir (18-4) in the other 2-A opener Friday. Dallas Heaton broke Eastern Randolph's school record for homers this year, as she has belted 14 and driven in 59 runs while hitting at a .530 clip. She also has recorded 19 pitching victories.
South Lenoir was the runner-up to Central Davidson in the 2008 tournament and made the final four in 2006.
Class 1-A: One battle in this classification is a rematch of the 2008 state championship game and last year's tourney opener as East Surry (24-6), state champs in 2008 and '09, plays Swain County (22-4). Last year's opening game in the state tournament between these two was a taut 14-inning affair won by Swain 1-0, but East later eliminated Swain 3-0 and went on to win the title.
East Surry's Lady Cardinals started the season 6-5 but have come on strong, led by Northwest Conference Player of the Year Hayley Shelton, who is also a two-time state finals MVP.
Swain makes its fifth consecutive trip to Walnut Creek, led by Smoky Mountain Conference co-Player of the Year Kayla Myers. Myers set a new NCHSAA record for hits in a career with a current total of 185 with a sizzling batting average of .644.
Midway (20-6) tangles with Williamston (18-7) in the other opening 1-A game. Midway, the Tri-County Conference champions, are led by Sara Norris and her .489 batting average. Williamston will counter with Dasia Moore (.441) while Harris Shepherd (14-7, 1.52 ERA) handles most of the mound duty.
NORTH CAROLINA HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION
2010 STATE FAST PITCH SOFTBALL CHAMPIONSHIPS
Walnut Creek Softball Complex, Raleigh
North Davidson (29-0) vs. Asheville T.C. Roberson (25-2), Friday at 5 p.m. (Field 1)
Harnett Central (22-5) vs. Fuquay-Varina (17-11), 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
East Rowan (24-1) vs. Shelby Crest (23-1), Friday at 5 p.m. (Field 3)
Southwestern Randolph (22-4) vs. South Johnston (22-8), 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
Central Davidson (24-4) vs. Boonville Starmount (27-4), Friday at 5 pm (Field 8)
Eastern Randolph (27-2) vs. South Lenoir (18-4), 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)
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
East Surry (24-6) vs. Swain County (22-4), Friday at 5 pm (Field 6)
Midway (20-6) vs. Williamston (18-7), 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