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FOR NCHSAA STATE SOFTBALL CHAMPIONSHIPS
RALEIGH- As usual, pitching and defense should be featured as the top fast-pitch softball teams in the state prepare for the North Carolina High School Athletic Association state championships this weekend. But there are also a number of players with spectacular offensive statistics in the 16-team 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, with the opening rounds Friday pairing Eastern representatives against Eastern representatives and West against West.
This will mark the 17th annual fast pitch championships and the 37th 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 (27-1), in the state semifinals for the sixth straight year and the defending state 4-A champ, will take on a strong Alexander Central team (28-1) in a great matchup on the opening day of play. Perennial power Alexander Central won the state crown in 2009, one of six the Cougars have accrued in 10 previous finals appearances, and beat North Davidson 2-1 for that title in '09.
North, which has won 90 games over the past three seasons, has four .400-hitters in its lineup, led by Allie Nicholson's .584. The Black Knights' one-two pitching punch includes Mackenzie Hauser (14-1, 0.79 ERA) and Eliza Davis (8-0, 0.82 ERA). Alexander Central has one of the state's all-time best pitchers in Chelsea Wilkinson (28-1, 0.58 ERA, 316 strikeouts in 182 IP), who was the Most Valuable Player in the '09 championship and has gone over the 1,000-strikeout mark for her career.
The other 4-A matchup will send Holly Springs (22-1) against surprising Clayton (16-9). Erica Nunn (22-1, 0.14 ERA, 318 strikeouts in 150 IP and also batting .500), was the Tri-Nine Conference Player of the Year. This is the first trip for Holly Springs into the finals in the school's five-year history.
Clayton has gotten hot at the right time of year to win its way to Walnut Creek. Jenna Harris leads the way for Clayton with a .443 batting average.
Class 3-A: Southern Vance (22-3), which eliminated two-time defending state champion Southwestern Randolph from the tournament on Monday night, goes against Greenville D.H. Conley (23-4).
Conley's Lady Vikings make their third appearance in the state championship series and second under head coach Wayne Deans. Brittany Owens is hitting a whopping .472 for Conley and Katarina Hudson is right behind at .466. Southern Vance's Jordan Garrett is 23-3 on the mound this season with a 0.49 ERA and has 351 strikeouts in 172 innings of work.
Crest (22-3) will face East Rowan (24-2) in the Western half of the draw. Crest, the Big South Conference champion, will rely on Emily Kale's pitching (21-3, 1.81 ERA) and the bat of Amanda Baker (.466). East Rowan, the North Piedmont Conference champs for the last four years, has Ericka Nesbit hitting a sizzling .557 and gets great production from Chelsea White (23-2, 0.47 ERA, also hitting .451 at the plate).
Class 2-A: This classification promises to be tough, with defending state champion Eastern Randolph and the three-time state titlist from 2007-09, Central Davidson, in the field.
Eastern Randolph (28-2) will open against Swansboro (21-6), with Eastern paced by the NCHSAA's all-time leading home run hitter, Dallas Heaton. Heaton has 35 career homers, 18 this season, and is also 24-2 on the mound with a 1.49 ERA. Kaitlyn Scheuering is batting a team leading .591 for Eastern Randolph. Swansboro will counter with East Central Conference Player of the Year Jaimee Radel (22-6, 389 strikeouts, 0.99 ERA).
Central Davidson (26-3) will battle Canton Pisgah (21-4) in the other 2-A opener Friday. Central's Kara Lohr is batting .425 and Morgan Roach .407 to lead the Spartans. Hali Worley of Pisgah is a three-time all-conference selection and one of the top Black Bear players.
Class 1-A: East Surry (25-4), the three-time defending 1-A state champ, takes on Murphy (25-2) in one opener. The Cardinals of East are in their ninth appearance in the state semifinals and have won five NCHSAA state softball championships. Beth Isaacs of the Cards was the Northwest Conference Player of the Year this spring (17-2, 0.81 ERA, 197 strikeouts in 130 IP, also batting team-leading .375).
Murphy has an explosive offense, having scored 10 or more runs in a whopping 18 games this season, and has outscored the opposition 39-0 during this postseason run. Brittany Henry (.613) leads the Murphy attack and is also the top pitcher (23-2), 0.50 ERA, 219 strikeouts).
Princeton (21-5) tangles with Pamlico (24-4) in the other opening 1-A game. Princeton is a young team with only one senior on the roster, led by Megan Gerrell hitting at a .442 clip and Nicole Melvin with four home runs. Traci Bridgers (18-4, 1.40 ERA) handles the majority of the pitching chores for Princeton.
Kara Cayton swings the big bat for Pamlico (.513, four homers, 32 RBI) and Katie Lachman (18-4, 0.80 ERA) is Pamlico's top pitcher.