High hopes for girls softball

Published 10:17 am Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Davie varsity softball team was a Cadillac in 2015, when  it stopped a 34-game losing streak to North Davidson and finished second in the Central Piedmont Conference, and in 2016, when it reached the state 4-A quarterfinals to match the longest postseason run in its 20-year-fastpitch history.

Will the 2017 War Eagles represent a Benz?

Expectations are sky high as the War Eagles return basically intact after going 18-10 last year. There is a wealth of valuable experience up and down the roster, including six seniors. There is quite a sense of urgency in the quest to win the CPC for the first time since 2001, when third-year coach Dawn Lowery was a key junior for coach Dave Markland.

“It’s time,” Lowery said. “If I want to get down and dirty, I can rub that in their face. We were close to winning it (in 2015). We’ve talked about that it’s been since 2001. I try to tell them how it feels to be a conference champion. I tell the seniors this is your last hurrah and it’s now or never. That’s our goal, for sure.”

Seniors K’lea Parks, Makenzie Smith, McKenzie Barneycastle and Olivia Boger are fourth-year varsity players, although Davie will miss the supremely talented Barneycastle for presumably most of the season as she prepares to undergo surgery to remove a brain tumor.

Barneycastle plays center fielder and bats leadoff or second. Last year she hit .453 (39 for 86). Last November she signed with Newberry, a Division-II school in South Carolina. The surgery was originally scheduled for Feb. 17, but it was pushed back two weeks.

“We’re definitely going to miss her, but her health is the most important thing,” Lowery said. “She’s handling it with a lot of maturity. It’s something probably a lot of us couldn’t handle as a senior in high school. She’s such an important part of our program, but we’re confident this is going to make her stronger and she’s going to come back with more determination than before. We’re just praying for the best. If anybody can handle it, she can.”

Barneycastle was among five signees in November. The others: Jessie Beck (Guilford), Boger (Mercer), Parks (North Greenville) and Smith (Appalachian State). Four juniors have committed to colleges: Anna Devereaux (Charlotte), Sierra Ferguson (Winthrop), River Simpson (Montreat College) and Bridgett Tierney (Lander University). And then there’s sophomore Desiree Lewis, who has committed to Mississippi State.

Seven girls who hit .300 or better last year are back. The list includes Tierney (.456), Ferguson (.434 with four home runs), Devereaux (.362), Beck (.350), Parks (.317) and Smith (.303 with 26 RBIs and 12 walks).

Lowery said Ferguson’s powerful bat might hurt someone if they’re not ready for one of her missiles.

Davie has a proven arm in Boger, who went 12-5 with a 2.45 ERA over 94 innings as a junior. She has a career record of 21-9.

“Every year I see more focus and determination out of her,” Lowery said. “She’s ready to do the bulk of our pitching. She’s got a lot of talent. Her movement and speed have improved since last year. We wanted her to work on her offspeed pitch, and we can tell a difference in that.”

Simpson is a capable No. 2 arm.

“She plays a lot of travel ball and she’s improved,” Lowery said. “She’s definitely going to get some time. She’s a different look than Olivia. They both have their strengths. She’s got a great offspeed pitch.”

With Barneycastle sidelined, Tierney will slide over from right field to center, and Beck will take over in right.

“Jessie is a utility player,” Lowery said. “She can pretty much play anywhere. She’s going to get the majority of the time in the outfield. Emilee Dishman can play out there some, too.”

Devereaux is stationed in left again. The only new starter figures to be junior catcher Sydney Hendren. Ferguson will be at first and Smith at second. Sophomore Sydney Wyatt is the backup at second. Lewis and Parks are anchors at short and third, respectively, and they are interchangeable.

“K’lea is a natural third baseman, and Desiree is more of a natural at shortstop,” she said.

Beck is versatile enough to play second or third when she’s not in the outfield. Dishman can move between outfield and short.

After winning 17, 18 and 18 games the past three years, the War Eagles have their sights set on the next step. In the 2016 playoffs, they bagged road wins at Hough, Northwest Cabarrus and A.L. Brown to reach the quarterfinals. The run ended with a 3-2 loss at North Davidson in the fourth round.

Now they have some unfinished business.

“We don’t want last season to be our peak,” Lowery said. “We want to pick up where we left off. We finished on a high note, but we’re hoping for a greater outcome.”

Davie is tired of finishing second or third. It has done that 11 straight years. It is on a mission. Lowery, though, will remind you that North Davidson, West Forsyth and the rest of the CPC are practicing, too.

North coach Mike Lambros, the winningest coach in state history, constructed a dynasty in the early 1980s and hasn’t looked back. He lost pitcher Carson Pace, but this is a program that just reloads. Last year North went 26-4 overall and 12-0 in the CPC.

“North is the same every year,” Lowery said. “They lost their stud pitcher, but their backup pitcher is very talented. They could have everybody back or nobody back and they still expect to win.”

West Forsyth won it all last year while going 30-2. The Titans  swept North in the best-of-three Western Regional series before sweeping Cape Fear 3-0 and 4-3 in the state championship series. Anna Epling, a returner at catcher, doubled in the clinching run in the eighth inning of the season’s final at-bat.

But after losing eight seniors and seven starters, 21st-year coach Kevin Baity is starting over. This could be one the rare years where the specter of facing West isn’t as daunting as it usually is.

“I have to say this is the most inexperience, the youngest group we’ve ever had,” Baity told the Winston-Salem Journal.

“They lost their stud pitcher, Brooke Perry, who went to Purdue,” Lowery said. “They probably lost their 1-5 batters. They still have Epling behind the plate. They had a freshman outfielder who was pretty solid last year. And they had a freshman pitcher who played JV last year, and she’s got some talent. They’ll still be somebody we have to compete with.”

The War Eagles will be good in 2017. If they’re extremely good, the first CPC championship in a long time is very possible.

“We’re just focussing on ourselves,” Lowery said.

Notes: In two years, Lowery is 36-18 overall and 18-6 in the CPC. … The seniors are Barneycastle, Tierney, Smith, Parks, Beck and Boger. The juniors are Dishman, Hendren, Devereaux, Simpson and Ferguson. The sophomores are Lewis and Wyatt.