Softball loses in third round

Published 11:46 am Thursday, May 25, 2017

It wasn’t supposed to end like this. It was supposed to end with Davie’s softball team going deeper than ever in the 4-A playoffs.

Instead, the War Eagles absorbed the sting of a regret-filled 5-2 loss at Richmond County in the third round (or final 16) of the playoffs on May 16.

Even though the War Eagles were underdogs on paper – they were the 11th seed in the West Region while the Raiders were the second seed – they had a beautiful opportunity to match the longest run in program history (quarterfinals) and win the whole thing. Afterward, they were incredibly disappointed as they faced a 101-mile ride home.

Richmond improved to 24-4. Davie, which had won seven in a row, finished 22-5.

“It was an upsetting result, mostly because we felt like we were better than that team,” coach Dawn Lowery said. “We had such big goals and all the goals were so attainable. I mean we were perfectly capable of going all the way to Raleigh and winning it. They were good, but we were better. We just weren’t better on May 16. That’s what makes the pill so hard to swallow.”

Pitcher Olivia Boger, who had crafted some of the finest games in Davie fastpitch’s 21-year history, was off her game in the early innings, and Davie was pinched for two first-inning runs without the Raiders putting a ball in play. She struck out the side in the first, but a walk, hit batter and three wild pitches led to the 2-0 deficit.

“Olivia didn’t pitch her best game,” Lowery said. “She’s taking it to heart, but she got us to where we were. We wouldn’t have been where we were without her all season. She was a workhorse for us. I’m grateful for everything she’s done for us because we wouldn’t have been there without her.”

In the Richmond third, the Raiders banged out three hits as they provided more leeway for their pitchers. Boger struck out two in the inning, but a two-out throwing error made it 5-0 and essentially finished the War Eagles.

This mess came after Davie allowed one run in the previous seven games. Boger’s line was a mixed bag. She held the Raiders to four hits and struck out nine. But she also walked three and hit four. Three of the five runs were earned. She walked away with the lowest ERA (1.75) in 12 years (Amy Alexander had a 1.30 mark in 2005).   

“She wasn’t as sharp as she usually is, but she still only  gave up four hits to a great-hitting team that is averaging double-digit hits,” Lowery said. “She just couldn’t quite get in the groove, but she still came up big for us on multiple occasions.”

Indeed, Boger made big pitches to get out of major jams. With the score 5-1 and two outs in the fourth, she got a strikeout with the bases loaded. With the score 5-2, two outs and the count full in the sixth, she got another bases-loaded strikeout.

Meanwhile, the Davie offense never mounted the kind of rallies they did so frequently in the past. McKenzie Barneycastle singled with one out in the first and advanced on a wild pitch. But she was stranded by a popup and a strikeout looking.

With the score 2-0 in the third, Bridgett Tierney roped a two-out triple. But a popup kept Davie off the board.

Davie had hard-hit balls go for outs, like Makenzie Smith’s liner to second to start the fourth. Sierra Ferguson smacked a triple down the first-base line and scored on Anna Devereaux’s bunt. That made it 5-1.

A game-changing rally attempted to form in the sixth. Tierney reached on an error. When Smith singled, Davie had runners at the corners with one out. With the score 5-1 and Ferguson due up, Richmond coach Wendy Wallace visited the circle.

Ferguson crushed one – this was Davie’s big chance – but the second baseman gloved it in self-defense. Tierney scored but Ferguson was retired at first, and the Raiders minimized the damage.

“It was an absolute laser beam and the girl just stuck her glove out and it one-hopped into her glove,” Lowery said. “Should that ball get by, maybe I would have scored Makenzie from first.”

In the seventh, K’lea Parks hit a vicious liner off senior pitcher Mackenzie Ward’s ribs, resulting in a leadoff hit and ending Ward’s night after six innings, zero walks and six strikeouts. Senior NaLee Jacobs grabbed the baton, and the Raiders wouldn’t cooperate with Davie’s last-gasp shot at a comeback. Jessie Beck flew out to deep left. The next two batters went down on strikes.

A record-setting 22-win season was over.

“We couldn’t string them together the way we had been in games leading up to this,” Lowery said. “We had too many strikeouts. We had a pretty good idea of what they were going to throw going in. We had a good game plan. We made good contact. We just didn’t do it at the right times. They weren’t throwing anything that we couldn’t handle. It just wasn’t our night.”

With help from four Davie errors, the Raiders beat Davie for the third time in as many years. Ward (12-2 record, 1.42 ERA in 19 games) and Jacobs (12-2 record, 1.69 ERA in 18 games) contained an offense that was racking up 10.3 runs per game.

The War Eagles, who reached the fourth round in 2016, featured a senior class (Barneycastle, Smith, Parks, Beck and Boger) that churned out a 75-31 record for the winningest four-year stretch in Davie softball’s 42-year history. Tears flowed as five special players wore the orange and black for the final time. They helped Davie end a six-game losing streak to North Davidson, the same night the War Eagles captured the CPC Tournament for their first conference title in 16 years.

“The five seniors have put their blood, sweat and tears into this program and they’ve laid the foundation,” Lowery said. “I’ve very fortunate to have coached them for six years, dating back to middle school at North Davie. It’s going to be an adjustment because I haven’t coached without them, except for one year at Davie as a JV assistant. Other than that, they’ve always been on my team. They’ve done a lot for me and a lot for the program. They are top notch and I wouldn’t trade any of them for the world.”

After hitting six triples in 26 games, Davie got two in this one. But that couldn’t turn the momentum against an opponent that handled Davie 10-0 in 2015 and 11-2 in 2016. The Raiders are on quite a roll, this season marking their fifth straight 20-win season. They also earned a fourth-round berth for the fourth straight year.

While the end was a downer, the journey created incredible memories.

“I hope the girls remember the ride and not the way it ended,” Lowery said. “You always remember your last game, but I hope they remember everything they accomplished because this team accomplished more than any other team has in the past, in my opinion.”

The War Eagles’ average (.396) set a record. The old record was .364 in 2013. Remarkably, Parks did not strike out in 90 plate appearances. Her streak is 93 when dating to the end of 2016. She struck out once in a span of 37 games.

Ferguson, who delivered a wire-to-wire tear, shattered the batting-average record at .573, or 31 points above the old record. Smith closed her career with a 15-game hitting streak. Tierney, a junior, hit safely in 24 of 26 games. Oh, and there’s this: Ferguson will carry a 35-game hitting streak into 2018.

The seniors reflected on a journey that will live forever in their hearts.

Parks:  “I cherish the relationship that we have, and that will carry on for many years to come. I love my girls so much, and honestly I can’t imagine life without them. They are truly my family. I will never forget this group of girls. They have by far made me a better person. I can’t thank them enough.”

Boger: “They are my family. I don’t say that lightly. Each and every one of the girls on this team is my sister and they each hold a special place in my heart. We’ve all grown up together and made memories that I will hold with me for the rest of my life. This isn’t just your average everyday softball team. We are not mediocre. We are extraordinary and we have all accomplished so much. And I  can not explain how proud I am of my family for what they’ve done this season. It’s something special and I’m not ready to give it up, but my journey here has come to an end. It’s been a heck of a ride.”

Smith: “I will cherish the girls and the energy we brought to the table. I have never played for a team that I felt like we could win every single game if we played like we were capable. These girls love the game so much, and that alone is a huge reason we did as well as we did. Heck, the season is over and we asked if we could practice just because we miss each other already.”

Beck: “This year was so fun. The team as a whole had a connection that is indescribable, and everyone was willing to put the team first. I will definitely cherish and hold on to the relationships I have with each and every one of the girls because they are honestly my family and I don’t know what I will do without them. We have all helped each other grow as not only players but as people, and to me that is key. This was a special group and will always hold a place in my heart.”

Barneycastle: “This season was special because of all the love. Everyone clicked and truly loved each other so much. I could sing and joke with them forever. It breaks my heart knowing I won’t be able to ride the bus with them again. I think that that carries over very well into our chemistry on the field, and that is what made our season so great.”

Season Records

Runs – Morgan Hendrix 44 (2014), Sierra Ferguson 39 (2017), Makenzie Smith 36 (‘17), Bridgett Tierney 36 (‘17)

Hits – Ferguson 47 (‘17), B. Tierney 42 (‘16), Hendrix 41 (‘14), B. Tierney 40 (‘17)

RBIs – Ferguson 47 (‘17), Caroline Miller 34 (‘13), Smith 33 (‘17)

Batting average – Ferguson .573 (‘17), Morgan Wyatt .542 (‘09), Sarah Myers .521 (‘13), Hendrix .487 (‘13), Hannah Tierney .483 (‘06), Hendrix .471 (‘14), Ashlie Sanders .462 (‘01), B. Tierney .459 (‘17), Wyatt .457 (‘07), B. Tierney .456 (‘16)

Triples – Dana Smith 7 (‘98), Wyatt 6 (‘08), Sanders 4 (‘98), B. Tierney 4 (‘17), Ashley Bracken 4 (‘99), McKenzie Barneycastle 4 (‘15)

Home runs – Ferguson 10 (‘17), Wyatt 9 (‘09), Desiree Lewis 6 (‘17), Smith 5 (‘17)

Pitching wins – Olivia Boger 17 (‘17), Shannon Handy 15 (‘01), Handy 12 (‘00), Boger 12 (‘16)

Innings pitched – Layne Grout 131 (‘02), Boger 124 (‘17)

Strikeouts – Grout 151 (‘02), Boger 148 (‘17)

Walks/hit by pitches – Haley McCune 18 (‘11), Ferguson 18 (‘17)

Career Records

At-bats – K’lea Parks 310 (2014-17), Smith 310 (2014-17), Wyatt 310 (2007-10)

Runs – Hendrix 122 (2011-14), Wyatt 102 (2007-10), Smith  101 (2014-17), B. Tierney 89 (2015-17), Parks 86 (2014-17), Abby Daniels 83 (2011-14), Barneycastle 82 (2014-17), Anna Devereaux 74 (2015-17)

Hits – Hendrix 133 (2011-14), Wyatt 129 (2007-10), Parks 111 (2014-17), Smith 110 (2014-17), Sanders 105 (1998-01), Whitney Williams 100 (2004-07), Daniels 94 (2011-14), Barneycastle 93 (2014-17)

RBIs – Smith 93 (2014-17), Wyatt 91 (2007-10), Myers 78 (2012-15), Sadie Lagle 76 (2009-12), Ferguson 73 (2015-17), Parks 72 (2014-17)

Doubles – Lagle 35 (2009-12), Jordan Schultz 30 (2006-09), Wyatt 26 (2007-10), Smith 26 (2014-17), Sanders 23 (1998-01), Parks 22 (2014-17)

Home runs – Ferguson 14 (2015-17), Wyatt 13 (2007-10), Smith 8 (2014-17), Lewis 7 (2016-17)

Pitching wins – Handy 40 (1998-01), Boger 38 (2014-17)

Innings pitched – Handy 347 1/3 (1998-01), Boger 296 1/3 (2014-17)

Strikeouts – Handy 341 (1998-01), Boger 323 (2014-17)

Walks/hit by pitches – Smith 46 (2014-17), H. Tierney 45 (2003-06)