Softball stumbles in first round

Published 1:49 pm Tuesday, May 16, 2023

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By Brian Pitts

Enterprise Record

Davie’s softball team soared into the 4-A playoffs with the wind at its back. It was coming off two thrilling wins in the Central Piedmont Conference Tournament – 5-4 over West Forsyth and 5-1 in eight innings over East Forsyth in the championship game.

How delicious the moment. How fleeting it was.

Five days after Davie had snatched the CPC trophy, they stumbled in the first round of the state playoffs, losing 8-4 at home to Porter Ridge on May 9. Davie was seeded 13th in the 32-team West Region; Porter Ridge was No. 20.

It was quite a letdown.

“We played two perfect games in the conference tournament, and we never reached that level (against Porter Ridge),” coach Nathan Handy said. “We just never reached that same type of intensity that we did against West Forsyth and East Forsyth.

“There may have only been one error in the book, but there were a couple mental mistakes that didn’t help us. We dropped a foul ball. There was a swinging bunt when we didn’t communicate well. We weren’t firing on all cylinders.”

It was a game of missed opportunities. Raelyn Lankford and Summer Simpson had first-inning hits, but Davie only managed one run as Sydney Dirks provided a sac fly.

In the second, Davie wasted Leah Grimes’ leadoff double. In the fourth, Davie wasted Dirks’ leadoff double. And in the sixth, Hanna Steinour and Grimes put together back-to-back, two-out hits, but both were stranded.

Even though both teams banged out 12 hits, Davie’s offense was kept quiet until the seventh, by which time it was in an 8-1 hole.

“(Porter Ridge pitcher Natalya Salo) was throwing 60ish and had a good rise ball,” Handy said. “We still had 12 hits, but we just couldn’t string them together – until the very last inning.”

In the last of the seventh, Carly Crouch, Lankford, Jadyn Davis, Simpson and Dirks produced five straight hits to cut the 8-1 deficit to 8-4 – but it was too little, too late.

The Pirates finished off the upset and improved to 12-8.

“It’s disappointing to lose in our first home playoff game (since 2018),” Handy said. “It wasn’t what we were wanting for our seniors, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. Credit to Porter Ridge.”

The silver lining: The three seniors combined for six hits in their final Davie games, and pitcher Riley Potts fanned eight to break the program record for single-season strikeouts.

Aside from the tough finish, it was a good start to the Handy era. Under the first-year coach, Davie (17-7-1) surged to its highest win total in six years and bagged its first CPC title in five years.

“We accomplished a lot,” he said. “We broke multiple records this year.”

Davie had to say goodbye to Dirks, Grimes and Simpson. All three were four-year varsity players. “It’s going to be tough next year trying to fill those (three) gaps,” he said.

All three earned a slice of history in the Davie record book. Dirks had a spectacular career while taking first place in career homers (24), tying for first in season homers (10), second in career RBIs (102), third in season RBIs (38), third in season doubles (11), third in career doubles (27), fifth in career runs (102), tying for fifth in season hits (40) and eighth in career hits (108). By hitting .549 last year and .512 this year, she owns two of the top six batting averages of all-time. The second baseman will begin her career at Western Carolina in the fall.

“We’ll never forget her breaking that (career HR) record,” Handy said. “She’s that one-of-a-kind power hitter that you might see once or twice in your career. I’m glad I was able to experience that with her the last two years because she’s definitely one of the best hitters to ever come through here.”

Simpson is tied for third in season hits (41), tied for sixth in career walks/hit by pitches (41), seventh in season average (.488), eighth in career runs (93) and tied for 11th in career hits (94). The shortstop is headed to Boone to play for Appalachian State.

“Summer has worked her butt off the last two years,” Handy said. “She’s got a heck of an arm.”

Grimes is tied for first in season walks/HBPs (18), tied for fourth in season doubles (10), fifth in career walks/HBPs (42) and seventh in career doubles (23). She will play at Mars Hill.

“Leah was a solid rock at first base,” Handy said. “She rarely made mistakes. She saved us so many times.”

Potts broke a record that had stood since 2002, when Layne Grout had 151 strikeouts. Potts closed with 155, stunning stuff for a sophomore. She ranks third in season wins with 14.

“Riley had a fantastic season,” Handy said. “She’s going to make even more noise for us next year.”

Notes: The top four batters in the order had two hits each as Lankford went 2-4, Davis 2-4, Simpson 2-4 and Dirks 2-3. Grimes went 2-2. Dirks and Grimes had two doubles each. Steinour and Crouch went 1-4 and 1-2, respectively. … In other first-round games, No. 5 East Forsyth won 8-2 over No. 28 Reagan and No. 21 Weddington won 2-1 over No. 12 West Forsyth. In the second round, East Forsyth beat Weddington 1-0 and Northwest Guilford won 5-3 over Porter Ridge.