Former War Eagles helping make 49er softball history

Published 1:04 pm Tuesday, May 23, 2023

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By Brian Pitts

Davie Enterprise Record

It was a dream season for the Charlotte 49ers softball team.

In 2019, when Anna Devereaux of Mocksville was a freshman, the 49ers went 15-35 and finished last in the East Division of Conference USA.

On May 7, they clinched their first ever outright regular season championship with an 11-3 win over UAB. It was the first regular-season title since 2006, when Charlotte shared first in the Atlantic 10 Conference.

There are two former War Eagles on the Charlotte roster. The other is freshman London Dirks of Mocksville.

“Since we got here in (2020), this is what we have been working for and something we have talked a lot about with every team,” fourth-year coach Ashley Chastain said. “This is a special group and I couldn’t be happier for Bailey Vannhoy, Kassidy Krupit, Amelia Wiercioch, Grace Johnson, Lexi Wagner and Anna Devereaux for leading us this year as our six seniors and everything they’ve done in the locker room to get this team prepared for a moment like this. I am so proud for the administration, the program and every player that’s worn this jersey.”

Devereaux has loved every second of being a 49er. She has seen her team grow from the depths of 15-35 in 2019 to 31-19 in 2021 to 35-23 in 2022 to 32-18 in 2023 (through May 7). The monumental win over UAB lifted Charlotte to 16-7 in the Conference USA standings, a half-game ahead of North Texas and UAB, both of which finished 16-8.

“I love being a Charlotte 49er because it gives me the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than myself,” Devereaux said. “As a student and an athlete, there is comfort in knowing that no matter what problems you might face or no matter what you might be going through, you’ll never have to go through it alone. I just think that’s exactly what it means to be a part of the 49er family.”

The 49ers carried the No. 1 seed into the conference tournament. They opened with a 4-3 win over Florida Atlantic, but then suffered back-to-back one-run losses (4-3 to North Texas and 6-5 to Middle Tennessee).

Failing to win the conference tournament meant they did not have an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. They gathered at the coach’s home to watch the selection show. When Charlotte’s name was announced, the room went instantly insane. It was another historic moment as Charlotte notched the first NCAA Tournament berth in the program’s 37-year history.

Chastain was overcome with emotion.

“To see their reaction and their faces and all the tears we just shed, I couldn’t be happier and I’m so excited for the program,” Chastain said.

An overjoyed Devereaux said: “Being able to share a moment like that with this team, there is no one more deserving than all 22 girls on this squad. This is a year to remember.”

Through May 7, Devereaux, who shares time in left field, was hitting .246 with 27 starts and six appearances off the bench. Dirks, an infielder, had made eight starts and appeared in 26 games through May 7. She was hitting .231 with 11 runs, one homer and four stolen bases.

Devereaux has become a human interest story that goes way beyond the diamond. It grabs you by the heartstrings. She helped set the foundation for this season for the ages. She has the ability to make any day feel sunny. We’ll let Chastain take it from here.

“Anna Devereaux has been with this program longer than I have,” the coach said. “Anna has persevered more than anyone I have ever been around to continue to be able to play and to have a career. She’s had multiple shoulder surgeries on both arms. She actually softly retired at the end of our 2022 season. Then in the summer she came back to me and said: ‘Hey, I want to play through my eligibility.’ She’s an engineer major and has had to not only persevere through every surgery that she’s had, but school has been really hard for her. I mean, up until this year, she’s always had to miss days of practice, but still persevered and been a player that has been really consistent in the lineup. So she decided to return for her last year of eligibility and had a stellar fall. She was one of our leading offensive players in the fall season. The staff and I, we were so pumped about where she was at. She looked awesome at the plate. In a game against Elon, she broke her leg in a collision at first base. We decided to lead her off because she had been doing so well offensively for a couple weeks. We could have really seen Devereaux leading off for us (in 2023). In the first play of the game at Elon, she broke her leg. It was so tragic and heartbreaking for all of us. She’s got steel plates and screws and everything you could think of in her leg now. The doctor told her March 1 (the season opener was Feb. 9) is probably going to be your full return to play. You’re going to have limitations until early March, then we expect you to be fully healed and ready to go. In rehab, she had to start walking again. She was non-weight bearing for a really long time. In preseason, she started to put weight on her leg. Honestly, she had to learn how to walk again. Her gait and her stride and putting weight on her leg was all really uncomfortable for her, even though her leg was healed. So the past eight weeks have been so grueling for her. She’s a core foundation player. She’s one of our three captains and she leads us in so many ways. Morale is high when Anna is on the field.”

You want to talk about someone who is as tough as they come. Devereaux rehabbed and worked her way back onto the field on Feb. 18. The second appearance of her super senior season was Feb. 25. Then came a bookmark moment in her long journey back – it was Feb. 26 against visiting Georgia Tech. Charlotte would win that game 7-3. This is the stuff goosebumps are made of.

“We pinch hit her against Georgia Tech,” Chastain said. “She wasn’t allowed to slide and run full speed – she was probably 70 percent, with no sliding at the time. So we told her: ‘We’re going to give you some at-bats, we just need you to get to first base and then we’re going to sub a runner for you.’ Well, here we go against Georgia Tech and she hits a screamer down the line that gets (fielded) in the corner by Georgia Tech’s left fielder. Jody Davidson, our first base coach, is holding her up on first base because the plan was (to stop at first). Anna rounds first and takes off for second and didn’t even have to slide at 2nd – it was a stand-up double. That moment for our team was so special. It was electric to see her be able to do that for the first time in months after she’s learned how to walk again. It gives me chill bumps and almost brings tears to my eyes that she has again persevered to where she can help us win this year after breaking her leg. That double-down-the-line story is one I’ll never forget, and it’s going to be kind of a milestone in this team’s story.”

Charlotte’s giddy journey ended in the championship game of the Durham Regional against Duke on May 21. It finished 35-23.