Softball team back in title hunt

Published 11:06 am Tuesday, April 16, 2024

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By Brian Pitts

Enterprise Record

A 3-0 week changed the whole vibe of the Davie varsity softball season.

• The War Eagles had lost 10 of 11 to East Forsyth before winning in Kernersville on April 8.

• On March 12 they lost to Reagan for the first time ever, but they got revenge – and then some – against the Raiders on April 12.

• They were 0-3 in one-run games going into a nonconference game at Lake Norman on April 13. They stopped that little curse with a 2-1 win over the Wildcats.

Just like that, the War Eagles are riding a seven-game winning streak, they’re back in the hunt for at least a share of the Central Piedmont Conference title and the 6-5 record on March 21 feels distant.

Davie 8, East 6

The final score at East Forsyth is misleading. Davie carried an 8-0 lead into the bottom of the seventh. Coach Nathan Handy made some changes and the War Eagles had a meltdown, then held on for a crucial win.

“I learned that regardless of the score against quality opponents, you keep your foot on the gas pedal and you don’t let off,” Handy said. “I think I let off a little bit and it changed the complexion of the ballgame very, very quickly. It about cost us the game.”

After East’s pitcher retired nine in a row, Davie broke the game open in the fifth, scoring four runs and building a 5-0 lead. It extended the lead in the sixth and seventh.

Jadyn Davis went 2 for 4 to keep her robust average at .500. Addie Brown went 2-4 and homered, the second bomb of the season for the freshman. Carleigh Croom also went 2-4 and stole four bases. Raelyn Lankford doubled and walked; Raney Phelps singled, walked and scored two runs; Hanna Steinour drove in two with a hit; and Ashley Bledsoe tripled and reached base three times. Landy Parson added a single as Davie collected 11 hits.

“Jadyn’s just an offensive machine. That’s really what she is,” Handy said. “Carleigh came up big for us. She scored to get us on the board in the second. She’s been putting the ball in play and having good at-bats – she just couldn’t find a hole. Tonight she got two (hits). Addie came through for us twice. She made adjustments from the first two at-bats and got a single and a home run. As soon as it hit the bat, you knew it was gone. There was no doubt on (the homer). Hanna’s been going through a slump, but she’s been working hard and has been hitting well at practice. Every time she came up to bat, except for the walk she had, she put the ball in play. She hit a shot in the third inning that the shortstop just made a great backhand play on. She had a great night.”

Through six innings, strikeout artist Riley Potts had a five-hit shutout with 13 Ks. Since Davie had a commanding lead, Handy lifted her and threw a bone to his backup arms. Two relievers struggled and East’s offense came alive. Handy went back to Potts before Davie completely collapsed and she secured one of the rarest stats for a pitcher – she got the win and the save in the same game. She gave up one run in seven innings and struck out 15 on 145 pitches.

“We played a great game for six and a half innings,” Handy said. “We hit well. The biggest thing is, we put the ball in play.

“We’ve got to try not to wear Riley out. We’re going to give her some rest. I hope that’s the only one (a win and save in the same game) she ever has to worry about.”

Notes: East, which beat Reagan 7-6, dropped to 7-7 overall. … The win broke a tie for third, with Davie improving to 7-2 in the CPC and East slipping to 5-3. … Last year East eked out two one-run wins over Davie – 6-5 and 5-4. When Davie beat East 5-1 in eight innings in the CPC Tournament final, it ended a 10-game losing streak in the series.

Davie 7, Reagan 0

In the first meeting in Pfafftown in March, Reagan freshman Caycee Wilson threw a three-hitter, struck out 11 and carried the Raiders to their first ever victory, 1-0, over Davie.

The War Eagles didn’t just get payback on April 12, they dominated. Behind five hits from the Lankford/Croom tandem and lights-out pitching from Potts, Davie stopped Reagan’s eight-game winning streak, a run that began with a 4-1 win over West Forsyth.

“We’ve seen that following the game plan and sticking to is so important,” Handy said. “It’s amazing to see when you have an approach how much of a difference that makes at the plate.”

Wilson put up zeroes in the first and second. Davie needed a spark in the third, and hits from Lankford and Steinour provided it as Davie surged to a 3-0 lead. With Brown aboard in the fourth, Croom cranked a two-run homer. Davie pushed the margin to 7-0 in the sixth.

Lankford and Croom have been on a skyrocket climb. Lankford’s 3-for-4 night raised her average to .452. Croom went 2-3 with her second homer, making her 8 for 11 during a six-game hitting streak. Steinour, Landry Parsons and Brown all went 1-3.

“Raelyn has come on of late,” Handy said. “In conference, her average is pushing .750, .800. Anytime we throw to her in the cage or on the field, she is just barreling everything up. She hits the ball so hard.

“Before spring break, Carleigh had seen some things she needed to work on. She had a rough night at the plate one night and she went home and was hitting on the tee and working on her swing. Kids who put in the extra work are going to eventually produce. She wants it real bad; she wants to help her team.”

The nearly unstoppable Potts pitched a two-hitter. To add insult, she struck out 13, faced 25 batters (four over the minimum) and lowered her ERA to 0.91.

Potts’ final strikeout was a monumental moment – the record-breaking 156th of the season as she broke her own record. Last year she fanned 155 in 127 innings. She left the Reagan game with – deep breath – 156 Ks in 76 innings. Yes, she broke the record in 51 fewer innings than the year before.

“To do it in as few innings as she has this year is incredible,” Handy said. “She really worked in the offseason and it has shown. The batters are lost; sometimes you can just see it. They’re not even making good swings because sometimes they have no clue (what’s coming). Her spins are nasty. It’s just incredible to watch.”

Notes: Reagan lost for just the third time in 16 games. … The race for first is a three-team derby. With two weeks left in the regular season, West Forsyth is 8-1, Reagan is 10-2 and Davie is 8-2. … Davie is 27-1 all time against Reagan.

Davie 2, LN 1

Lake Norman’s Charlee Kelly shoved a three-hitter with 12 Ks, but Davis blasted a homer, Phelps passed her biggest test as a pitcher with flying colors, second baseman Ashley Bledsoe absolutely played out of her mind and Davie found a way to prevail in a thrilling nonconference game.

“Our defense saved us,” Handy said. “Ashley made four or five great plays.”

Davie never trailed thanks to Davis’ solo homer in the first. It was the team-high third bomb for the sophomore.

“The Lake Norman coach said it was supposed to be a curveball outside or even off the plate,” Handy said. “They really tried to pitch around Jadyn and Hanna. They tried not to throw them anything that was hittable. She just missed her spot and Jadyn turned on it. She was due for one. She had been hitting the ball hard and just could not find a hole. The best way to find a hole is to just hit it over them.”

Davie got an insurance run in the fourth. With two outs, Bledsoe walked and stole second. The next batter, L. Parsons, drove her in with a single.

Handy pulled Potts after the third just to give her a break. She got four batters on strikes to push her career strikeout total to 340, one shy of the program record. It’s beyond remarkable that she’ll break that career record as a junior.

There’s many ways to look at her substantial improvement from last year. One thing is her control. Last year she averaged a walk every 2.8 innings; this year she’s walking one every 3.7 innings.

“She’s able to hit her spots so much better than last year,” Handy said. “That’s another incredible stat.”

When Potts left, Handy gave the ball to a freshman. Phelps had made six relief appearances, but she’d not gone longer than two innings and five of those appearances were against low-profile teams (Mt. Tabor, Parkland, Carson, Glenn and Reynolds).

But Phelps was terrific against a team that was 12-5 with a four-game winning streak. She had no walks and one run allowed in four innings.

“Raney needed to have an opportunity – No. 1,  to get her prepared for the playoffs,” Handy said. “We’ve got to have a backup prepared, and she did a fantastic job.”

Phelps faced pressure in the bottom of the seventh. After the first two batters got out, back-to-back singles led to a second-and-third situation with Davie clinging to the 2-1 lead.

“I went out and asked Raney if she wanted me to load the bases to have a force anywhere or do you want to pitch to this batter?” Handy said. “Raney said: ‘I want this batter.’”

Phelps induced a grounder to short, and Davis threw to first to secure Davie’s 13th win in 18 games.

“That was a big moment for Raney,” Handy said. “She got her with an inside drop ball and got her to roll over on it.”

Notes: Davis, Steinour and L. Parsons all went 1-3 against Lake Norman. … Davis and Lankford are Nos. 1-2 with .460 and .431 averages, respectively.