Elementary school readers have potential to make record books

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory visited Sun Valley Elementary School in June to read to students and congratulate them for being recognized on a state and national level for the amount of time students spent reading during the summer. Sun Valley Elementary earned recognition through the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge by logging 6,042,663 minutes reading. Photo courtesy of Deb Coates Bledsoe

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory visited Sun Valley Elementary School in June to read to students and congratulate them for being recognized on a state and national level for the amount of time students spent reading during the summer. Sun Valley Elementary earned recognition through the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge by logging 6,042,663 minutes reading. Photo courtesy of Deb Coates Bledsoe

When rising Sun Valley junior Brittany Pickett heard she had been named the 2014 Class 3A Softball Pitcher of the Year, the prestigious recognition took her completely by surprise.

But it was an easy choice for softball coaches across the state. After all, she led the Spartans on the mound to the school’s first state championship since 1997, going 16-5 along the way and racking up 144 strikeouts. She was named the state title game MVP after allowing just six hits against C.B. Aycock from the pitchers circle while hammering in two doubles at the plate to help grab the title.

But for Pickett, she was just doing her job.

“Honestly, I didn’t know I was that good,” she said. “I went out there and pitched like I practiced every day and that paid off. I was up against 200 or so pitchers from across the state and I thought, ‘Wow, I’m on top.’ I couldn’t be more proud of myself and it’s such an honor and one that I didn’t expect.”

Pickett was a huge factor in the Spartans’ rise to the top this season, not just from the circle, where she posted a 2.59 ERA, but from the plate, as well. The sophomore slugger batted .541 and had a team-high 11 home runs and 45 RBIs.

Combine Pickett’s raw talent with UNC-Wilmington commit Hannah Adamczyk (.551 BA, 22 RBIs) at catcher, Peyton Taylor (.464 BA, 36 RBIs) at first base, Courtney Dean (.481 BA, 39 RBIs) at third and Courtney Layton (.446 BA, 27 RBIs) anchoring the outfield and you’ve got a state championship-caliber team. 

“Starting off, we knew we were going to be good,” Pickett said of their near-perfect season. “We had that in the back of our minds and we knew we were going to be better than any year before. Our first game came around and we won and then we went on a winning streak. We had the talent and we showed everyone.”

Coach Rob Enloe, who’s helped build the Spartan program from ground up, said their slogan all year was to “finish the mission.” And even though they stood among softball giants in their conference like Marvin Ridge, Weddington and Piedmont, the Spartan team knew that, with Pickett controlling the offense, they had a shot to win it all. 

By the time conference play was winding to an end, the Spartans faced Marvin Ridge on April 25 and needed a win to secure their first-place finish. But they trailed 4-0 in the bottom of the third and the Spartans’ momentum was lacking. They gained confidence in the top of the sixth with their first score of the game and then Pickett stepped up to the plate ready to perform.

Calm and collected, she hammered in a two-run homer and the Spartans went on to win, 5-4.

“I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “It didn’t seem real. I was so proud of myself at that moment – proud of the hit and proud of the way our defense stepped up. I’ll never forget that game.”

But performances like that were regular occurrences for Pickett, who was 4-for-4 with a two-run home run and struck out five against Weddington; went 3-for-3 against Cuthbertson; had five RBIs, a home run and struck out 12 against Parkwood; and saved her best performances for the playoffs, where she struck out five against North Iredell, 10 against Ledford with three RBIs and threw a gem while recording eight strikeouts against North Lincoln.

In the state semifinals, the Spartans faced Enka in the best two-of-three series. But for the first time all season, Pickett didn’t perform up to her lofty standards as she only struck out one and made four errors. The Spartans lost, 5-0.

“I don’t know what happened that game,” she said. “Going into it, we didn’t know what to expect and we were all nervous. In the second game, we weren’t going to let that happen again.”

And they didn’t. Taylor pitched instead of Pickett but she was back in action from the plate, going 2-for-3 with two doubles to steer the Spartans toward an 8-5 win. Back on the mound in Game 3, it was as if she was a different person from Game 1. Pickett struck out six and only allowed two hits.

“When we won the second game, we knew we weren’t going to stop,” she said. “We were going to keep winning until it was all over. In Game 3 I thought, ‘I’m pitching this game and I’m not letting us lose again.’ I was so happy only allowing two hits and knowing that my defense had my back. My improvements from the first game to the third game were incredible.”

In the championship series against Aycock, behind a dominating Pickett, the Spartans won the first game 6-5 and followed that performance with a 6-4 win to bring home the title. 

“I knew I had to work harder than anything,” Pickett said of her state championship performance. “I had to put everything away except for softball. I had to focus on pitching the right pitch and working the batters and it all paid off.”

Having reached the pinnacle of high school sports as just a sophomore, Pickett still has a to-do list for the rest of her high school career: become back-to-back state champions, improve her pitching consistency and sign to play in college.

“For my last two years, I’m going to make the most out of it,” she said. “Not everyone wins state championships and it’s awesome that we did that already. I’ve got two years left to keep it going and then hopefully pursue my dream of playing in college.”

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Courtney Schultz

About Courtney Schultz

Courtney Schultz is a recent college graduate from Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C. She has both a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Political Science. At Campbell, she was the editor-in-chief of the university’s student newspaper for nearly three years and worked for the Siskey YMCA in their membership services and marketing department. She mostly covers education news for the Matthews, Mint-Hill, and greater Charlotte areas.

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