Reason for optimism as softball playoffs begin

by Aaron Garcia

Here’s a look at the upcoming public-school softball playoffs:

SOUTHERN CAROLINA 3A/4A CONFERENCE

The Porter Ridge softball team has one goal in mind: a Class 4A state title. Judging from their 25-0 record, the Pirates should be considered a favorite to claim the crown when the Class 4A state playoffs begin on Friday, May 11.

The Pirates have outscored their opponents by 172 runs (191 to 19), thanks in large part to a stingy defense and pitcher Lexi Davis, who has struck out 207 batters in 148 innings to compile an ERA of .142. At the plate, Davis is batting .468 behind only teammate Courtney Price (.494). Tara Loken (.403), Whitney Haywood (.400), Kayleigh Jonas (.464), Madison Chadwick (.371) and Haley Secrest (.366) also should be factors in the Pirates’ playoff run.

The Pirates wrapped up the Southern Carolina 3A/4A conference tournament championship last week over Marvin Ridge, but Pirates coach Lael Rorie said her players are far from satisfied.

“They’re doing a good job of staying focused in practice, and we’re working really hard to keep them mentally where they need to be,” said Rorie. “I don’t think they’re happy with where they’re at.

They’re trying to continue to get better every day, and that’s what I keep telling them is what it’s going to take. They’re doing a really good job of working hard for me.”

The Pirates are scheduled to open the postseason against Charlotte Mallard Creek (8-11).

Sun Valley (7-13) claimed the league’s other Class 4A playoff berth and was slated to visit Cornelius’ Hough High (17-4).

Despite the runner-up finish in both the regular season and the conference tournament, Marvin Ridge (18-8) wrapped up the league’s top Class 3A seed after winning 11 of its last 14 games, including six of its last seven. As a result, the Mavs will host West Rowan (6-11). Weddington (12-10) also earned an opening-round home game and will host East Rowan (12-9).

ROCKY RIVER 1A/2A CONFERENCE

After struggling to a 1-4 start to the season, the Piedmont Panthers won four of their final six regular-season games and entered the Rocky River 1A/2A tournament as a No. 7 seed, which was an uncharacteristically low position for the tradition-rich program. The Panthers showed they’re still one of the top teams in the area, however, by beating North Stanly, West Stanly and regular-season champ Forest Hills for the tournament title.

The Panthers feature a potent lineup, headlined by veterans Lorna Duncan, Kayla Kiziah, Kaycee Stegall and Taylor Barrineau, as well as a host of precocious newcomers, such as Sarah Tucker.

The key to the late success, said first-year coach Jason Phelix, was a matter of learning to play together at the right time.

“It’s a matter of time before everybody starts to gel and the chemistry gets right and people buy in, and all those ways of doing things kind of come together,” said Phelix. “It was a gradual process, and I’m glad it showed itself at the right time.

“It was a process. Obviously, any time a new coach comes in with a new way of doing things, there’s a transitional period – there’s time for people to adjust and players to get used to the way I do things, and for parents to get used to the way I do things.”

Piedmont improved its record to 14-9 on the year and earned a No. 2 seed for the Class 2A state playoffs, which are slated to begin Friday, May 11. The Panthers will face East Davidson (11-11). Forest Hills (17-4) was awarded a No. 3 seed and will travel to Central Davidson (18-3) in one of the more intriguing first-round matchups in the state.

Central Academy of Technology & Arts claimed the league’s top 1A seed with a 4-14 record and is scheduled to host wild card Gastonia Highland Tech (7-14) in the opening round, while rival Union Academy (2-13) will host North Moore (16-8).

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