When the Spartans walked off the field at Enka High School after a 5-0 loss in the first game of their best-of-three N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 3A Western Regional championship softball series on May 27, coach Rob Enloe knew something would have to be different when the teams met again the next day if Sun Valley was going to continue to the state championship game.
With pressure at an all-time high, Enloe and assistant coaches Amy Howell and Dave Collins made the decision to pitch Peyton Taylor over Brittany Pickett, the Spartans usual starting pitcher. And it’s a switch that made the difference in the tournament.
Taylor only struck out one but, “She gave them serious issues,” Enloe said, as she led the Spartans on the mound to an 8-5 victory to tie the series. Pickett may not have been on the mound, but she stepped up in big ways from the plate, going 2-for-3 with two home runs. Courtney Dean slammed another homer as the Spartans improved to 15-0 at home with the win.
With the series tied, the Spartans traveled back to Enka on May 30 – facing the challenges of playing on a field where Enka hadn’t lost a game all season and against a team who hadn’t lost to the same team twice. But the Spartans didn’t bow to the pressure and Enloe put Pickett back on the mound, confident she would perform.
Pickett not only performed as Enloe had expected, she surpassed expectations by allowing just two hits and striking out six as the Spartans cruised to an 8-0 victory – handing Enka their first shutout of the season. From the plate, her bat stayed on fire as she hit another two-run homer marking her 11th of the season.
“Her pitching was spot on,” Enloe said. “It was just something else. To give up just two hits and strike out six and then hit another home run, it was incredible.”
And Pickett wasn’t alone in her effort to lead the Spartans to victory. They jumped on Enka early, scoring five runs in the first inning. UNC-Wilmington commit Hannah Adamczyk was 3-for-4 with a home run, freshman Courtney Layton was 4-for-4 with three RBIs and Taylor added a triple.
“Night in and night out, there’s someone else stepping up,” Enloe said. “I’m so thrilled about the way the girls are working together. We have a bunch of pieces and a bunch of kids that are role players. They know what they need to do to help the team and they do it. They practice hard in the heat and they stay focused. Our slogan all season has been, ‘Be the strongest link,’ and they’re doing that.”
Now, the Spartans are getting ready to take on Pikeville’s Charles B. Aycock (21-3) on June 6 in the first of the three-game state championship series.
The Golden Falcons’ biggest weapon is senior Meredith Burroughs, an N.C. State commit who recently broke the NCHSAA record for home runs in a career (41). Burroughs also holds the record for most homers in a single season, as she totaled 19 during her sophomore campaign. As a senior, she’s racked up nine home runs and 31 RBIs, batting a team high .543.
The Falcons also boast big hitters in sophomore standout Keeley Fulghum, who’s batting .526 with 31 RBIs, Campbell University commit Cierra Harris (.481, 19 RBIs) and freshman Mackenzie Wheeler (.360, 29 RBIs, six doubles).
Despite facing a loaded Aycock squad, Enloe is confident that his team has what it takes to win the series if they stay focused and their bats stay hot.
“We’re staying focused and staying in routine,” he said. “We’ve got leaders. Hannah isn’t going to let us fall off course and not enough can be said about our seniors Abby Faircloth and Hailey Hanrahan. We’re trying to not get hurt, keep our momentum and focus on the end mission. We’re going to do a couple of different things to prepare for Aycock but overall, we’re not changing much. It’s going to be difficult, but we’re fortunate enough to say we’re there and we’ve got a
Regardless of the outcome, Enloe said it’s already been a season to remember. It’s clear why, as the Spartans are currently 24-5 with a conference and regional title to their name after going 3-12 in 2011, 7-12 in 2012 when Enloe took over the program and 12-10 last season.
“It’s one of those things you can dream about and think about it all the time but it’s a feeling I can’t put into words,” he said. “It feels great to know where we’ve been and where we’re at right now. Truthfully, the good God above has smiled upon Sun Valley softball this year. For me as a coach, I’m just tremendously proud of these