Pitching and defense set the tone as the Zebulon 12U All-Star softball team rallied to win the Tar Heel Leagues state tournament, held in Smithfield July 23-26.
Zebulon, the District VI champions, had to bounce back from a loss on Saturday to walk away state champs. The feat consisted of three straight wins, including a required second win over Roanoke Valley in the championship series.
“During this tournament, with the exception of the one loss, we had great pitching, we were defensively sound and the girls were able to execute offensively,” said Zebulon coach Jason Daniel.
Roanoke Valley built a 3-2 lead through five innings of the final game and threatened to score again in the sixth, but outfielder Taylor Bailey threw the runner out at the plate to keep it a one-run game.
Kierstin Cooper’s hot bat proved to be lethal as she drove in her third RBI of the game for the 4-3 win.
“The way the bracket played out we had to beat two great teams (Roanoke Valley and Shelby) four times to win the state championship,” Daniel said. “There was not one time when we could relax in a game and take it easy.”
Zebulon got the jump in the first game of the series, scoring three runs in the top of the first inning. Roanoke got a runner on in the bottom half, but catcher Hope Mitchell made a diving catch on a pop up behind the plate and threw out a baserunner scrambling back to first. The double play gave the girls the boost in confidence they needed, Daniel said.
Pitcher Maddie Driver took control the rest of the way, allowing only one other baserunner and striking out 11 batters for the 5-0 win.
“Madison’s pitching was great,” Daniel said. “She didn’t allow Roanoke Valley to gain any momentum in that first game.”
Other members of the Zebulon team are Alissa Bailey, Shelby Byrd, Alexa Daniel, Miller Jones, Delaney Joyner, Savannah Lamm, Anna Strickland and coach Pat Cooper.
Part of the success of the team can be attributed to continuity. A core group has been playing together since they were 6 years old. The team came in second in the 8U district tournament, finished third in the state in 2012 and won the 10U district tournament in 2013.
Zebulon had a first-round bye and opened tournament play with a 6-5 win over Shelby at Clayton Community Park on Friday.
In round three Saturday, Roanoke Valley took a 12-3 lead in the third inning. Zebulon’s defense kept the opposition in check the rest of the way, but its offense couldn’t close the gap completely in a 12-7 loss. The team went on to top Shelby a second time, 9-5, for the opportunity to avenge the previous loss to Roanoke Valley.
Wendell All Stars
In other divisions of the tournament, the Wendell 10U All Stars finished 1-2 and Wendell’s 8U All-Star team went 2-2.
The 8U team’s exit came by way of a 12-15 loss to Caldwell County, the fourth-place finisher.
On the team roster are Peyton Alford, Estrella Batista, Kaitlyn Boykin, Renee Flood, Jaimee Fowler, Alayna Gaddy, Ella Grace Johnson, Sydney Lusk, Maddie McAllister, Brianna Riehle and Emma Sanders. The coaches are Kris McAllister, Jason Gaddy, Chuck Riehle and Chase Flood.
“We wanted all the girls to have fun and play hard, which they did,” McAllister said. “The Wendell girls are very excited to have earned the opportunity to go to the tournaments.”
Wendell stayed alive with a 7-4 win in its third-round game against Watauga County after allowing an 11-0 outcome against eventual state champion Burke County in round two.
The 8U team opened with a gritty 6-5 win over Johnston County North.
A four-run final frame for the Wendell team countered the three runs the Johnston team posted in the top of the sixth inning.
“That first game was one of the best I have been a part of,” McAllister said. “Amazing comeback.”
Strong pitching by the team from Shelby subdued the 10U Wendell All Stars in the 6-0 outcome that ended their tournament run.
Members of the team are Bailey Blalock, Ashlynn Bowers, Lauren Brothers, Alyssa Brown, Megan Hocutt, Kaley Holmquist, Alexis Howard, Trista Pope, Ava Windley, Allye Woodruff and Augusta Woodruff. The coaches are Caven Woodruff, Dare Woodruff, Tara Howard and Matt Blalock.
The team faced an uphill battle from the start.
In round two, the Wendell players’ bats had to connect for a 6-5 win over Johnston County North. First-round action pitted them against Wilkes County, which won that game 13-0 and finished second in the tournament.