There may not be a more important hitter in the C.B. Aycock lineup than Connor Vinson.
No, the junior outfielder isn’t a home run hitter, nor is she an RBI machine. But Enka, the Falcons’ opponent for the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A softball title, likely will do its best to keep Vinson in check.
That’s because as the Aycock leadoff hitter, Vinson jump-starts the Falcons’ offense. She was on base six times in eight plate appearances in Aycock’s first two games against Topsail in the East finals – and had sacrifice bunts in her other two trips to the plate.
“Connor struggled in the beginning of the season, but she has pulled through when we needed it,” Falcons pitcher Taylor Waddell said. “I really am super proud of having her batting first because I know that most of the time, she’s going to get on base and lead the game off with a really good first inning.”
Vinson scored in the first inning in each of the first two games against Topsail. She walked in the first inning of the opener, then stole second and third and scored on a single by Mookie Powell.
The right-fielder had three hits in seven official at-bats in the series, with two runs scored. But she was also on base seven times in 12 plate appearances. Those are great numbers for a leadoff hitter, although Vinson didn’t care for batting first when Aycock coach LaVon Matthews filled out the lineup card earlier this season.
“At first, I didn’t (like it),” Vinson said. “But I’ve gotten used to it. I’ve been getting on base, and usually when I get on base, we score in the first inning.”
Matthews has batted Vinson or Powell in the leadoff spot most of the season, but Vinson’s ability to get on has put her at the top of the lineup.
“I struggled with that during the year,” Matthews said. “I told them, ‘My lineup’s going to change as the season goes along. We’ll find out what is best, and when the playoffs get here, whatever is working the best for us is the way we’re going to go.’”
Powell, who bats second, has more natural power than Vinson. Both are fast base runners, combining for five steals against Topsail.
“As I evaluated the situation, I saw that Connor was getting on base more than Mookie was,” Matthews said. “So I said, ‘Connor is the one.’ Connor bunts the ball real well, Connor doesn’t pop it up as much as Mookie.
“I don’t think either one of them likes batting first. But they’ve had to accept it. (Vinson) has stepped up and has accepted her role real well.”
Vinson, of course, would love to be a home run hitter. But for now, being a “slap hitter” will do.
“For most people, it could be (a put-down) because you’re just supposed to punch the ball and get on base,” Vinson said. “They’re supposed to be fast people. But I feel like when you’re running and hitting, you have more power to hit it. As long as you get it over the infield, you’re fine.”
Hitting it over the fence – or even off the fence – now doesn’t matter to her.
“I’ve never hit it over, I’ve never hit to the fence,” Vinson said. “Most of the time, it’s just line drives to the outfield. Hits are hits.”
And the more hits she gets, the more chances the middle of Aycock’s lineup can get to bring her home. If Vinson and Powell are getting on base in the championship series, the Falcons’ chances of winning the title are good.
“She’s stepped it up and done a great job,” catcher Abbie Walton said. “She’s really leading. She knows her job is to get the bunt down, get the slap down and get to first – and she does it.”
Enka (24-3) won the West regional final by sweeping West Iredell. Now, the Jets turn their attention to Aycock.
“We’re going to give them a run for their money,” Matthews said. “They have a fine ball team. But I have (one) too.”
And it starts with Vinson.