One set of visiting Wildcats looked very familiar to Heritage, the other not so much.
But the Huskies’ baseball and softball teams had similar challenges in the second round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association state 4A playoffs on Friday night.
Win, and match the school’s deepest playoff advancement in any sport by advancing to the third round.
Both responded with identical bottom lines: Heritage defeated East Chapel Hill softball and Millbrook baseball by matching 6-1 scores.
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In softball, the Huskies got a pair of home runs for three RBIs from sophomore shortstop Ashley Gontram to beat East Chapel Hill in the teams’ first-ever meeting.
The second-seeded softball Huskies (22-2-1) will host No. 10 seed D.H. Conley on Tuesday. No. 13 seed East Chapel Hill finished 17-4.
Gontram’s homers, in her first two at-bats on Friday, were her first two of the season and gave her three for her career. Kennedy Priest chipped in a two-run double. Starting pitcher Raygan Rensing added a pair of singles, one to the infield, while Imani Rochelle added a pair of infield hits, one on a bunt.
Sophomore center fielder Violet Kehoe homered for East’s run, and also had a diving catch in center field to rob Ashley Ferguson of a fourth-inning hit and completed the play with an outfield assist to first.
Mark Downing’s Huskies weren’t expecting to take a 3-0 third-inning lead in the third inning from a player who hadn’t homered all season.
But sometimes unusual heroes emerge in the postseason.
Downing said his team, which doesn’t have a senior on the roster, will take it.
“We’ve got lot of good quality ballplayers and we’ve had great chemistry,” Downing said. “There’s no drama in the dugout and they’re very unselfish. They have each other’s backs and have a lot of fun. I can’t complain about the way we hit.”
Gontram had one of the biggest games of her career at the right time.
“I was just hoping that first one would get over the fence,” said Gontram, whose older sister Jordan just completed her freshman season at UNC Greensboro. “I think the home runs took a little bit of stress off our pitchers. We have a young team, but we have great chemistry.”
Freshman Raygan Rensing allowed a run on three hits over the first four innings before Georgeanna Barefoot came on to finish.
“I started missing after a first couple of innings,” said Rensing, who also plays setter on the volleyball team. “At the plate, I saw that (East’s Katie Agatucci) was throwing a lot of first-pitch strikes so I decided to try to jump on those. Ashley’s home runs were amazing. She got us a 2-0 lead in the first inning and that really got our confidence up.”
EAST CHAPEL HILL
Joe Simmons had been the Wildcats’ head coach for 11 seasons. And while East has been a fixture in the playoffs, the team had never advanced to the second round until a 2-1 win over East Wake.
“I was pretty happy with the way we played in the second round,” said Simmons, whose school will be in the Big Eight 3A next season. “We put together a report about how we wanted to attack them. The girls played hard and played good enough defense to keep us in the game. This is definitely the most coachable team I’ve ever had. They learned how to make good decisions. ... Half our conference is going with us into 3A. But we won’t just jump in as the favorites with Orange and Cedar Ridge and Northwood in there.”
Sophomore Violet Kehoe has been a defensive standout for the Wildcats, who had only one senior on the club.
“Our team has really come together well,” said Kehoe, who also competes in the high jump in indoor track season. “I think we do a good job in practice, and as they say, ‘Practice makes perfect.’ We’re definitely going to miss Jenny (senior outfielder Suwanmanee), but we should have a good team coming back.”
Suwanmanee, who also played goalie for the Wildcats’ field hockey team, said she was a little emotional about her high school softball career coming to an end.
“I can’t believe we made it this far,” said Suwanmanee, who plans to major in international business and global studies at UNC-Chapel Hill in the fall. “We got stuck at the first round every year. I’m just so proud of everyone. It was a great group of girls to play with.”